Lions bring in two quarterbacks
By Joseph Myers
Special To The Ledger-Enquirer
With his team sitting at 4-4 with four games left in the regular season, Columbus Lions coach Jason Gibson decided to shake up his team this week.
He signed a pair of quarterbacks (John Church and Luke Halpin) to either back up or take the starting job from Chris McCoy, who is just 37-of-74 passing with nine touchdowns and four interceptions in three games.
Gibson also signed defensive lineman Tito Hannah and had defensive lineman Jamontay Pilson return from suspension in an effort to bolster the line of scrimmage.
Being shown the door were defensive lineman Brandon Davis (waived) and wide receivers Charles Gilbert and Jordan Rideaux. Quarterback Danny O'Brien -- who was signed by the Lions last week but left the team before appearing in a game -- was placed on the CFL-Exempt list.
The Lions' first game with a revamped roster will be Saturday night at 7 against the Alabama Hammers at the Columbus Civic Center. It's a game Gibson said his team needs to have if it wants to have a chance at qualifying for the Professional Indoor Football League playoffs.
"This really is a pivotal game for us," said Gibson, whose team trails the Nashville (Tenn.) Venom by two games in the American Conference standings. "We play this team three times, so it's especially big. The good thing about it is that we're playing at home and we play well here."
Gibson wouldn't reveal which two quarterbacks would dress for his team tonight, much less who would get the start. All three took snaps in practice during the week and each showed moments of brilliance.
McCoy and Gibson got into a heated argument at practice Thursday night before McCoy left the field with Lions defensive coordinator Branden Hall and didn't return. Gibson said the argu
ment was "a difference of opinion" and declined any further comment.
"(The quarterback competition) is going OK," Gibson said. "Both of the new guys throw well, which is what you can expect. At this point in the year, what have we got to lose? We've got to have two quarterbacks and right now we're completing 50 percent of our passes and we've had four turnovers in the last two games. We can't have those kind of numbers and expect to win."
Even though the Lions sport a .500 record, Columbus currently is sitting in a playoff spot and Gibson is trying to look at things with an optimistic perspective despite his team's roller coaster season.
"We're 4-4 and that's better than 3-5," Gibson said. "We didn't expect to lose our starting quarterback (Antwon Young) and that hurts, especially at this level because everybody is only going to have one really good quarterback, if that many. We've been battling the injury bug, but we control our own destiny. But if we're going to be a good football team, we have to beat good teams. We can't just have everybody lay down for us."
The Lions are coming off a 54-42 win over the Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Steelhawks in a game that saw Columbus fullback Kendrick Perry set a new PIFL record for most carries in a game with 21. Perry's bruising ground game, some timely completions by McCoy and second-half stops by the Lions defense added up to a victory that stopped a two-game losing streak.
"We had to run the ball a lot," Gibson said.
"We were struggling throwing the ball early on and I thought the only way we were going to be successful offensively was to run the ball and (Perry) did a good job for us. Kendrick running the ball well opened up the passing game for us and we were able to get some things done."
Alabama (3-5) is one game back of the Lions in the standings and is coming off a 59-45 loss at Nashville last week. The loss stopped a three-game winning streak for the Hammers, the defending PIFL champs who started this season 0-4. One of those wins was a 73-53 victory over the Lions in Huntsville, Ala., back on May 17. In that game, Young was just 12-for-33 passing, even though he did finish with 294 yards and four touchdowns.
"We have to take care of the ball," Gibson said. "When we played Alabama last year, we had a total of nine turnovers and we had two more when we played them up there this year. We need to complete some passes and play some mistake-free football. We have to make them beat us. We can't beat ourselves."