For long stretches of Saturday night's game against the Richmond Raiders in Richmond, Va., the Columbus Lions were the better team.
However, it didn't translate into a victory, as Richmond rallied in the fourth quarter and pulled out a 48-42 overtime victory, sending the Lions to their fourth straight defeat.
"It's frustrating and I'm not going to blame anybody in particular," said Columbus coach Jason Gibson. "Offensively, we're still struggling. It shouldn't have been close enough for it to have to go to overtime."
The Lions (3-6) were up, 39-35, and had the ball inside the Richmond 10-yard line with under a minute to go in regulation. However, Columbus was unable to score a touchdown and had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Joshua Smith, making it 42-35 with 35 seconds remaining.
Richmond (6-3) got a 13-yard touchdown pass from Warren Smith to Hakeem Moore to tie the game at 42 with 19 seconds remaining, but the Lions had a chance to win the game in regulation as they drove inside the Raiders' 10 again. Smith's 16-yard field goal was off, though, and the game went to overtime.
Smith was only 2-for-6 on extra points and 1-for-5 on field goals and in two games, is 8-for-12 on extra points and only 1-for-8 on field goals. This season, the Lions' three kickers have made only 38 of their 56 extra-point attempts (67.9 percent) and just four of their 20 field-goal tries (20 percent).
"When we missed the field goal at the end of regulation, it really took some of the air out of us," said Gibson. "We shouldn't have been in that position to begin with, but it really did hurt. The kicking game is the difference between us being 6-3 and 3-6."
In the overtime, RoShawn Marshall picked off a Marcus Jones pass and three plays later, Warren Smith hit Moore with a 20-yard touchdown pass to give Richmond the overtime win.
Lions quarterback Lee Chapple was 8-for-22 for 150 yards and three touchdowns, along with three interceptions, before leaving the game due to injury. Gibson said he expects Chapple to be back in the starting lineup this week.
"Our offense is really just hurting us," said Gibson, whose team turned the ball over four more times Saturday and has a league-high 27 turnovers in nine games. "It's all kinds of things. I've limited the playbook and we're still doing things like missing routes and missing the open man. I've pulled up film from 2010, 2011 and 2012 and we're running the same kinds of plays and it's just not happening for us. We have to make some plays."
Maurice Dupree was the Lions' top receiver with four catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Jarmon Fortson had three catches for 53 yards and a score and Gerald Gales pitched in three receptions for 37 yards in the loss.
The Columbus defense forced six turnovers, including picking off four passes. Defensive back LeRoy Vann had seven total tackles (five solo, four assists) and intercepted two passes, including returning one pick for a touchdown. Fellow defensive back Anthony Shutt had seven tackles of his own (five solo, four assists) and an interception. Linebacker Ryan Babb filled the stat sheet as well with five tackles (four solo, two assists) an interception and a fumble recovery that he returned 24 yards for a touchdown.
"We had a good week of practice and played more than well enouigh to win in a tough environment," said Gibson. "Our defense leads the league in takeaways (with 24), but our offense can't get out of its own way. We had touchdowns on our first two drives of the game and then we hit a wall. Offensively, we're just not getting it done and we can't give away points in the kicking game like we have been."
The Lions now return home to host the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks (6-4) on Sunday at 4 p.m. Lehigh Valley steamrolled the Knoxville (Tenn.) Nighthawks, 67-42, Saturday night in Bethlehem, Pa., and have won its last four straight games.
Despite the team's four-game slide, Gibson is still hopeful that the Lions can make the PIFL playoffs with a sweep of their final three games. Currently, the Lions are 1 1/2 games out of the fourth and final playoff spot.
"We're still in playoffs if we win out, but we have to win out," said Gibson.