With 3 seconds to go in their game against the Alabama Hammers Saturday at the Columbus Civic Center, the Columbus Lions had a chance to tie the game with a field goal.
However, instead of trying to tie things up and send the game to overtime, Lions coach Jason Gibson opted to go for the win. A touchdown pass from quarterback Randy Hippeard to London Crawford was negated by an offensive pass interference penalty and on the subsequent untimed down, Hippeard's pass fell incomplete, allowing the Hammers to walk away 63-60 winners.
Gibson said the decision to go for the win instead of the tie was an easy one.
"I'm not going to kick to tie the game," said Gibson, whose team had a two-game winning streak snapped. "If the score had been 62-60, I'd have kicked to win the game. But I'm not going to kick to tie.
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"Every coach is going to say a game got away from them when they lose a close game. But my team had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win and that's all I can ask. The biggest thing for us is to learn from this so that we can keep getting better and make the playoffs."
The Lions' Anthony Merritt returned the game's opening kickoff 58 yards for a touchdown, but the Hammers matched Columbus score for score and took a 40-34 advantage into halftime after picking off Hippeard twice and getting three touchdown passes from quarterback Arvell Nelson to Mico McSwain.
"They studied the film (from the Lions' 56-43 win in Huntsville, Ala. April 24) and made some adjustments," said Gibson. "They were able to do some damage in the first half."
Columbus made some adjustments at halftime and forced Nelson to go 6-for-18 through the air in the final two quarters. As a result, the Lions outscored the Hammers 20-9 in the third period and took a 54-49 lead into the final 15 minutes.
"We made some good adjustments at halftime," Gibson said. "But we had too many mistakes on offense. We had three interceptions in the game and had two touchdowns called back due to penalties. We held Alabama to two offensive touchdowns in the second half."
The score that got the Hammers (1-2) back in the game was a 22-yard interception return for a touchdown by Darian Payne that gave Alabama a 56-54 lead with 10:22 remaining.
Hippeard and Maurice Dupree hooked up for a 23-yard touchdown pass to put the Lions back ahead 60-56 with 1:14 to go, but McSwain and Nelson got together for a 4-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds left to put the Hammers back ahead and set up Gibson's late-game decision.
"I don't feel too bad after this game," Gibson said. "We had three turnovers and still scored 60 points. Alabama had to have a perfect game just to get to 60. If we can play mistake-free football with our offense, we'll be scoring 80 points per game."
The Lions (2-2) are off this week before hosting the Louisiana Swashbucklers (1-2) April 14 at 7:30 p.m.