Past letdowns motivate Lions
By CHRIS WHITE
In each of the Columbus Lions’ first three seasons, the team barreled into the playoffs with some of their league’s best records. And each time, the team has hit a wall in the semifinals or the league championship game, sending the Lions packing with disappointment.
As the Lions (9-3) prepare to host the Louisiana Swashbucklers (6-6) at 6 p.m. Sunday for the Southern Indoor Football League championship, those memories of being oh-so close have resurfaced.
“We’ve definitely been thinking about the last few years,” four-year Lions defensive back Damian Daniels said. “It’s the reason most of us decided to come back for another season, actually. Now that we’re finally here again, we’ve got to get it done and finally get over that hump.”
The Lions’ postseason frustration dates back to the team’s inaugural season in 2007. Columbus finished first overall in the regular season and reached the World Indoor Football League title game before falling to the Augusta Spartans. From that team, three key players remain with the Lions: Daniels, Justen Rivers and Ramone Nickerson.
A year later, the Lions went 10-3 through the regular season and finished second in the American Indoor Football Association’s Southern Division before losing to the eventual champions, the Mississippi Mudcats, in the semifinals.
And in 2009, the Lions made it beyond the first round of the AIFA playoffs, but again fell to the eventual champions — this time the Reading (Pa.) Express — in the semifinals. Of all of the Lions’ postseason disappointments, that one was the hardest to accept and has weighed heaviest as the Lions prepare for Sunday.
“I think we thought we could win it last season,” Lions coach Jason Gibson said. “Yeah, we had been to the championship game before, but I don’t think anybody was happy with what happened (at Reading). I think the guys who were here last year have been thinking of that.”
Louisiana has been on the other side of the coin. The Swashbucklers have won three consecutive league championships dating back to the 2007 season, when they won the first of two straight Intense Football League titles, leading up to their 2009 SIFL championship.
Louisiana began this season 2-4 but made changes that moved the team in the right direction, beginning with the promotion of Michael Warren from defensive coordinator to head coach in May after five games under Shadrick McAfee.
Since, the Swashbucklers have gone 4-2 and rolled into the Sunday’s title game on a road win at the top-seeded Albany Panthers. Gibson credits Louisiana’s success to the mid-season roster and coaching changes and said there is not a more dangerous team in the league.
“Nobody thought they were going to beat Albany the way they played during the season, and I mean nobody,” Gibson said. “But that’s the kind of team they are. And now they’re confident. I know I would be, and that scares me.”
The Lions and Swashbucklers split their two regular-season meetings, with Columbus winning the first 88-32 and Louisiana winning the second 51-31.
Despite the Lions’ postseason history, Gibson said the team mostly has avoided getting caught up in how close it has come or how it performed the last time it met the Swashbucklers.
“The only reason I’ve been thinking about it is because everyone has been asking me if I’ve been thinking about it,” Gibson said.
“I know some of the guys are probably thinking all kinds of things, but we’re trying to look at it like any other game right now. When we look at it that way, we’ll play well.”