The Columbus Lions held a 10-point lead over the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks with 10:30 to go Sunday afternoon in Bethlehem, Pa., but they were unable to seal the deal, as Lehigh Valley scored 20 of the game's final 21 points to pull out a 60-51 victory in Professional Indoor Football League action.
"We played well," said Lions head coach Jason Gibson. "I'm not one to complain about the refs, but that was the worst crew we've had this season. It wasn't that they were biased for one side or the other, but these refs didn't know the rules of the game and to not know the rules of the game and be considered a professional is just wrong. That crew is the worst one in the league and we found out about it first-handed. People think I might be whining bercause we lost, but you can't just botch basic rules and expect to get away with it. I'm not a coach who complains about officiating, but that crew doesn't need to be at our level."
Maurice Dupree grabbed his second touchdown reception of the game and Geoff Boyer made the extra point to give the Lions a 50-40 lead with 10:30 to go, but other than a Boyer uno on the subsequent kickoff, Columbus (3-4) would be held scoreless the rest of the way. Lehigh Valley (3-4) -- which stopped a three-game losing streak with the win -- got a touchdown and extra point with 6:53 to go to close to within 51-47.
After recording another stop of the Columbus offense, Lehigh Valley made a field goal with 30 seconds to go to go up 53-51. On the Lions' next possession, they got a pass interference call that moved the ball to midfield and following an incomplete pass with 8 seconds to go, Columbus lined up to drive a field goal. However, the snap was off and the Lions were called for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety for the Steelhawks with 3 seconds to go.
Lehigh Valley added one more touchdown run on the last play of the game to send the Lions to their second straight loss following a two-game winning streak. Columbus and Lehigh Valley are now tied for fifth in the PIFL standings, two games back of league leaders Alabama and Richmond, both of which are 5-2.
"We didn't turn the ball over and had three takeaways," said Gibson. "Obviously, we wanted the win. We missed three extra points, went 1-for-3 on field goals and Lehigh Valley had three safeties in a single game. It's frustrating, just very frustrating."
Columbus got off to a quick start, scoring two touchdowns in the first 5:02 to open up a 14-0 lead with 9:58 to go in the first quarter. Lehigh Valley got going offensively, but the Lions still led 20-14 after the opening 15 minutes.
The Steelhawks scored the first touchdown of the second quarter to go up 21-20, but Geoff Boyer made a 23-yard field goal to put Columbus back in front, 23-21, with 10:27 to go before halftime. The Lions would only score once more before the break, but they held Lehigh Valley to just a field goal over the final 10-plus minutes, so Columbus was able to take a 30-24 lead into the locker room.
Early in the third quarter, the Lions were called for holding in the end zone -- resulting in a safety -- and the Steelhawks got a touchdown pass to go up 33-30 with 9:37 to go in the period. However, the Lions' LeRoy Vann returned the subsequent kickoff 47 yards to set up a short touchdown run by Marcus Jones, and Dupree caught a 30-yard touchdown pass to give Columbus a 43-33 lead going into the fourth quarter.
After making a 14-hour trip home, the Lions are off this week and will return to action April 18, when they host the Alabama Hammers at the Columbus Civic Center. Kickoff for that game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.