Lions coach calls Hammers 'most athletic' in league
By Joseph Myers
Special To The Ledger-Enquirer
Through the quirks of the Professional Indoor Football League's regular-season schedule, the Columbus Lions have been off for almost three full weeks courtesy of two straight bye weeks.
That drought comes to an end tonight when the Lions (1-1) make the journey to Huntsville, Ala. to take on the Alabama Hammers (2-1). Kickoff at the Von Braun Civic Center is scheduled for 8 p.m.
"Alabama's a well-coached team," Lions coach Jason Gibson said. "They're hands-down the most athletic team in the league based on what I've seen. It's going to be tough to win there. They lost to Albany by two touchdowns (66-51 on March 23), had five turnovers and still could've won the game. They're a good football team."
In the Lions' most recent game, all the way back on March 16, Columbus lost to Albany, 40-37, on a last-second field goal by Ryan Gates. Columbus was driving for the potential game-winning touchdown with under a minute to go when quarterback Marcus Jones sprained his ankle and had to leave the game. The Lions settled for a field goal that tied the game at 37 and allowed the Panthers a final chance to pull out the victory, which they did on a 28-yard field goal.
In that game, Jones established himself as the Lions' starting quarterback, going 12-for-19 for 202 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception along with adding 13 rushing yards and a score on 10 carries. Maurice Dupree was Jones' top target, catching five passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns and Jarmon Fortson was the team's top tackler with 6.5 stops (6 solo, 1 assist).
"We played like I thought we'd play," said Gibson following the loss. "We knew Albany's defense would be tough and they were, but our defense played well, too. We missed a field goal and two extra points and that was the difference in the game."
After more than a week of practices with no game action, the Lions almost need to face the Hammers tonight to get themselves back on track. That became clear after a lackluster practice earlier this week led Gibson to challenge his team to increase its intensity level and focus in the leadup to tonight's game.
"We didn't have a good practice," said Gibson. "It wears on everybody when we don't have a game to work toward.
It gets monotonous to just go through practice after practice with no games."
One positive coming out of the extended layoff is that the Lions will be almost 100 percent healthy coming into the game against the Hammers.
Linebacker Herschel Thornton will miss the game due to a wrist injury, but he is the only player listed as "out" on the Lions' injury report.
Avoiding turnovers is high on Gibson's list of things the Lions need to do if they want to return to action with a victory tonight.
"We have to not turn the ball over," said Gibson. If we do that, I think we'll be fine. Our offense does have to get into a rhythm, though. We've been scoring and have been pretty efficient when we've had the ball, but something just doesn't feel right on that side of the ball. Hopefully, we can fine tune some things and get rolling."
Notes: Tonight's game marks the return of Central High graduate and former Lion Ryan Babb, who spent last season with the Albany Panthers. In three seasons with the Lions (2009-11), Babb had 15 interceptions from his linebacker position and returned six of those for touchdowns. Also expected to make his debut tonight for the Lions is Central High and Alabama product Earl Alexander. Alexander not only will be a wide receiver for the Lions, but he'll also serve as the team's No. 2 quarterback behind Jones. The Lions have one more road game next week at Louisiana before returning home April 20 to take on the Richmond Raiders. There was only one other game on the PIFL slate this week, with Albany traveling to Knoxville, Tenn. to take on Knoxville.
WHO: Columbus Lions (1-1) at Alabama Hammers (2-1)
WHEN: Tonight, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Von Braun Civic Center, Huntsville, Ala.