The Columbus Lions made their presence in American Indoor Football known on Sunday, trouncing the Georgia Firebirds 86-0 in their home and season opener in a game that was as much of a blowout as the score indicated.
The Firebirds mustered just two first downs and 20 yards of offense in the entire contest. In a testament to how efficient the Columbus offense was, the Firebirds actually led in time of possession, having the ball for 33:07 compared to 26:53 for the Lions.
Much of the Firebirds’ offensive woes could be attributed to the defensive line for the Lions. They forced pressure on Georgia quarterbacks play after play, forcing a whopping 12 fumbles and recovering eight of them, and sacking the quarterback six times. Three different Lions recorded a safety in the game, while the final score came via a fumble recovery in the end zone.
The Lions marched the ball to the Georgia 4-yard line to open the game when Michael Reeve fumbled the ball away to the Firebirds, one of just two turnovers in the game for Columbus. On the ensuing possession, Larry Edwards, named the Elite Defensive Player of the Game, sacked Georgia quarterback Marcus Brooks in the end zone for the opening score.
After the safety, the Lions would go on to score on their next five possessions to open a 35-0 lead at halftime.
“You’re not supposed to shut out indoor football teams,” said Lions head coach Jason Gibson. “(Georgia) had so many issues snapping the ball. I’ve gotta go back and watch the film to see if it was our nose (tackle) and if we were getting that much pressure, which we were.
“The defensive line was getting pressure on us in practice. Maybe they’re better than I thought they were. They got after it. The key now is to make sure defensively that we don’t look at stats, don’t look at film, and just get better at what we do.”
Quarterback Casey Kacz matched a regular season high from last year, throwing eight touchdown passes and 210 yards on 15 of 24 passing. He threw one interception on a wild underhanded toss after scrambling in the backfield to put a lone blemish on an otherwise stellar game.
Mason Espinoza spelled Kacz midway through the third quarter and went on to throw two touchdown passes himself on 6 of 7 passing for 60 yards.
“You’ve got two starting quarterbacks on the roster,” Gibson said. “There’s two of them and they’re lights out. We’re really lucky to have both on the roster.”
Michael Reeve, named the Midas Offensive Player of the Game, led all Lions receivers with 114 yards and three scores. Jarmon Fortson also had three touchdowns, while John Harris had two touchdown receptions.
“It’s been a long road to get here, but it’s definitely worth it now and it’s starting to pay off,” Reeve said. “There were a lot of guys coming back on offense, so we expected this from ourselves. We hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Fullback Aaron Wheeler, checking in at 340 pounds, also had two touchdowns for the Lions, one coming off a reception and the other a one-yard run into the end zone.
“Coming in, we just want to protect the quarterback and let the quarterback have a good game,” Wheeler said. “A couple of times, I leaked out and got a couple of plays. I’m just blessed for a big guy to get in the end zone.”
Surprisingly, Gibson says there’s room for improvement. The team will make preparations this week to head on the road for the first time, facing the Central Florida Jags in Lakeland, Fla. on Saturday night.
“First thing Monday is to review us and make some corrections,” Gibson said. “I’ve got some guys sitting on the bench who are dying to play, and they’re going to challenge the guys who played. I want to watch that film and continue to make sure every week that we push everyone, myself included.
“I thought it was a good Week One, but obviously we need to be the best team in June. We’ll get better, we’ll watch film, I’ll give them some humble pie on Monday, and we’ll go from there.”
Sunday at Columbus Civic Center
Georgia 0 0 0 0 – 0
Columbus 22 13 25 26 – 86
C – Safety (Larry Edwards sack in end zone), 12:33.
C – Michael Reeve 39 pass from Casey Kacz (pass failed), 11:17.
C – John Harris 39 pass from Kacz (Tyler McMahan kick), 5:56.
C – Jarmon Fortson 12 pass from Kacz (McMahan kick), 1:21.
C – Reeve 18 pass from Kacz (McMahan kick), 11:53.
C – Harris 4 pass from Kacz (McMahan kick), 4:24.
C – Rouge (Jared Johnston end zone tackle on kickoff), 15:00.
C – Aaron Wheeler 2 pass from Kacz (McMahan kick), 11:40.
C – Safety (Shonquez Nelson tackle in end zone), 10:54.
C – Fortson 37 pass from Kacz (McMahan kick), 9:39.
C – Dion Small 4 pass from Kacz (McMahan kick), 7:17.
C – Wheeler 1 run (kick failed), 13:41.
C – Reeve 19 pass from Mason Espinoza (McMahan kick), 7:28.
C – Fortson 17 pass from Espinoza (McMahan kick), 3:50.
C – Joseph Marshall fumble recovery in end zone (no try), 0:00.
Records: Columbus 1-0, Georgia 0-1. Next: Columbus, at Central Florida, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Georgia, home vs. Atlanta, Saturday at 7:05 p.m.