Columbus Lions look to end losing skid Saturday against Alabama

Special To The Ledger-EnquirerMay 17, 2013 

For the Columbus Lions, their last two games were ones they'd rather forget.

A pair of ugly losses -- at home to the Louisiana Swashbucklers April 27 and on the road against the Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Steelhawks May 5 -- dropped Columbus (3-4) into a tie for fifth in the Professional Indoor Football League standings and left Lions coach Jason Gibson searching for answers.

Now, having had a bye week to stew over the pair of setbacks, Columbus returns to action tonight at 7:30 at the Columbus Civic Center against the Alabama Hammers (5-2). Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

"I think the bye week came at a good time for us," Gibson said. "Everybody needed to get away from each other for a while and get refreshed. I think everybody's been frustrated with the past couple of games. We never should've lost (at Lehigh Valley). We haven't been playing too well across the board lately, we're on our third kicker and fourth quarterback and we're still 3-4. I'll take that."

During the off week, the revolving door to the Lions' locker room spun again, as quarterback Brian Harris -- who was 43-of-74 (58 percent) for 581 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions in three games -- and defensive back Marvin Bohannon, who totalled 11 tackles (10 solo, two assists) and had one fumble return for a touchdown in four games, were waived.

Kicker Joshua Smith was signed and will try to unseat incumbent Geoff Boyer, who was only 2-for-7 on field goals and 16-of-26 on extra points since taking over for the now-departed Chandler Brooks.

Quarterback Lee Chapple, who was signed the week of the Lehigh Valley game but didn't play against the Steelhawks, will start tonight.

"Making these moves wasn't a hard decision," Gibson said. "We've missed something like 14 extra points this year. We were making about 60 percent of our extra points and completing just over 50 percent of our passes. Those numbers aren't even good in the outdoor game, much less the indoor game where every pass is a potential touchdown and every extra point could make the different. Those numbers weren't even close to good enough."

The Hammers, who are tied for the league lead with the Richmond Raiders, are coming off two straight bye weeks. Alabama last played April 27, when it was upended, 53-51, by the last-place Knoxville (Tenn.) Nighthawks in Huntsville, Ala. That loss stopped a three-game winning streak and a run that saw the Hammers open the season 5-1.

Alabama has the highest-scoring offense in the league, averaging 56.9 points, while allowing 46.9 points, good for third-best. The Hammers won the only previous meeting this season, 72-45, on April 6 in Huntsville in a game that saw Columbus turn the ball over four times.

The Lions have turned the ball over 19 times (four fumbles, 15 interceptions), which is tied with Knoxville for the most in the league, in seven games, while forcing 17 turnovers (three fumbles, 14 interceptions). The 17 forced turnovers is tied for the second-best total in the league.

"I know we can play better than we have and win football games," Gibson said. "We just have to stop putting our defense in so many predicaments. We had three safeties and missed four extra points at Lehigh Valley. That's 10 points right there and we lost by nine. Sometimes our defense has been a victim of what our offense and special teams has done to it. If our offense can just be consistent, I really do think our defense can take care of itself. We have great players, but they haven't figured out how to play as a team yet."

Notes: The game will be available through a link on the Lions' website, www.columbuslions.net. Click on the "Listen Live" link on the right-hand side of the homepage. Coverage will start at 7:25 p.m. … The Lions are back on the road next week, traveling to Richmond, Va., to take on the Richmond Raiders on May 25. Kickoff for that game is scheduled for 7 p.m. … The Lions will be facing former teammates tonight in the form of Brooks and defensive back Cortez Stubbs, who was traded from the Lions to the Knoxville (Tenn.) Nighthawks earlier this season and was dealt again from Knoxville to Alabama this week, both times for future considerations. In six games with Knoxville, Stubbs had 16.5 tackles (14 solo, 5 assists), one sack for a loss of five yards, one interception and six passes broken up. His seven passes defended (six breakups, one interception) is tied for the third-best total in the league. Meanwhile, Brooks, who was 1-for-5 on field goals and 14-for-18 on extra points with the Lions, has made his only field goal and 10-of-11 extra points for the Hammers.

WHO: Alabama Hammers (5-2) vs. Columbus Lions (3-4)

WHERE: Columbus Civic Center

WHEN: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.

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