If the Columbus Lions are going to contend for a Professional Indoor Football League championship this season, they have to win on the road. However, over the past couple of seasons, that's been easier said that done, as Columbus has lost its last five road contests.
"We have to win on the road," said Lions head coach Jason Gibson, whose teams heads to Huntsville, Alabama, tonight to take on the Alabama Hammers. "If we want to win a championship, which is what all teams want to do, we have to win some road games. Alabama is a team with a lot of veterans and are the defending league champions, but if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best."
Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 8 p.m. and can be heard through a link off the Hammers' Web site at www.alabamahammers.com.
Columbus (3-2) -- which is in a three-way tie with Georgia and Nashville for first place in the American Conference -- has been off since a 63-41 victory over the Georgia Fire back on April 26. The win was the Lions' third in the last four games and made Columbus a perfect 3-0 at home this season.
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Following the win, Gibson gave his players two weeks off before resuming practice this week. He said the time off has benefited the team.
"We took a total of two weeks," said Gibson. "We were just going to take one week off, but I talked to some of the veterans about it. We had some injuries and other players that were getting worn down, so I went ahead and gave them another week, too. They spent a lot of time resting, healing up and just bonding. Having good team chemistry is almost as important as putting in work in practice, so I thought it'd be better to let them build some team chemistry."
While the Lions, Georgia and Nashville are all stacked atop the American Conference standings, Alabama (1-4) is two games behind following a disastrous 0-4 start to its season. However, the Hammers picked up their first victory in their most-recent game -- a 51-48 road win over the Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania) Steelhawks on May 11.
"I really think Alabama is going to be in the hunt for a playoff spot before it's over," said Gibson, whose team has lost its last three meetings with the Hammers. "They just got their quarterback back, so they're going to be better than they were the first four games of the year. If they win, that gets them to 2-4 and they're not that far out of it. We've played a lot of non-conference games early on in the season, but the second half of our schedule is loaded with conference games. A lot of our toughest games are still in front of us."
If the Lions are to break their long streaks -- both on the road and against Alabama -- Gibson said his team needs to put together four quarters of solid football. In their first two road games of the season -- losses at Trenton and Harrisburg -- the Lions came out and played a strong first half only to fade down the stretch and give up significant leads.
"We have to play for four quarters," said Gibson. "We've sputtered in the second half and I'm not sure why. I don't know if it was the long road trip, the fact that we were on the road or what. We have to stay mentally tough in the second half, even if the game gets tough and is close. I know we're not going to physically break, so we have to not break mentally as well."