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Columbus Lions clip Knoxville Nighthawks in PIFL home opener

The Columbus Lions’ duo of quarterback Randy Hippeard and wide receiver Maurice Dupree hooked up for four touchdowns Saturday night as the Lions held off the Knoxville Nighthawks, 64-59, at the Columbus Civic Center.

Hippeard finished the game 24-for-31 for 191 yards with five touchdowns and an interception, while Dupree had seven catches for 57 yards and four scores. A week after leading the Lions’ defense with six tackles, Anthony Merritt had eight receptions for 52 yards in the victory. London Crawford added five catches for 52 yards and Gerald Gales pitched in four catches for 30 yards in the victory.

Columbus (1-1) was led on defense by Carver High graduate Jeff Lemon, who had seven total tackles. Brandon Horace had five stops, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery as well.

The Lions took control of the game by outscoring Knoxville 21-12 in the third quarter to take a 50-38 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Nighthawks stayed within striking distance the entire final period. Knoxville closed to within 64-59 on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Tony Colston to Justin Craig with 35 seconds left, but the Lions recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

Colston was 20-for-28 for 305 yards and seven touchdowns in the loss. Ryan McDaniel was the Nighthawks’ leading receiver, catching 10 passes for 141 yards and four touchdowns.

Knoxville (0-1) scored on the game’s opening possession on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Colston to Kelvin Thompson, but Justen Rivers blocked the extra point and returned it for two points to make it 6-2 Nighthawks 3:07 into the game.

Columbus scored on its first drive on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Hippeard to Gales and Ryan Gates made the extra point for the Lions. On the ensuing kickoff, the Lions tackled McDaniel in the end zone for a single point to go up 10-6 midway through the first quarter.

The Nighthawks scored again on a 10-yard pass from Colston to McDaniel, but the Lions responded with a 5-yard touchdown run by Hippeard to end the first quarter with a 17-12 advantage.

David Smith of Columbus picked off Colston on the Nighthawks’ next drive and the Lions cashed in the turnover, scoring on a 6-yard pass from Hippeard to Dupree.

The extra point was no good, but Columbus still held a 23-12 lead.

Following a 1-yard touchdown pass from Colston to McDaniel, Dupree and Hippeard hooked up again on another 10-yard touchdown pass and the Lions held a 29-19 advantage with 51 seconds to go before halftime.

However, Knoxville scored one last time before the break, this time on a 1-yard run by Thompson, to pull to within 29-19 going into the locker room.

Hippeard was 16-for-22 for 116 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in the first half, with Dupree catching five passes for 40 yards and two scores. Merritt added five receptions for 30 yards of his own.

Colston went 11-for-14 for 137 yards and three touchdowns, but was picked off by Smith two times in the opening 30 minutes. McDaniel was Colston’s top target, hauling in six passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

Penalties were the Lions’ biggest problem in the first half, as Columbus were flagged five times for 39 yards in the first two quarters. The Lions also missed two extra points after missing three in last week’s season-opening loss at Richmond. However, Lions kicker Ryan Gates got things going in the second half, making all five of his extra point attempts.

Columbus hits the road next week, traveling to Huntsville, Ala. to take on the Alabama Slammers on March 24.

at Columbus Civic Center

Knoxville 12 14 12 21--59

Columbus 17 12 21 14--64

First Quarter

Knox - Kelvin Thompson 7 pass from Tony Colston (Kick blocked), 11:53.

Col - Justen Rivers blocked kick return, 11:53.

Col - Gerald Gales 10 pass from Randy Hippeard (Ryan Gates kick), 7:08.

Col - Ryan McDaniel tackled in end zone, 7:08.

Knox - McDaniel 10 pass from Colston (Kick failed), 3:23.

Col - Hippeard 5 run (Gates kick), 0:00.

Second Quarter

Col - Maurice Dupree 9 pass from Hippeard (Kick failed), 9:23.

Knox - McDaniel 1 pass from Colston (Alex Walls kick), 1:00.

Col - Dupree 10 pass from Hippeard (Kick failed), 0:51.

Knox - Thompson 1 run (Walls kick), 0:00.

Third Quarter

Col - Dupree 11 pass from Hippeard (Gates kick), 13:10.

Knox - Justin Craig 39 pass from Colston (Pass failed), 10:10.

Col - Hippeard 1 run (Gates kick), 8:00.

Col - Hippeard 2 run (Gates kick), 6:25.

Knox - Colston 4 run (Kick failed), 2:22.

Fourth Quarter

Knox - McDaniel 24 pass from Colston (Walls kick), 11:24.

Col - Dupree 6 pass from Hippeard (Gates kick), 9:06.

Knox - McDaniel 4 pass from Colston (Walls kick), 5:05.

Col - Anthony Merritt 2 run (Gates kick), 0:49.

Knox - Craig 49 pass from Colston (Walls kick), 0:35.