Columbus Lions coach Jason Gibson said earlier in the week that his defense was coming around. Well, it's safe to say it has arrived. The Lions forced five Erie Explosion turnovers and added six sacks en route to an 81-26 victory Saturday night at the Civic Center.
In addition to the five turnovers, the Lions defense scored three first-half touchdowns.
"The defense had a great week of practice," Gibson said. "I actually got mad at the offense because the defense was whooping us so bad."
On the opening drive, Erie looked to be in business, recording a 25-yard pass on the third play of the game to get into the red zone. Things quickly changed on a third and eight as Erie's Greg Betterson pulled in a catch close to the first down marker.
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However, Lions defensive back Marvin Ross got his hands on the ball simultaneously, ripping it away from Betterson. Ross would then proceed to run 45 yards for the opening score of the game.
"Getting a defensive touchdown really takes the wind out of the other team," said Gibson. "When you are the road team, you need momentum and that play took it away from Erie.
"I feel like that play changed the game from the onset."
After an Explosion three-and-out and a Casey Kacz 12-yard touchdown pass to John Harris, the Lions defense was at it again.
With under two minutes remaining in the opening quarter, the Explosion be
gan a drive on their own 10. Erie quarterback Mason Espinosa dropped back for a pass, but the Lions front was too much for the offensive line as Larry Edwards sacked Espinosa, forcing a fumble which Edwards recovered himself.
Four plays later, the Lions had a 21-0 lead after Jarmon Fortson beat his defender on an out for a seven-yard touchdown.
Erie finally got on the board at the 12:37 mark in the second quarter, but immediately made a blunder, kicking the kickoff out of bounds giving the Lions the ball at the Explosion 20.
The Lions made Erie pay just a play later as Kacz found Terrance Ebagua down the right sideline for a 20-yard score.
The Explosion made it a 28-13 game after Espinosa threw his second touchdown of the game with 6:28 remaining.
However from there, the Lions closed the half by scoring four touchdowns in the final five minutes to take a commanding 55-13 lead at the half.
The defense was the key cog in the scoring run as the Lions scored 21-points in the final minute of the half. Ken Washington scored Columbus' second defensive touchdown of the night, forcing a fumble in the end zone after he tracked down and sacked Espinosa.
Less than 20 seconds later, Espinosa was helping the Lions again as Ross picked off the quarterback and took it to the house for his second defensive score of the game to make it a 55-13 Lions lead at the half.
"That stretch pretty much ended the game," added Gibson.
"After that, it was a matter of going into halftime, playing with class and finishing strong in the second half and that's what we did."
Coming out of the break, the Lions added on to its lead with a touchdown on the third play of the drive as Kacz connected with Kendrick Perry for a nine-yard score.
Erie would score two touchdowns thanks to backup quarterback Steffen Colon, but the Lions responded scoring the final two touchdowns to cap of scoring.
For the game, the Lions ran 27 plays compared to the Explosion's 57, but outgained the guests 270 to 223.
Kacz finished the game 14-of-18 with 223 yards and seven touchdowns. He also added two from the ground for a total of nine touchdowns.
"It's good for Casey," added Gibson. "To be honest, he still could have done a little better.
"He missed a few throws and then that interception, but we are just trying to get him into playoff mode."
John Harris had seven receptions for 110 yards and three touchdowns for the Lions.
Ebagua caught two scores.
Columbus will have next week off before hosting Trenton on Saturday, June 13 in the Civic Center.
Saturday at Columbus Civic Center
Erie 0 13 13 0--26
Columbus 21 34 20 7--81
Col - Marvin Ross 41-yard fumble recovery (Lindsey Wolfe kick), 11:22
Col - John Harris 14-yard pass from Casey Kacz (Wolfe kick), 4:37
Col - Jarmon Fortson 7-yard pass from Kacz (Wolfe kick), 1:21
Erie - Greg Betterson 22-yard pass from Mason Espinosa (run failed), 12:37
Col - Terrance Ebagua 20-yard pass from Kacz (Wolfe kick), 11:28
Erie - Alfonso Hoggard 17-yard pass from Espinosa (Mike Georgetti kick), 6:28
Col - Kacz 3-yard run (kick failed), 3:55
Col - Ebagua 37-yard pass from Kacz (Wolfe kick), 0:43
Col - Kendrick Washington fumble recovery in end zone (Wolfe kick), 0:26
Col - Ross 28-yard interception return (Wolfe kick), 0:04
Col - Kendrick Perry 9-yard pass from Kacz (kick failed), 13:30
Erie - Hoggard 36-yard pass from Steffen Colon (Georgetti kick), 11:01
Col - Harris 24-yard pass from Kacz (Wolfe kick), 8:38
Erie - C.J. Tarver 38-yard pass from Colon (kick blocked), 6:40
Col - Kacz 9-yard run (kick failed), 1:05
Col - Harris 25-yard pass from Kacz (Wolfe kick), 5:24