-by Jose Bahena
The Carolina Cobras were looking for revenge against the Columbus Lions over the weekend at the Greensboro Coliseum after losing by one point in their first meeting earlier in Columbus.
The Columbus Lions won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, giving the Carolina Cobras the opening possession of the game. The drive proved unsuccessful against the stout defense of the Lions as only a few plays in disaster struck as Charles McCullum’s pass was intercepted by the defense. On defense Carolina wasn’t able to stop Mason Espinosa of the Lions from striking a pass to the end zone and scoring first. Taking to the offense again, Carolina struggled to put together plays and again let an errand pass be intercepted by the Lions. Columbus wouldn’t hesitate to stretch the gap and found another open receiver for a touchdown, putting the Cobras down 0-14 early in the game.
A shaken McCullum returned to the field to try to find the end zone but to the dismay of the Cobras fans in attendance, McCullum was intercepted for the third time in the contest. Capitalizing on the Cobra’s shortcomings, the Lions again beat the coverage in the end zone for another touchdown. The only break for the Cobras came when the point after kick was missed, still leaving the home team down 0-20. Facing one of the largest deficits of the season, the Cobras were finally able to cure the interception blues and finally found the end zone when McCullum took the ball across the goal line himself for a rushing touchdown. Columbus wouldn’t let the Cobras defense slow them down as they continued driving the ball back down the field with ease.
Carolina defensive back Michael Green stepped up and intercepted Espinosa in the end zone to steal a touchdown from the lions at a heavy cost. Green was injured and unable to get up from the turf on his own powers, a scary moment as players from both teams knelt on the field and surrounded Green until he was assisted off by a few of his teammates. On the ensuing drive Jordan Jolly was able to make sure Green’s efforts weren’t in vain as he hauled in a touchdown reception from McCullum. Craig Peterson hit the extra point to close the gap down at 14-20. With the touchdown pass to Jolly, Charles McCullum became the National Arena League’s leader in all-time passing touchdowns by breaking Warren Smith’s previous record of 56.
The record-breaking accomplishment was a passing thought as Columbus took the the field and again scored on the struggling Cobras defense. A series of flags overturned the next touchdown connection of McCullum to Tyron Laughinghouse but on a second attempt the touchdown would stand between with Laughinghouse again being the available receiver. The scoreboard still had the Carolina Cobras down 21-27 to end the first half of play.
After the halftime Columbus would continue their onslaught and score a rushing touchdown on the next possession, bring the score out to 21-34. Not wanting to disappoint the home crowd of 3,442 McCullum was able to produce another touchdown pass again to Jolly. Peterson continued to be perfect on his point after kicks to make it 28-34. The Cobras defense took to the field again, this time bending but not breaking. The Lions were held out of the end zone and opted for points via a field goal, giving the visitors a nine point cushion. Back to the arena floor on offensive, Fabian Guerra would have his number called for the first time of the evening to score a touchdown for his Cobras.
Combined with a positive kick from Peterson, the Carolina Cobras would be down two points at 35-37. Almost instantly, Espinosa’s Lions collapsed the Cobras defense and end on the one yard line for a easy quarterback sneak across the goal line.The McCullum-Jolly connection struck again for Carolina, keeping them in the game but still short by two points at 42-44. The Lions retaliated quickly, a one play pass directly to the end zone to pull back away from the Cobras’ grasp. Time was become factor for the Cobras, so tit-for-tat play continued with quick drive to give Phillip Barnett his first touchdown reception of the night.
Still ahead by two, the Lions lengthened the gap to nine again by rushing through the Cobras defense for a touchdown. With the clock ticking away, the Cobras had one final chance to find the end zone. Laughinghouse had the opportunity to tie with a second touchdown reception. Head Coach Billy Back knew the only chance was a two point conversion, so his team lined up for a final do or die moment. Much to the chagrin of Cobras fans across the Carolinas, the pass bounced off the open hand of Tyron Laughinghouse at the goal line and left the Cobras short 55-57. Espinosa took one final lob down field to run off the clock and end the game.
The loss drops the Carolina Cobras to 7-3 on the season while boosting the Lions to 6-3. The Cobras will be try to rebound June 30th as they travel to Portland to take on the Maine Mammoths. The kickoff will be at 7pm and will be streamed via the National Arena League’s YouTube Live feed.