The Columbus Lions were five seconds from a perfect 6-0 home record and a victory over the division-leading Nashville (Tenn.) Venom on Saturday night at the Columbus Civic Center.
However, a 6-yard touchdown pass from Charles McCullum to Phillip Barnett with five seconds remaining in the game spoiled the Lions' hopes and allowed Nashville to escape with a 60-56 victory over Columbus in the Lions' final home game of the season.
"We spotted them 16 points," said Lions coach Jason Gibson, whose team gave up two defensive touchdowns and a safety in the contest. "We only gave up 44 points to their offense. That right there is what cost us the game. Missed opportunities on offense hurt us badly, but our defense played great and we had a chance to win the game."
Following the touchdown pass, Nashville (8-2) recorded a touchback on the kickoff and Columbus (5-5) started on its 20.
Quarterback Luke Halpin's pass to the end zone fell incomplete, but the Venom were called for pass interference, giving the Lions one more untimed down from the Nashville 20. After calling two timeouts to discuss the play call, Halpin dropped back to pass, but his pass to the end zone was too high.
"The only thing going through my head right now is the mistakes I made," said Halpin, who was named the starter this week after former starter Chris McCoy left the team. "I know I'm a rookie, but I still have to be a man and lead this team. The chemistry is there. I just have to learn from my mistakes and take it one day at a time."
Columbus scored the first touchdown of the game on a 2-yard run by Kendrick Perry midway through the first quarter, but the Venom scored the next 14 points to lead 14-6 after one quarter. First, Mack Ogletree got a 6-yard touchdown run, then defensive back Kenny Veal returned a lateral 29 yards for another touchdown to put Nashville in front.
Columbus was stopped on its first possession of the second quarter, but Roshawn Marshall picked off McCullum to get the Lions the ball back on the Venom 15-yard line.
Three plays later, Perry scored on a 3-yard run to get Columbus back to within 14-13 and kicker Craig Camay made an uno to tie the game at 14 with 10:06 to go before halftime.
Nashville scored the next 14 points on a 13-yard touchdown pass from McCullum to George Murray, an uno by kicker Christian Reed and another 19-yard touchdown pass, this one from McCullum to Jordan Jolly, to go up 28-14 with 2:17 remaining in the quarter. However, the Lions struck right back with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Halpin -- making his first professional start -- to Cody Pearcy and another uno by Camay to close to within 28-22.
Columbus looked poised to go into halftime only down 28-22 or be even closer after Marshall recovered a fumble at the Lions' 4-yard line with just under a minute to go in the half, but a bad snap on the Lions' first play resulted in a safety and made it 30-22 Venom at the break.
The teams traded the lead back and forth for most of the second half, with a 57-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by LeRoy Vann putting Columbus up 35-33 midway through the third quarter. Vann later added a 10-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter and a 21-yard touchdown pass from Halpin to Pearcy with 55 seconds to go in the game put the Lions up 56-53 before the Venom's late-game heroics allowed them to slither out of the Civic Center with a victory.
"We fought hard as a team," said Vann. "We gave Nashville a couple of big plays, especially early in the game. We have to do a better job of capitalizing on their mistakes, but right now, we're just going to get behind (Halpin) and get more solid plays from our defense. If we can go out and make plays, we'll be OK."
Saturday at Columbus Civic CenterNashville 14 16 10 20--60
Columbus 6 16 13 21--56First Quarter
Col - Kendrick Perry 2 run (Run failed), 7:44.
Nash - Mack Ogletree 6 run (Christian Reed kick), 3:40.
Nash - Kenny Veal 29 fumble return (Reed kick), 0:00.
Col - Perry 3 run (Craig Camay kick), 10:06.
Col - Camay Uno, 10:06.
Nash - George Murray 13 pass from Charles McCullum (Kick failed), 6:36.
Nash - Reed Uno, 6:36.
Nash - Jordan Jolly 19 pass from McCullum (Reed kick), 2:17.
Col - Cody Pearcy 30 pass from Luke Halpin (Camay kick), 1:21.
Col - Camay Uno, 1:21.
Nash - Safety (Halpin tackled in end zone), 0:40.
Col - Chris Davis 6 pass from Halpin (Kick failed), 12:06.
Nash - Reed 37 FG, 9:40.
Col - LeRoy Vann 57 kickoff return (Camay kick), 8:53.
Nash - Walter Thomas 7 fumble return (Reed kick), 2:26.
Col - Vann 10 run (Camay kick), 14:30.
Nash - Phillip Barnett 13 pass from McCullum (Pass failed), 12:26.
Col - Perry 2 run (Kick failed), 6:22.
Col - Camay Uno, 6:22.
Nash - Barnett 10 pass from McCullum (Reed kick), 3:38.
Col - Pearcy 21 pass from Halpin (Camay kick), 0:55.
Nash - Barnett 6 pass from McCullum (Reed kick), 0:05.