Cobras Climb Over Lions to Advance to NAL Championship

GREENSBORO—The Carolina Cobras used a 35-point second quarter to eliminate the Columbus Lions 65-51 and advance to the NAL Championship game August 13 in Albany, New York. Carolina (10-5) fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter but ran off 21 unanswered points in nine minutes to take a lead it would never relinquish.  The Cobras will now travel to top seed Albany to face the Empire- the reigning NAL champions. The Lions’ remarkable run ends with a 7-6 record after winning three straight games to snag the third seed in the playoffs.

Saturday marked the return of quarterback Jonathan Bane, who had missed four straight games with a lower body injury. Bane returned with a flourish, tossing 5 touchdowns including 2 to receiver Kendrick Ings. The tall Texan finished 21-26 with 244 yards and 2 interceptions and was sacked just once, thanks to a solid job by the Cobras’ offensive line. In all, Bane completed passes to 7 different Carolina receivers- 4 of whom scored touchdowns.

Columbus took the opening kick and marched down the field, taking an early 7-0 lead on the first of Darien Townsend’s 3 receiving touchdowns. Carolina responded with a good drive of its own but came away empty-handed after an interception in the end zone. Columbus made a mistake, however, and brought the ball out to its own 1-yard line to pin them back deep. What followed was a long, methodical drive that used the better part of 10 minutes of game time. The Lions drove to the doorstep of the end zone, only to be denied 6 points as they had to settle for a Blake Erickson field goal.

That big defensive stop energized the Cobras, and Zack Brown got Carolina on the board with a 5-yard touchdown run just as the second quarter began. That’s when coach Josh Resignalo decided to try an onside kick to force the momentum even further to the side of the home team. James Summers came down with the kick, and with 11:12 remaining in the half Ings scored to give the Cobras the lead for good.

Another big defensive stand followed, and Micah Robinson gave the good guys a 21-10 lead with his own 5-yard rushing touchdown. Jarmon Fortson answered with the first of his 3 touchdown receptions to stem the tide of Cobra points, but James Summers answered with a rushing touchdown of his own to extend the lead to 28-17. The third huge defensive stop of the half followed, eventually sending Carolina to the locker room with a 35-24 lead and expecting the second half kickoff. D.J. Myers made sure the opening possession of the second half wasn’t wasted, catching an 8-yard touchdown to maintain his torrid pace.

The Lions wouldn’t go away, though, and trailed just 51-37 after forcing a T. C. Stevens field goal with 7:25 remaining in the game. As the Lions readied their kick return unit, Stevens drilled a line drive off a Columbus up-man intentionally, giving the Cobras the ball at their own 3-yard line.

Milk the clock, you say?

Instead of trying to chew clock, the Carolina offense opted to do just the opposite. Bane threw an immaculate 47-yard touchdown pass to Adam Smith, and the large Greensboro crowd began to relax and celebrate. The plucky Lions got within 13 late in the game, only to see the ensuing onside kick attempt be returned by Joe Powell for a touchdown.

By virtue of Albany’s last-minute 68-67 victory over Jacksonville, Albany will host the NAL Championship game in two weeks. Carolina swept the season series with the reigning champions, none of the three wins coming easily. Carolina won the season opener 59-51 in Albany, then returned to New York to grab a 58-50 win. The third win came back on June 18- a 59-56 nail-biter that raised the temperature of this rivalry up a few notches. The teams haven’t seen each other for a while, but surely have been keeping track of one another from afar. Albany enters the championship angry with their record against the Cobras, while Carolina still fumes over losing the top seed.

It will all be settled in Albany- in just two short weeks.