Before coming out of the locker room trailing the Fayetteville Guard 31-29, Columbus Lions quarterback Todd Spitzer told defensive back Damian Daniels the offense needed some help, just enough to spark a few plays.
Daniels and the Lions defense gave Spitzer more inspiration than he needed, intercepting Guard quarterback Shawn Withy-Allen four times in the final quarter and returning one for a touchdown. Lions fullback Richard Fitzhugh ran in a short score while Spitzer carried in two more to complete a fourth-quarter rally and secure a 61-43 victory on Saturday at the Civic Center.
“I just told Damian we were going to feed off the defense,” Spitzer said. “We just needed them to do something, to keep setting us up.”
Columbus trailed by nine points entering the final quarter.
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“(Fayetteville) really made some plays in the first half,” Daniels said. “We knew if we just kept playing our positions, playing our roles we’d get ahead eventually.”
Fitzhugh’s touchdown came on the second play of the fourth quarter from three yards out. Daniels picked off Withy-Allen on the next possession, and the Lions took the lead five plays later on a 1-yard Spitzer run.
Daniels again ended a Guard possession more than a minute later and this time carried the ball into the end zone for a 30-yard score, giving Columbus a 53-41 lead.
Fayetteville blocked Carlos Martinez’s extra-point attempt and ran the loose ball back for two points, but Martinez still managed to put a point on the board with an uno, his third of the game.
Ryan Babb snagged a pass from Withy-Allen to end the next Guard drive, and the Lions capitalized with a 12-yard Spitzer scoring run, making it 61-43.
Two plays later, Chris Goffer picked off Withy-Allen, and the Lions ran the final 29 seconds off the clock.
Columbus coach Jason Gibson said he worked the defense particularly hard over the bye week, and it paid off late in the game.
“We were really dogging the guys this week, really running them hard,” Gibson said. “And it was hot out. Some of the guys were complaining. But I think it really paid off in the fourth quarter. We weren’t as tired as they were.”
The Lions led 14-3 after the first quarter on touchdowns by Joel Babb and Anthony Merritt. Gerald Gales had a pair of touchdown receptions in the second quarter, and Martinez added his first uno of the game. But the Guard scored four touchdowns in the second period, including one with less than 10 seconds left in the half, to hold a slim halftime lead.
Fayetteville’s Walter Ford scored the Guard’s only third-quarter touchdown on a 28-yard pass from Withy-Allen, and Martinez and Fayetteville’s Brandon Gilbert both hit 30-yard field goals in the third quarter.
The win kept Columbus (9-3) in first place in the South Division and broke a stalemate with second-place Fayetteville (8-4).
Columbus plays the third-place Florence Phantoms next week and closes the season a week later with a rematch against Fayetteville.
Fayetteville 3 28 10 2—43
Columbus 14 15 3 29—61
C— Joel Babb 27 pass from Todd Spitzer (Carlos Martinez kick), 12:02
C— Anthony Merritt 1 run (Martinez kick), 4:52
F— Brandon Gilbert 35 field goal, 1:39
F— Jay Jackson 6 pass from Withy-Allen (Gilbert kick), 13:52
C— Gerald Gales 20 pass from Spitzer (Martinez kick), 11:34
C— Martinez uno, 11:44
F— Sammy Henderson 26 pass from Withy-Allen (Gilbert kick), 7:13
F— Wilmont Perry 26 run (Gilbert kick), 3:42
C— Gales 5 pass from Spitzer (Martinez kick), :18
F— Jackson 7 pass from Withy-Allen (Gilbert kick), :03
F— Walter Ford 28 pass from Withy-Allen (Gilbert kick), 11:35
C— Martinez 30 field goal, 8:39
F— Gilbert 30 field goal, 5:37
C— Richard Fitzhugh 3 run (Martinez kick), 13:30
C— Martinez uno, 13:30
C— Spitzer 1 run (kick blocked), 5:03
C— Damian Daniels 30 interception return (kick blocked), 3:01
F— DeLeon Raynor 25 blocked PAT return, 2:52
C— Martinez uno, 2:52
C— Spitzer 12 run (Martinez kick), :43