The Columbus Lions were in one of the most envious, yet nerve-wacking positions in sports. The Lions entered halftime up 37-24 on the Richmond Raiders and closed the first half in dominant fashion, scoring 22 unaswered points. They had all the momentum, and it clearly showed.
But the Lions still had to play two full quarters of football before hoisting the PIFL President's Cup. Well, it was worth the wait.
The Lions cruised to a 64-38 victory over the Raiders, capturing the franchises first PIFL championship.
The Lions also won a league title in 2010 in the Southern Indoor Football League.
Columbus outscored Richmond 57-29 after the first quarter, including hanging 30 on the Raiders in the second quarter alone.
"I'm so proud of our guys, of everyone in this organization," stated Lions head coach Jason Gibson. "Our veterans earned this and I know they are going to enjoy it."
"There are so many people that deserve credit for this," added Gibson. "A lot of people come into my office everyday and tell me to just worry about football and that makes my job easier."
The Lions defense continued to be a disruptive force, causing three turnovers and making Richmond quarterback Jonathan Bane uncomfortable all night. Bane finished the night, 24-for-54 with 264 yards, after finishing the year second in the PIFL in yards and touchdowns.
The first quarter was full of missed opportunities for both sides. The Lions turned the ball over on downs on the opening possession of the game after Michael Reeve dropped a pass, which would have been good enough for a first down on a fourth down attempt.
Richmond capitalized just four plays later, scoring on a five-yard touchdown pass. The touchdown was set up a play earlier after Bane fumbled the ball on the snap, but kept his cool, improvising and finding Daron Clark across the middle of the field on a 2nd-and-20 for a first down.
After a 39-yard field goal by Richmond that put them ahead 9-0, Casey Kacz and the Lions began an crucial drive on its own 10. Kendrick Perry started the drive with an 11-yard rush and Kacz followed by connecting with Reeve down the right sideline for a 27-yard completion. Reeve went vertical to make the catch and controlled the ball after taking a hard hit.
Kacz capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
Richmond extended their lead to 16-7 at the beginning of the second quarter as Bane and Clark connected for an 11-yard touchdown.
From there, the Columbus offense came alive.
A big reason for the Lions offensive surge was the emergence of wide receiver Terrance Ebagua. Richmond kept the MVP candidate in check for the first quarter, not allowing Ebagua to make his first catch until the 11:26 mark in the second.
However, Ebagua quickly heated up, catching two touchdowns in the quarter including a tremendous juggling catch against the side-wall while ignoring a defender's hand as well.
In addition, the Lions defense was swarming all over the field picking off Bane to end Richmond's final two drives of the half. Robert Caldwell got the first one for Columbus following a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage while Marvin Ross jumped in front of a receiver to snatch his.
To make matters worse, both turnovers led to points for the Lions as Columbus scored 14 points in the final 45 seconds.
The second half was more of the same as the Lions held Richmond to 114 yards and just 14 points.
Kacz and the offense were perfect in the second half scoring on every possession except their last. Kacz found Columbus native Jarmon Forston in the end zone to make it 43-24 Lions at the 7:12 mark in the third.
"Jarmon is a competitor, you saw it in his state championship a few years back at Caver, and you saw it again tonight," added Gibson. "When it's a championship game, he is turned up and he wanted me to give him the ball tonight."
The Lions defense got into the scoring column as well as Jerry Willis stripped-sack Bane on the following drive and Caldwell scooped up the ball and ran it in for the eight-yard score.
Kendrick Perry wrapped up the scoring for Columbus with two rushing touchdowns. In all, Perry had three touchdowns and 47 rushing yards.
Kacz finished the game 16-for-26 with 187 yards and four touchdowns. Fortson had nine catches for 85 yards while Ebagua hauled in four.
"I really believe our fans played a huge part in the win," said Gibson. "If this game was in Richmond, it might have been a different story. But playing here, there was no way our players were going to get denied."
Monday at Columbus Civic Center
Richmond 9 15 7 7 --38
Columbus 7 30 20 7-- 64
R: Robert Holland 5-yard pass from Jonathan Bane (kick failed), 9:40
R: T.C. Stevens 39-yard field goal, 4:35
C: Casey Kacz 1-yard run (Lindsey Wolfe kick), 2:08
R: Daron Clark 11-yard pass from Bane (Stevens kick), 13:01
C: Terrance Ebagua 14-yard pass from Kacz (Wolfe kick), 10:23
C: Wolfe uno, 10:23
R: Herb Jones 26-yard pass from Bane (Stevens kick), 7:59
R: Stevens uno, 7:59
C: Terrance Ebagua 3-yard pass from Kacz (Wolfe kick), 3:55
C: Wolfe uno, 3:55
C: Kendrick Perry 8-yard run (Wolfe kick), 0:41
C: Jarmon Fortson 21-yard pass from Kacz (Wolfe kick), 0:09
C: Fortson -yard pass from Kacz (kick blocked), 7:12
C: Damian Thornton 8-yard fumble recovery (Wolfe kick), 5:57
R: Jones 35-yard pass from Bane (Stevens kick), 2:15
C: Perry 8-yard run (Wolfe kick), 0:08
C: Perry 12-yard run (Wolfe kick), 11:26
R: Jones 4-yard pass from Bane (Stevens kick), 0:30