There was no doubt who the better team was on the turf at the Columbus Civic Center Saturday night in the American Indoor Football championship.
In the end, it led to the other team throwing in the towel. Literally.
The Columbus Lions captured their second straight indoor football championship with a 74-32 victory over the West Michigan Ironmen in a game that was marred by an extremely bizarre ending.
Ironmen quarterback Alex Carder threw his fourth interception of the game to Columbus defensive back Chris Smith late in the fourth quarter, who jumped out of bounds into the stands during the return. An Ironmen defender drove Smith further into the stands, and a fan in the stands attempted to throw a punch at the defender. That fan was identified by an on-field official and escorted out of the building by law enforcement.
The West Michigan bench partially emptied of players, and Lions players began to enter the field as well. Law enforcement and security joined officials on the field to attempt to bring order. Other verbal altercations ensued between West Michigan players and Lions players, and between Ironmen players and fans.
With multiple players ejected, the Ironmen elected not to continue the game with 4:08 remaining, symbolically throwing a towel onto the field in disgust.
Still shocked and stunned at the events, the Lions gathered around the south end zone and were presented the AIF championship trophy by league commissioner John Morris.
The celebration was on.
When Lions head coach Jason Gibson was asked if he had seen such a bizarre ending to a championship football game, he replied, “Somebody quit and throw in the towel? No. It was going both ways, and the officials were trying to control it. They (also) threw out a bunch of our players.”
“We woke up today and said we wanted to dominate,” said receiver John Harris, who finished with 86 yards receiving and two touchdowns. “We really wanted the game ended in the third quarter, so to see them throw in the towel is icing on the cake.”
The ending put a black eye on a game the Lions dominated after West Michigan scored on their opening drive.
Starting quarterback Casey Kacz suffered a minor injury on the ensuing possession for the Lions, but backup Darren Daniel spelled him and scored on a three-yard run to put the Lions up 7-6 after a Trey Crum extra point. Crum added the first of his three deuces on the night on the ensuing kickoff, helping Columbus pad a lead they would not relinquish.
“Starting off, coming in this late in the season, it was tough and challenging,” Crum said. “Usually it takes me three or four games to get into it.”
When asked if he was locked in this week, however, Crum smiled.
“No doubt about it,” he said. “All week long. Even being apart from the team, which is hard, it was good.”
The Lions defense stepped up on the next Ironmen possession, blocking a long field goal attempt and setting up a two-yard pass from Kacz to Jarmon Fortson, giving Columbus a double-digit lead late in the first quarter at 16-6.
Defensive back Roshawn Marshall picked off a Carder pass on the next Ironmen drive, and it only took three plays for Kacz to march Columbus down the field, culminating in a 10-yard pass to Michael Reeve to put the Lions up 23-6 before the end of the opening frame.
“The game plan was to take whatever they give us,” said Kacz, who finished the game 23 of 34 passing for 286 yards and eight touchdowns. “They play two over the top, so we threw some short passes to loosen up the deep ball a little bit. It worked a couple of times for us but at the end of the day, when they play us man to man, our guys have to come through. Mike Reeve came through, (Jarmon Fortson) came through, and John Harris came through. That’s our offense.”
“We watched them on film on week,” Harris said. “We just realized man for man, they don’t really match up with us. We felt like we could keep a simple game plan; we only ran four plays the whole game, just different formations.
“We just stuck to what we do. We’ve been the best team on turf all year, and it showed tonight.”
Defensive back Damian Daniels picked up his indoor football career-leading 114th interception in his last game prior to retirement. After the game, Harris also shared his plans to hang up the cleats.
“I love football, man, but it’s over,” Harris said. “I went out on top, undefeated season, so I’m just ready to start my career and another one besides football.”
Gibson, who has brought Columbus its third indoor football championship in the past seven seasons, was quick to deflect responsibility away from him.
“It’s never been about me,” Gibson said. “Clayton Banner, my player personnel guy gets me the best players. Allen Meek, what he does with the operations and little stuff people don’t see…it’s not just showing up and coaching X’s and O’s, it’s doing laundry and making sure players have meals and all the little stuff.”
Despite not taking the credit, Gibson was quick to tout Columbus as a destination for players in indoor football.
“Darn right it is,” he said. “We’ve got players who will be gone (to the AFL) next week. I can’t tell you who they are right now, but I have four or five guys who are leaving. I’ve got guys who didn’t dress tonight who can start on any team in this league. They’re going to get their shot next year too.
“Right now, this is great for our community. It’s a great organization. The owners put their time in and we put our time in to build it to where we want to be. It is by far one of the top two or three indoor programs in the country. It doesn’t matter what league we play in; pick an alphabet letter, I don’t care. It was a good season with great players.”
Saturday at Columbus Civic Center
West Michigan 6 20 6 0 – 32
Columbus 23 22 16 13 – 74
W – Alex Carder 1 run (kick failed), 11:08.
C – Darren Daniel 3 run (Trey Crum kick), 9:13.
C – Crum deuce, 9:13.
C – Jarmon Fortson 2 pass from Casey Kacz (Crum kick), 3:54.
C – Michael Reeve 10 pass from Kacz (Crum kick), 0:20.
W – Donovan Campbell 9 pass from Carder (kick failed), 14:19.
W – Jamie Potts deuce, 14:19.
C – Reeve 13 pass from Kacz (Crum kick), 9:57.
C – Crum deuce, 9:57.
W – Campbell 32 pass from Carder (pass failed), 5:46.
C – Brandon Thomas 9 pass from Kacz (kick failed), 1:43.
W – Corey Ringer 8 run (pass failed), 0:35.
C – Kacz 9 run (Crum kick), 0:12.
C – Crum deuce, 15:00.
C – Fortson 3 pass from Kacz (Crum kick), 5:32.
C – John Harris 42 pass from Kacz (Crum kick), 3:28.
W – Campbell 8 pass from Carder (kick failed), 0:20.
C – Fortson 4 pass from Kacz (kick failed), 12:59.
C – Harris 9 pass from Kacz (Crum kick), 7:09.
Records: Columbus 11-0, West Michigan 9-2.