at Nashville in league semifinals
By Joseph Myers
Special To The Ledger-Enquirer
Teams want to be playing their best as they head into the postseason and it's safe to say that's just what the Columbus Lions are doing.
After losing their first four road games of the 2014 campaign, the Lions posted two straight road victories to close the regular season with four wins in their last five contests. The Lions hope to cotinue that hot play in Saturday night's Professional Indoor Football League American Conference championship game at the Nashville (Tenn.) Venom.
"A big difference the past few weeks has been our quarterback play," said Lions coach Jason Gibson. "(Quarterback Luke Halpin) has been completing close to 70 percent of his passes, and that's something we haven't had in a long time. We've been making plays offensively, and our defense just keeps getting better every week.
"There's no doubt we're playing our best football right now, and it's our best team football. All three phases of the game are clicking. Everybody knows their role, and everybody has been stepping up and making plays."
Halpin took over as the Lions starting quarterback three games ago following the departure of Chris McCoy and has steadied the ship offensively.
He is an efficient 51-for-77 (66.2 percent) for 584 yards and 11 touchdowns while throwing just one interception. His completion percentage is 12 percent better than either of the Lions' other two starting quarterbacks this season.
He was named the PI
FL's Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in the Lions' 69-55 win over the Georgia Fire last week, when he went 18-for-25 for 204 yards and five touchdowns through he air along with adding another rushing touchdown.
Halpin's first game as starter was the Lions' last meeting with Nashville, a 60-56 Venom victory in Columbus back on June 14. In that game, Columbus (7-5) had a chance to win on the final play of the game despite allowing the Venom to score two defensive touchdowns and giving up another turnover.
Nashville (10-2) is the top seed in the PIFL playoffs and is the only team to beat Columbus twice this season. Along with the win in Columbus, the Venom knocked off the Lions 58-44 in Nashville on May 25. That was the first contest after Antwon Young -- the Lions' starting quarterbck for the first six games of the season -- was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
"Nashville's a very, very good football team," Gibson said of the Venom, who have won their last seven straight games.
"However, we just see this as a challenge. When you get to the playoffs, you want to play against the best and right now, they're the best."
If the Lions are going to advance to the PIFL championship game, where they'd face either Lehigh Valley (6-6) or Trenton (8-4), Gibson said his team has to continue its recent offensive surge along with getting stops from a defense that is second in the league in interceptions (23) and turnover margin (plus-11).
"We've got to score 70 points," said Gibson. "When you get to this level, we've got to be able to put points on the board.
"Our defense is one of the best in the league, but our offense is going to have to produce. We can't play average offensively and expect to win (tonight)."