JACKSONVILLE, Fla- One failed snap ended the Columbus Lions dream run for a third straight professional indoor football championship. The Lions, trailing the Jacksonville Sharks 27-21 with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter, had the ball on the five yard line facing 2nd & goal. But the snap never made into quarterback Mason Espinosa’s hands, and the Jacksonville Sharks recovered the fumble to seal their 27-21 victory in the first-ever National Arena League championship game.
Columbus rallied back from a 13-0 halftime deficit and were poised to score the game-tying touchdown to upset the league’s top team on the road. Lions head coach Jason Gibson managed the clock to allow enough time for his team to have three shots at the end zone and the would-be go-ahead extra point, while not giving the Sharks time to answer. But a disastrous exchange between center and quarterback dashed what would have been an epic finale for the Lions season.
Columbus opened the second half with a touchdown from Espinosa to Tristan Purifoy to close the gap the 13-7. The Lions then answered a Jacksonville score with a touchdown to NAL Offensive Player of the Year Michael Reeve, to make it 20-14. Jarmon Fortson would be the next Lion to find the end zone, making a spectacular catch while going over the wall on a bone-crushing hit from a Sharks defender to put the Lions down 27-21.
Jacksonville tried to put the game out of reach with another scoring drive with three minutes to play, but Chris Pickett intercepted a pass in the Sharks end zone to give the Lions a chance at the game-winning drive.
Espinosa drove the team down the field, and they were in position to shock the home crowd and take home the title, before the ill-fated snap doomed any chance for a three-peat.
“We had it. We had it. I mean, I ran the clock down. The bottom line was, we’d been down all game. We had the timeouts in our pocket. I ran the clock down so that no matter what, when we scored they’re not getting the ball back,” said Gibson.
“And it worked out perfect. I got to tell you, I thought I had it.”