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Columbus Lions to play Alabama Hammers in second straight game, but they have an Army kicker this time

It's tough to play a team twice in the same football season, much less twice in two weeks.

However, that's the challenge the Columbus Lions (2-1) face tonight at 7:30, when they host the Alabama Hammers (0-2) at the Columbus Civic Center. The game will serve as "Military Appreciation Night." The Lions will honor the area's military members and give the first 1,500 fans through the gate a free Koozie, courtesy of Cable TV of East Alabama.

Last week, the Lions forced seven turnovers and got 335 yards and eight touchdown passes from quarterback Randy Hippeyard en route to a 56-43 win in Huntsville. Gerald Gales was Hippeyard's top target, hauling in nine passes for 120 yards and three touchdowns and was named the Professional Indoor Football League's Offensive Player of the Week.

"A couple of things could happen this week," Columbus coach Jason Gibson said. "Both teams are going to correct what they did wrong the previous week, but also the team that won that first game is going to let up some and has a tendency to prepare less. I don't want that, so I nit-picked the film, and we've been working hard to make sure we're ready."

Columbus released kicker Ryan Gates last week after he went 1-for-4 on field goals and 12-for-17 on extra points in the Lions' first two games, and they played the game in Huntsville without a placekicker. Linebacker Justen Rivers kicked off, and the Lions went for two every time they scored a touchdown.

This week, Columbus signed Jason Wirtz, an active-duty Army soldier who is an instructor at the Armor School at Fort Benning, to take care of the kicking chores. Wirtz kicked for Concordia College in Minnesota and was the kicker for the Fort Benning Doughboys team last fall.

"Defensively, everything we got a hand on, we grabbed and we needed that," Gibson said. "Not having a kicker was almost a backbreaker for us, and I'm going to try not to ever do that again. It hurt us points-wise and in terms of field position. Hopefully, we can pick up some of those points we left out there on the field last week."

After picking off Hammers quarterback Arvell Nelson four times last week and sporting not only the league leaders in interceptions (Jeff Lemon and David Smith with three apiece) and sacks (Armond Willis with three), Gibson said the Lions' defense again will play a key factor.

"It's always about turnovers," Gibson said. "You have to create them and not have them when you're on offense. If we can keep rolling on offense, I think we've got a good chance. Alabama has a good team, is well-coached and has two really good receivers (in Charlie McLain and Mico McSwain, who combined for nine catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns last week). I thought we did a pretty good job on them last week, and, if we can do that again, I think we'll have a good night."

Notes: Columbus (2-1) looks for its third straight win while trying to keep the Hammers (0-2) winless. After tonight's game, the Lions are off next week and are back in action April 14, hosting the Louisiana Swashbucklers. In other PIFL action tonight, the Richmond Raiders (2-1) are on the road against the Knoxville Nighthawks (0-2) and the Louisiana Swashbucklers (1-1) come to Albany to take on the Panthers (2-0).