The Columbus Lions host the Louisiana Swashbucklers tonight at 7:30 at the Columbus Civic Center, and even though the teams have different records, both come in on equal footing.
That's because all six of the Professional Indoor Football League's franchises were off last weekend for Easter. Columbus (2-2) didn't practice last week and resumed workouts Monday, which left Lions coach Jason Gibson with mixed emotions.
"We've had a pretty good week of practice," said Gibson, whose team lost to the Alabama Hammers 63-60 at home March 31. "The week off was a good chance for us to take a deep breath and heal some injuries, but it's not ever good to go a whole week without doing some football-related stuff. A lot of football fundamentals are muscle memory, so I'd rather have had some practices."
While Columbus is coming off the setback at the hands of Alabama, Louisiana (1-2) has dropped two straight games, but both were to the league-leading Albany Panthers (3-0). Albany won 58-55 March 24 in Lake Charles, La., and the Panthers took the rematch, 52-36, in Albany on March 31.
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The Swashbucklers are last in the PIFL in passing offense, averaging 172 yards per game, and have used three quarterbacks this season. But they are also second in rushing (46 yards/game) and have been to their league championship game each of the past five seasons.
"(Louisiana) is a good team," Gibson said. "They're coached well, have a good defense, and there's a lot of veterans on their roster. Anytime you have that combination of things, you've got a good chance to win. They run the ball well, but, to be honest, I'm more worried about us than I am them."
Gibson's worries deal mostly with the Lions' defense and special teams. While Columbus leads the league in several offensive categories, including passing offense (262 yards per game), the Lions are last in total defense (281 yards per game) and next to last in field goals. The Lions re-signed kicker Trey Crum, who had 278 points and 53 unos during the past two seasons with Columbus.
"We have to fix our defense, special teams and penalties," said Gibson, whose team is next to last in the PIFL in penalties. "If you look at the two games we lost, we left about 12 points on the field, and the other team kicked three field goals in one game and two in the other. If we're averaging 60 points per game with not much defense and a kicker, I feel good about what we'll be doing when we get them going."
The team made some other moves during the off week. Backup quarterback Derek Cassidy signed with the Pittsburgh Power of the Arena Football League, so do-everything Lion Anthony Merritt will be the team's No. 2 signal-caller tonight.
The Lions signed defensive lineman Melvin Matthews (Grambling) and released linebacker Justen Rivers, who was third on the team with 12 total tackles. Gibson said Rivers' release came due to "a difference of opinion."
Notes: The Lions travel to Albany to face the Panthers on April 21. Kickoff at the James H. Gray Civic Center is scheduled for 7 p.m. In other action in the PIFL tonight, the Albany Panthers (3-0) hit the road to play the Knoxville Nighthawks (0-3) and the Alabama Hammers (1-2) go to Virginia to take on the Richmond Raiders (3-1). Both games kick off at 7 p.m.