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Columbus Lions play their PIFL home opener tonight against Knoxville Nighthawks

A week after dropping their season opener to the Richmond Raiders on the road in Virginia, the Columbus Lions hope to right the ship tonight, when they host the Knoxville Nighthawks tonight at 7:30 at the Columbus Civic Center.

Columbus (0-1) lost 64-58 to the Raiders but squandered numerous scoring opportunities in the close defeat. The Lions missed three field goals, three extra points, had a potential touchdown pass dropped and had another touchdown called back.

“I told my guys after the game that as bad as we played, and given the situation we were in with so many rookies and playing in a tough environment against a good football team, that I wasn’t too worried,” said Columbus coach Jason Gibson. “Their crowd was great, and the possession where things really turned was when we had it on their 10-yard line and got called for three straight false start penalties. It turned a second-and-1 into a third-and-16, and we didn’t get any points out of it. I wasn’t that upset after we lost, but we have to get better this week.”

To help his team get better, Gibson decided to change the Lions’ practice format this week.

“We’ve gotten better in practice as the week’s gone along,” said Gibson. “I think one of the things that hurt us last week was the fact that I didn’t make practice harder than the game itself. So I decided to make practice higher in intensity but shorter in length. Knoxville might be a little bit faster than us, but I expect us to go out there, be physical and know what we’re doing. When I look at the game film afterwards, I want us to look better (tonight) than we did last week.”

Randy Hippeard was 25-for-42 for 298 yards and seven touchdowns through the air last week for the Lions. His top target was Gerald Gales, who caught 10 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Maurice Dupree also had eight receptions for 94 yards and four scores.

On the defensive side of the ball, Anthony Merritt -- who normally is a receiver for the Lions and did catch one pass for 4 yards against Richmond -- led the team with six tackles. Carver High graduate Jeff Lemon had five tackles and an interception, and Drew Gloster added five tackles.

Knoxville (0-0) is a first-year franchise, but the Nighthawks bring a talented roster into the Civic Center tonight. Leading the way is coach Chris MacKeown, and he’ll lean heavily on veteran quarterback Tony Colston.

Colston was highly successful during a four-year stint with the Tennessee Valley Vipers and scored the winning two-point conversion in overtime that gave the Vipers the 2008 Arena Cup Championship.

“Knoxville has a good coach and a good quarterback,” Gibson said. “Anytime you have those two things, it’s a good formula for success. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

Gibson said the Lions’ defense will play a big role in determining the outcome of tonight’s game.

“Third and fourth downs are going to be big for us,” Gibson said. “Last week, we couldn’t get their offense off the field. We’d have them in third-and-17 and they’d convert or they’d have it fourth-and-6 and score a touchdown. We have to get stops in those situations. It’s the little things like that which will make a big difference in deciding who wins.”

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