Coach says players have plentyof incentive
By Joseph Myers
Special To The Ledger-Enquirer
The Columbus Lions may not have playoff seeding to play for when they travel to Albany Saturday night to take on the Albany Panthers, but that's not to say Columbus doesn't have a lot of motivation to come away with a win.
"It's not hard to get them motivated," said Lions head coach Jason Gibson, whose team kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at the Albany Civic Center. "Last year, we threw guys at the wall and see who'd stick. This year, we've tried to find a core group of players.
"In the last three games, I think we've found some people and we've played as good a defense as any team in the league. Our offense is the reason why we haven't won. What has the guys most excited is that a lot of the defensive guys are ready to come back next season.
"Plus, our guys come here to move up and play in bigger leagues, so they're wanting to play well on film so they'll get a chance someplace bigger."
Another Lion is getting the chance to show his stuff on a bigger stage, as defensive back Anthony Shutt signed with the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League earlier this week. Shutt -- who had a team-high 52.5 tackles (49 solo, 7 assists), a league-leading eight interceptions and three pass breakups in 11 games -- is expected to be in the Predators' lineup Saturday night when they host the Pitts
Columbus (4-7) wants to stop a slide of five losses in its last six games and end a run of four straight Albany (6-5) wins in the series. The Panthers have won five of the last six meetings against the Lions, including a 35-15 victory on June 8 that eliminated Columbus from Professional Indoor Football League playoff contention.
In that game, Columbus mustered just 94 yards of total offense, scored zero points after halftime and had five turnovers -- including four interceptions -- in a performance that left Gibson almost at a loss for words.
"I've never been a part of something like this," Gibson said after the game. "It wasn't anything that Albany did to us. It's just that we're that pathetic on offense."
Gibson's statements are born out in the statistics, as the Lions are dead last in the PIFL in total offense (226.1 yards per game) by close to 20 yards and they've turned the ball over a league-high 33 times (8 fumbles, 25 interceptions), seven more than any other team in the league.
Columbus has used four quarterbacks -- and signed a total of five -- this season and four different kickers as it ranks sixth in field-goal percentage (7-for-26, 26.9 percent) and last in extra-point percentage (47-for-65, 72.3 percent). Those numbers have actually gone up in the last two games with the signing of Craig Camay, who seemingly has stabilized the position.
"Practice this week has been fun," Gibson said. "It's been a blast. The guys are competing and haven't stopped just because we're not going to the playoffs. Practice this week was intense, but fun.
"The guys are playing for film now and to be able to come back next season. Along with (Shutt) signing, three or four guys have found good offseason jobs, so it's been a good week for everybody."
Gibson said turnovers, both causing them on defense and not having them on offense, will be a big key in tonight's game.
"Turnovers," said Gibson, whose team has forced a league-high 30 turnovers (6 fumbles, 24 interceptions) this year. "We have to have no turnovers and be efficient on offense and take care of the ball.
"One thing's for sure. I'll get the right guys in there that can get it done."
Notes: The game will be broadcast on the Lions' Web site starting at 7:25 p.m. Just click on the "Listen Live" icon on the right-hand side of the homepage. This will be the first time in franchise history the Lions will not be in the postseason, snapping a run that dates back to 2007. Regardless of the outcome of the game, the opening round of the PIFL playoffs are set. Albany will be the No. 4 seed and travel to Huntsville, Ala., to take on the top-seeded Alabama Hammers (9-2), while the No. 2 seed, the Richmond Raiders (7-5), will host the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks (7-5) in Richmond, Va. Both games will be July 1.