-by Jose Bahena
Monday August 26th marked a historical night for the Carolina Cobras and the National Arena League. Carolina not only work their way to the NAL championship by defeating last year’s champion the Jacksonville Sharks to face off against the Columbus lions (the Lions making their second straight NAL championship appearance after eliminating the Massachusetts Pirates) but Carolina also earned the right to host the championship game in the Greensboro Coliseum during their first season in franchise history.
After much fanfare including a trophy display the game was kicked off with Columbus winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half. The Carolina Cobras wasted no time coming out of the gate in their most important game of the season, with quarterback Charles McCullum hitting wide receiver Phillip Barnett for a three yard touchdown pass.
The recently-announced Special Teams Player of The Year and kicker for the Carolina Cobras Craig Peterson hit the extra point to make it a quick seven point lead for the Cobras at home. The Lions came out with Jeremy Johnson under center, but yardage was hard to come by for the Columbus team as their drive ended eight yard short of the end zone. McCullum crew took full advantage of the turnover by scoring on a two-play drive. Tyron Laughinghouse was the man open in the end zone to receive the 35 yard bomb from McCullum with Peterson again hitting the extra point to take his team up 14-0. For the second Columbus drive of the game the Lions moved the ball with slightly more efficiency but had to call in the field goal unit at the end of the drive. Lions kicker Tyler Rausa attempted the field goal to no success as it was blocked away by the Cobras defensive line leaving the score unchanged. Carolina took over on offense as the quarter broke with their lead 14-0.
When play resumed McCullum hit the ground running, literally. The dual-threat quarterback roll out of the pocket and took off for a 30 yard rushing touchdown. Peterson’s point after was tipped away by the Lions defensive squad, the only kink in a otherwise flawless performance so far. Bing down big on the scoreboard Columbus try to string together enough plays, but unfortunately again were forced a turnover on downs. The home team got their fans roaring with another touchdown drive, this time the ball being spread around to wide receiver Jordan Jolly. After the 17-yard touchdown reception, Peterson return to form and split the uprights for the extra point and added another Deuce to his stats upon kickoff. All tallied up Carolina was comfortably leading Columbus 29-0. The offensive woes continued for the Columbus lions as they were unable to make any positive yardage on the next drive, and were forced to call out Rausa for a field goal attempt from their own end zone. For the Lions, the worst case scenario unfolded as the kick attempt was blocked out of the back of the end-zone for a Cobras safety.
Fortunately for the Lions, the two points were made back up on the kickoff by Rausa hitting a Deuce and getting Columbus on the board at 31-2. Carolina back on the offense finally felt a surge of defensive pressure from Columbus. For the second time of the game fans saw another field goal unit backed up in their own end zone, this time Peterson was successfully able to kick the ball out of the field of play for a Touch-back. In almost a mirror image, Columbus was held back by the Cobras defense and forced to try the long field goal again. Rausa’s kick sailed out of the field of play for the Touch-back as well. The clock was ticking towards halftime as the Cobras rattled off another scoring drive. McCullum found Jolly despite the Lions defender almost getting his hands on the ball, putting the Cobras up 37-2 as the point after was blocked. Just 15 seconds remained and nothing would budge for the Lions as Johnson’s very next pass was intercepted by Carolina defensive back Michael Green. Peterson attempted a field goal to kick away and end the half.
As the game resumed the Lions look to stop the bleeding as they took to the offense. Unfortunately for Columbus that wasn’t the case as Johnson succumbed to the defensive pressure and saw Pasquale vacchio intercept his pass from the linebacker position after moving the ball 20 yards down the field. Carolina was able to capitalize on the interception on their following drive that ended with a nine-yard touchdown pass dialed up to Jolly once more. The scoreboard set a lopsided 44 – 2 after Peterson’s extra point. Columbus wasn’t willing to just give up on their fourth straight championship appearance as Johnson took full advantage of broken defensive coverage by Carolina to make the touchdown connection to his receiver London Crawford. Rausa’s extra point after was blocked by Carolina, leaving Columbus still down 44 – 8. Unfazed by their opponents first touchdown of the night, the cobras continue the offensive attack with McCullum delivering a 22-yard touchdown pass to Jolly, his third touchdown reception of the championship game. With Peterson still good on the extra point, the score was 51 – 8 leading into the final quarter of play.
With no time to waste the Columbus team took over on offense and stuck to the script of the night with a turnover on downs. Just over 10 minutes to play, Carolina took over again on a quick drive to the end zone. Laughinghouse again beat the coverage for the 36-yard pass from McCullum. Peterson’s extra-point making it 60 – 8 after adding a insult to injury deuce on the kickoff. Columbus took tried once more to score on the Cobras defense, and once more met with disaster. In an effort to scramble away from the defensive pressure Johnson released a backwards pass that was bobbled away by a teammate and scooped up by Carolina’s Vacchio and ran back for a defensive touchdown. Peterson’s extra point was off the uprights and no good leaving it at the soon to be final score of 66 – 8. The Columbus Lions took to the field one final time with their quarterback Johnson being disqualified from the game in the final minute. That was enough to officially declare the victory for the Carolina Cobras and declare them 2018 National Arena League champions.
The game was followed by a trophy presentation by National Arena League commissioner Christopher Siegfried and a special MVP of the game belt presented by Richard Tieman of the FAN Show, the MVP belt was awarded to Charles McCullum of Carolina.
Any fans interested in purchasing season tickets for the 2019 season can do so at carcobras.com. championship apparel will be available in the online team store in the following weeks.