The Columbus Lions were perfect in their own building until they met someone who made himself at home there.
Reading quarterback Rob Flowers rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown and passed for 170 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Express past Columbus and into the AIFA championship game with a 60-51 second-round playoff victory on Monday at the Civic Center.
Of course, he had a little help settling in from his sister, Janelle, and his nephew Tyrae, 5, and niece, Gabby, 1, who live in Columbus and who were at the game.
“It was a lot of fun to play in front of them,” Flowers said. “I hadn’t seen them in about seven months, so it was special.”
Never miss a local story.
The major recipients of Flowers’ passing, Jeff Willis and Yardon Brantley, made their chances count. Each scored three touchdowns, and Willis had more than 100 yards receiving for Reading (12-3).
Columbus (11-4) had the leagues best defense and AIFA interception leader Damian Daniels, but Flowers completed 16 of 31 passes without a pick, and the Reading offense held on without a fumble.
“This is a team game, so I can’t blame anyone,” Spitzer said. “In the past, the defense has given us a lot of opportunities and we’ve won games like that. We had our opportunities tonight, and the defense made some stops, but on offense we couldn’t score when we needed to.”
Flowers connected with Brantley for a 14-yard score and ran in his own from 12 yards out in the first quarter, but two failed point-after attempts by kicker Erik Rockhold allowed Columbus to come within 12-11 by the end of the first period on a 20-yard Gerald Gales touchdown pass from Todd Spitzer and a 48-yard Carlos Martinez field goal.
Columbus scored on a 13-yard Spitzer pass to Joel Babb early in the second quarter and again in the final two minutes of the period on a 10-yard Spitzer run, but Flowers ran in another score and hit Brantley and Willis for two more while Rockhold hit a 32-yard field goal to give Reading a 36-28 lead going into the break.
“They were just making more plays than us,” Babb said. “They were just making play after play. We played a good team and we were an OK offense.”
Columbus fullback Richard Fitzhugh opened the second half with a 2-yard scoring run, and Martinez, who gave the Lions a 1-0 lead with a game-opening uno, sank the point-after attempt and another uno to tie the game 36-36.
It was the closest the Lions would get again. Flowers hit Willis with a 30-yard pass four plays later and the two connected again on the Express’ next drive for a 9-yard score.
Gales scored on a 13-yard pass from Spitzer on Columbus’ next possession and Martinez hit another uno before Reading posted its final score of the game, a 19-yard Flowers touchdown pass to Brantley, to take a 58-44 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
The Lions scored again with 1:27 remaining in the game on a 25-yard Spitzer pass to Anthony Merritt, and an onside kick recovery by Damian Daniels set Columbus up at its own 7 for a potentially game-tying drive. But Spitzer fumbled a snap in the end zone and the Express took advantage for a safety before recovering the next onside kick attempt and finishing out the final seconds of the game with a short run.
The Express will play at the Wyoming Cavalry on July 26 in the AIFA championship game.
Contact Chris White at 706-571-8571
Reading 12 24 15 9 - 60
Columbus 11 17 8 15 - 51
C – Carlos Martinez uno, 15:00
R – Yardon Brantley 14 pass from Robert Flowers (kick failed), 10:33
C – Gerald Gales 20 pass from Todd Spitzer (Martinez kick), 8:13
R – Flowers 12 run (kick failed), 3:53
C – Martinez 48 field goal, 1:27
R – Flowers 8 run, (Erik Rockhold kick), 13:28
C – Joel Babb 13 from Spitzer (Martinez kick), 9:42
R – Rockhold 32 field goal, 6:34
R – Brantley 2 pass from Flowers (Rockhold kick), 3:12
C – Spitzer 10 run (Martinez kick), 2:04
R – Willis 6 from Flowers (Rockhold kick), :05
C – Martinez 46 field goal, :00
C – Richard Fitzhugh 3 run (Martinez kick), 9:44
C – Martinez uno, 9:44
R – Willis 30 pass from Flowers (kick failed), 6:20
R – Willis 9 pass from Flowers (Flowers run), :00
R – Rockhold uno, :00
C – Gales 13 pass from Spitzer (Martinez kick), 12:01
C – Martinez uno (12:01)
R – Brantley 19 pass from Flowers (Rockhold kick), 7:56
C – Anthony Merritt 25 pass from Spitzer (Martinez kick), 1:27
R – Safety, :12