The Columbus defense intercepted Florence quarterback Brian Scott five times, and the Lions assured themselves at least one more week atop the American Indoor Football Association’s tight South Division with a 37-14 victory over the Phantoms in the Columbus Civic Center.
The victory separated Columbus (8-3) from second-place Florence (6-4), and potentially Fayetteville, which also was 6-3 before its game against the Reading Express on Saturday.
“This was a big one for us; it gave us a chance to make a statement going into the playoffs,” defensive lineman Mike Berry said. “We needed this one. We’ve only got three games left, and we had to make this one matter.”
Columbus appeared to score on an end-zone-to-end zone field goal return by Damian Daniels midway through the first quarter, but a block in the back set up the Lions at the Phantoms 12. Three plays later, fullback Richard Fitzhugh opened the scoring with a 1-yard run up the middle. Carlos Martinez made his first of four point-after attempts to put Columbus ahead 7-0 with 6:50 remaining in the first.
Scott, filling in for injured starter Omar Jacobs, was picked off again on the drive, and the Phantoms did not get any help from the officials this time as Lions linebacker Ryan Babb ran it back 10 yards for a score. It was Babb’s fourth interception of the season and third returned for a touchdown.
Florence trailed 14-0 before Scott connected with Torrey Pettigrew on a 13-yard pass in the left corner of the end zone in the final minute of the first half. Derrick Scott hit the point-after attempt to cut the Lions’ lead to 7 points.
The ball exchanged hands four more times in the final minute of the second quarter, with the Lions scoring twice. Lions quarterback Todd Spitzer carried in a 5-yard score with 39 seconds left, and the Lions scored again 17 seconds later on a 27-yard Carlos Martinez field goal set up when Mike Berry tipped a Scott pass and lineman Franklin Lloyd came down with the interception.
Martinez hit field goals from 23 and 12 yards in the third quarter to put the Lions ahead 30-7. Florence’s Corey Groover scored on a 1-yard run early in the fourth to cut into the lead, but the Lions stopped any hopes of a fourth-quarter rally with an interception and a fumble recovery to end Florence’s final two possessions. Spitzer added more cushion with a 6-yard scoring run midway through the fourth.
Spitzer, making his first start, finished 4-for-18 for 44 yards and carried the ball four times for 35 yards, including his two touchdowns.
“I saw some bright spots, but there are definitely some things we have to work on,” Spitzer said of his performance. “We need to get our timing down a little better, but there were some things we did right.
“I wasn’t going to get forced into any bad plays, so, if I didn’t see anything, I was just going to run with it.”
Scott threw for 125 yards, but the Lions defense refused to let the Phantoms get much ground on any one drive, even stopping Florence twice in the fourth quarter inside the Lions 10 with a full set of downs.
“We just had a good game plan,” said Daniels, who had two interceptions. “The defensive line played their butts off; everyone played real hard.”