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Columbus Lions lessen turnover trouble heading into PIFL playoff game at Albany Panthers

During the Columbus Lions' three-game losing streak -- the first in franchise history -- the team had 13 turnovers and went from plus-9 to minus-1 in turnover differential.

Lions coach Jason Gibson made taking care of the ball an extreme point of emphasis going into Saturday night's regular-season finale, and Columbus gave up the ball only once while forcing three turnovers in a 76-63 victory over the Knoxville Nighthawks at the Columbus Civic Center.

"Even though we did play well and win the game, we did what I didn't want us to do tonight," Gibson said following the win. "We turned the ball over, but it was only once, and our defense created three turnovers for us and scored on one of them.

"I thought our offense was more effective tonight, especially in the red zone. We hadn't been good in the red zone in the past few games, but we did what we needed to do tonight, and we didn't have any red-zone turnovers."

Gibson also was pleased with a sequence at the end of the first half and start of the third quarter.

Knoxville scored a touchdown with 7 seconds to go before halftime, but the Lions completed a pass to get better field position, and Trey Crum made a 43-yard field goal as time expired to send Columbus into the locker room with a 34-23 lead.

Ramon Broadway returned the opening kickoff of the second half 49 yards for a touchdown to make it 41-23, and the Nighthawks never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.

"I thought we played good situational football tonight," Gibson said. "The things we did at the end of the first and start of the second half were big. That was a 10-to-14-point swing there by getting the field goal and the kickoff return for the touchdown."

Two relative newcomers who impressed with their play Saturday night were Broadway, who also returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown in the first half, and backup quarterback Marcus Jones, who played most of the fourth quarter and threw three touchdown passes in his first action of the season.

"(Broadway) showed tonight why we went out, found him and signed him," Gibson said. "(London) Crawford lobbied for us to sign him, and I'm glad we did. We had some good plays by our defensive backs. They really disrupted the receivers' routes, and we were able to get some pressure up front.

"Marcus was effective for us tonight. We wanted to give him some reps, and he got them and was successful. We put him in there when we needed to keep scoring to stay in front, and he led us to touchdowns. He did a good job for us out there."

Columbus (6-6) will go into the Professional Indoor Football League playoffs as the No. 4 seed and will travel to Albany (10-2) to face the Panthers in the opening round of the playoffs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Columbus finished in a tie for third with Louisiana, which beat Alabama 75-70 in Lake Charles, La., Saturday, but the Swashbucklers won the tiebreaker to get the No. 3 seed and a trip to face No. 2 Richmond (10-2) June 25.

"Albany is the best team in the league," said Gibson, whose team lost two of three meetings with the Panthers this year, including both games in Albany. "They're the No. 1 seed, so it's going to be a tough game. But I think it's going to be fun. It's a good rivalry. Hopefully, we've started to mold as a team and we'll be peaking, because I don't think we've started to play our best football yet."