Columbus Lions receiver Troy Bergeron called the game sloppy. Fullback Richard Fitzhugh credited his four touchdowns in large part to the defense’s ability to give the team good scoring position.
They may not have thought it was pretty, but the Lions stayed perfect on paper Sunday with a 68-37 win over the Carolina Speed.
Columbus scored on offense, defense and special teams and never trailed after going ahead 17-16 on a Carlos Martinez field goal early in the second quarter.
Lions quarterback Bill Ashburn, in his second consecutive start against the Speed, finished with 182 yards, two passing touchdowns and one rushing score.
Fitzhugh gave the Lions (2-0) their first lead of the game on 2-yard rushing score late in the first quarter and by the time he added his next, with just less than three minutes to play in the third quarter, the Lions had the game in their pocket. The lead didn’t slow down the fullback from Tuskegee. He added another 2-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter and recovered a fumble in the end zone less than a minute later for his fourth score of the day.
“Branden Hall, all the other guys on the offensive line, they did a great job of blocking for me,” Fitzhugh said. “Our defense did a good job of setting us up all game, that was probably the most important thing.”
The Speed (1-2) took an early lead behind a 27-yard Chris Brewer field goal and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Shayne Milligan to DeMarcus Fox, both coming in the first six minutes of the game. Fox caught a 30-yarder from Milligan to give the Speed a 16-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Columbus responded with another 14-point quarter, this time getting two field goals and a rogue kick from Carlos Martinez and a 6-yard touchdown reception by Bergeron. Carolina’s Alden Blizzard scored on a 7-yard fumble return, but the Lions held onto a 28-23 lead at halftime.
Lions coach Jason Gibson said he was unsatisfied with the offense’s first half for the second consecutive week, but took the blame for implementing new aspects before the team was prepared to run them.
“There were a lot of personal things I needed to get done and I didn’t,” Gibson said. “Forcing the ball to Troy (Bergeron) in the first half was one of those things, and that threw our offense off and took away our rhythm.”
Carolina’s defense keyed on Bergeron early as he was the target of five Ashburn’s nine first-half pass attempts. Bergeron finished with 61 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Ashburn scored on a 1-yard run just more than two minutes into the second half to start a 23-0 fourth-quarter run for Columbus that included an 11-yard touchdown on a fumble recovery and a safety by Maurice Jones, another rogue kick from Martinez and a 2-yard Fitzhugh score. The Lions led 51-23 entering the final period.
The safety, with 8:01 remaining in the third quarter, gave the Lions a 44-23 lead and took away Carolina’s hopes of a comeback, Lions linebacker Justen Rivers said.
“That took their sails off,” he said. “You could tell after that. Any time you pin a team down deep like that, you’re expected to make a big play. We knew we had to do it.”
Carolina’s DeAngelo Lloyd picked off Ashburn for a 14-yard return on the Lions’ first possession of the fourth quarter before Columbus scored 17 unanswered points on a Martinez field goal with 10:10 remaining and Fitzhugh’s back-to-back scores with less than two minutes to play.
The Speed’s Marc Huddleston brought in a 9-yard pass from Milligan to score with a second renaming in the game.
Columbus next plays the Florence Phantoms on Saturday in Florence, S.C.
Carolina 16 7 0 14—37
Lions 14 14 23 17—68
S – Chris Brewer 27 field goal, 12:06
S – DeMarcus Fox 20 pass from Shayne Milligan (kick failed), 9:37
L – Troy Bergeron 12 pass from Bill Ashburn (Carlos Martinez kick), 7:35
L – Richard Fitzhugh 2 run (Martinez kick), 2:30
S – Fox 30 pass from Milligan (Brewer kick), 1:31
L – Martinez 19 field goal, 11:24
L – Martinez rogue kick 11:24
L – Bergeron 6 pass from Ashburn (Martinez kick), 6:47
S – Alden Blizzard 7 fumble recovery (Brewer kick), :06
L – Martinez 60 field goal, :00
L – Ashburn 1 run (Martinez kick), 12:40
L – Maurice Jones 11 fumble recovery (kick failed), 11:06
L – Martinez rogue kick, 11:06
L – Jones safety, 8:01
L – Fitzhugh 2 run (Martinez kick), 2:43
S – DeAngelo Lloyd 14 interception return (Brewer kick), 14:50
L – Martinez 31 field goal, 10:10
L – Fitzhugh 2 run (Martinez kick), 1:57
L – Fitzhugh 0 fumble recovery (Martinez kick), :58
S – Marc Huddleston 9 pass from Milligan (Brewer kick), :01