The inaugural National Arena League (NAL) title game is over with. The game ended as Jacksonville came out on top in a fight until the final seconds. Brandon Russell has how it all went down in the NAL Championship.
Jacksonville Sharks Squeeze Out Victory vs. Columbus Lions to win the NAL Championship Game
A total of 9,730 fans gathered in Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena to watch the Jacksonville Sharks take on the Columbus Lions.
What Went Well With Jacksonville
Entering the week, there was a lot of questions on whether Wide Receiver Joe Hills would play or not, but Hill announced over the weekend that he would not be playing, and going back to Tampa Bay to play with the Storm.
The Sharks receivers all stepped it up after the loss of Hills. Maurice Williams caught six passes for 46 yards, and one touchdown. Williams had a slow start to the game, but later found his way to make some catches that ultimately helped the team in many ways.
Later in the game, Williams, on a flea flicker, lobbed the ball up to Offensive Lineman/Tight End Moqut Ruffins for a seven yard touchdown pass.
Another receiver that had a huge game was Emughedi Umodu. Wilson was looking like Quarterback Damien Fleming’s favorite receiver early in the game, but the Lions defense shut him down after halftime. Umodu got the ball five times for 66 yards and no touchdowns.
All defensive linemen on the Sharks defense had a terrific game. Kieth Bowers, Jermiah Price, and Dale Pierson combined for five total tackles and four sacks on the night. Keep in mind, Price got the fumble recovery with four seconds left to secure another championship win, this time in Jacksonville.
The Sharks secondary did a great job of shutting down the Lions top receiver, Michael Reeve. Reeve caught two passes for 12 yards, and one touchdown. Slow night overall for Reeve.
Where Things Picked Up for Columbus
The Lions had a horrendous first half, scoring no points. But, they still had a dog in the fight because their defense forced lots of turnovers and allowed only two touchdowns in the first half.
Defensive Back Kyle Griswould helped his team out with a 5.5 tackles, one interception, and one pass breakup.
The Lions defense shut down Derrick Ross, allowing 19 yards and one touchdown. The Lions defense has always been good against the run, but they’ve never had a real shot at keeping Ross down to low numbers. This game proved otherwise.
After halftime, Columbus came out slow, but really showed who they really are. Tristan Purifoy was the main target all night, catching 10 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown.
Another receiver for Columbus that stood out was Jarmon Fortson. Fortson had a decent night, racking up nine catches for 84 yards and one touchdown.
The Sharks came out quick with a touchdown on their opening drive. On the Lions first drive, penalties helped them out, but didn’t help out too much, throwing an interception to Micheaux Robinson in the end zone, who returned the ball for 39 yards.
A quiet rest of the half puts Jacksonville up 13-0 at halftime.
The Sharks defense stepped it up in the third quarter, allowing Columbus to have the ball for just over five minutes and allowing on each touchdown.
Lions looked great in the fourth quarter, just like their playoff game against Lehigh Valley. Before both teams exchanged touchdowns, Fleming got injured, putting backup Quarterback Jason Boltus into action.
The Lions scored again with 6:40 left in the game, making it a 27-21 score.
Boltus found wide-open receivers for big yards. The Sharks were lining up to score, but the Lions defense quickly closes in on Boltus, forcing him to throw off of his back foot, across his body, and across the field.
Columbus comes up with the interception as time quickly runs down to the final minute.
Inside the final minute, Columbus runs the ball while Jacksonville calls all but one of their timeouts. Columbus ran the ball one more time before Jacksonville calls their final timeout of the game with 11 seconds left.
The center got too anxious and let go of the snap, causing the ball to hit Espinosa in the shin and losing possession of the ball.
Price recovered the fumble with just four seconds left. Jacksonville’s offense killed the rest of the clock, securing their first ever home game championship win 27-21.
MVP and Players of the Game
The Special Teams Player of the Game award went to Kicker Nick Belcher. The birthday boy was 3/4 on his PAT Attempts and made no deuces. To make his award even better, nobody made a deuce in this championship game.
Offensive Player of the Game went to Jacksonville’s WR Maurice Williams. Williams caught six passes for 46 yards, and one touchdown.
Defensive Player of the Game went to Micheaux Robinson. Robinson got 2.5 tackles and one interception for 39 yards.
The MVP award went to Jermiah Price. Price got one tackle, one sack, and the game-winning fumble recovery.