With the game tied at 34 midway through the third quarter, Saturday night's game between the Columbus Lions and Georgia Fire at the Columbus Civic Center certainly wasn't the mismatch that their first game this season -- a 71-34 Lions victory on April 11 -- turned out to be.
However, the Lions' defense came up with three interceptions in the final 20 minutes of the game and the Columbus offense scored touchdowns on all five of its second-half possessions to pull away for a 63-41 victory.
"Georgia did a good job against us in the first half and we had some busted coverages," said Columbus defensive back Damian Daniels, who had two interceptions -- and now has 101 for his career -- and five tackles in the win. "But we talked at halftime about how we needed to make some stops and the offense would score for us. Our defense's motto is that we may bend early, but we're not going to break."
The critical stretch of the game started following a touchdown by the Fire (1-2) that tied the game at 34 with 5:39 left in the third quarter. Columbus (3-2) responded with a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Antwon Young to Jarmon Fortson to put the Lions back up 41-34 and Daniels got his first pick to swing the momentum in Columbus' favor.
"It felt good to get a win and I felt like I played well," said Fortson, who finished with five catches for 109 yards and a score. "I just want to come out each game and help the team win and play better than I did the last game."
After Daniels' interception, Young found Earl Alexander for a 15-yard touchdown pass to cap off a seven-play, 40-yard drive and make it 48-34 Lions with 13:01 remaining in the game. On Georgia's next possession, it was LeRoy Vann's turn to get into the act, as he intercepted a Cecil Lester pass to stop the Fire's drive inside the Columbus 10-yard line. Along with his pick, Vann finished with a team-high 5.5 tackles in his season debut for the Lions.
Columbus marched 48 yards to score again -- this time on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Young to Charles Gilbert -- to put the Lions up 55-34 with 5:16 remaining. Craig Camay recorded an Uno on the subsequent kickoff to make it 56-34 and the Fire not no closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
"Tonight, we started out shaky, but we stepped up our game in the second half," said Young, who now has 30 touchdown and two interceptions in the Lions' first five games.
"Having as many weapons as we do makes my job so much easier, plus the coaches put us in the right position to make big plays."
Young finished the game 20-for-27 for 256 yards and five touchdowns through the air and he added a pair of first-half rushing touchdowns as well. Tirone Morris caught nine passes for 66 yards, Alexander finished with three receptions for 47 yards and two TD's and Gilbert pitched in three catches for 34 yards and two scores. The Lions also got another great game out of running back Kendrick Perry, who had 12 carries for 73 yards and two more touchdowns.
Columbus was very efficient on offense for most of the night, finishing with 26 first downs on its 46 offensive plays and scoring on all seven of its red-zone opportunities.
Fire quarterback Cecil Lester went 23-for-39 for 281 yards and six touchdowns, but he was picked off three times in the second half. John Harris hauled in seven passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns and Antwontis Cutts finished with six receptions for 93 yards and a score in the loss. Georgia did have 24 first downs, but was only 2-of-6 on third downs and 6-for-9 on red-zone opportunities.
Columbus is now off until May 17, when the Lions travel to Huntsville, Ala. to take on the Alabama Hammers. The next home game for the Lions will be May 31, when Columbus hosts the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks. Kickoff for that game at The Columbus Civic Center is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Saturday at Columbus Civic CenterGeorgia 14 7 13 7--41
Columbus 14 13 14 22--63First Quarter
Col - Antwon Young 1 run (Craig Camay kick), 10:39.
Geo - Antwontis Cutts 4 pass from Cecil Lester (Ryan Gates kick), 7:45.
Col - Earl Alexander 9 pass from Young (Camay kick), 4:32.
Geo - John Harris 9 pass from Lester (Gates kick), 0:30.
Geo - Johnny Lester 17 pass from C. Lester (Kick failed), 11:53.
Geo - Gates Uno, 11:53.
Col - Charles Gilbert 2 pass from Young (Camay kick), 9:26.
Col - Young 12 run (Kick failed), 0:17.
Geo - J. Lester 6 pass from C. Lester (Kick failed), 11:57.
Col - Kendrick Perry 6 run (Kick failed), 8:47.
Col - Camay Uno, 8:47.
Geo - Harris 14 pass from C. Lester (Gates kick), 5:19.
Col - Jarmon Fortson 42 pass from Young (Camay kick), 3:24.
Col - Alexander 15 pass from Young (Camay kick), 13:01.
Col - Gilbert 21 pass from Young (Camay kick), 5:16.
Col - Camay Uno, 5:16.
Geo - J. Lester 12 pass from C. Lester (Gates kick), 2:38.
Col - Perry 4 run (Camay kick), 0:30.