By RJ Ciancio
Director of NAL Coverage
Arena Football returned to the Amway Center for the first time since August 6th, 2016 as the Orlando Predators hosted the Columbus Lions in the Predators first National Arena League (NAL) game.
The Orlando kickoff bounced out of the endzone as the Columbus Lions got the ball at their own five. On The first play of the season Luke Collis was intercepted for a touchdown by Robert Brown Jr! With the extra point Orlando lead seven to zero .
Looking to redeem themselves Collis began his second drive but the Predators were not going to make it easy for the ground game. With that in mind Collis targeted Bones Bagunte multiple times as the Lions beacon prowling down the field. Orlando defensive back Dallas Jackson broke up a sure touchdown putting pressure on the Lions they committed multiple delay of game penalties on the drive. The Lions began showing how vital Mason Espinoza was last season as Collis couldn’t lead the team inside the redzone.
Orlando took their first offensive drive and began a slow attempt at a drive. Instead of settling for a field goal attempt the Predators went for a kill. It succeeded as Kyle Israel found LJ Castle for the first down. A deep pass drew a flag in the endzone giving Orlando a first down. Israel was called for an umpire pick, negating a touchdown. On first and goal a screen pass to John Brown got them within the ten. One a crucial third and goal from the one the Lions stuffed Israel shot of the endzone. Going for it on fourth and goal was a gutsy move for Orlando and it backfired as the pass fell incomplete.
Columbus began its second drive right before the end of the first quarter. Once again the Lions struggled as it took them until fourth down to get yardage. With the first down the Lions had some breathing room as Collis once again found Bones Bagunte, this time for the Columbus score from 16 yards out. The Lions made the two point conversion making it eight to seven with the Lions in the lead.
The Predators offense needed to make something happen as the offense was yet to score. This was helped out by Edward Victorian who returned to ball in to Lion territory. Orlando was giving a gift with a Lion penalty resulting in a first down. Kyle Israel was dropped for a loss as the Predators were forced to use their second time out. All of a sudden the once red hot Predators looked frozen as they were forced into a fourth down. The Predators once again turned the ball over on downs.
Things looked better for the lions as Collis began finding Bones all over the field. A pass interference flag move the Lions deeper into Predator territory. Orlando was cut a break after the Lions were caught on illegal formation. Collis continued his game by once again finding Bones Bagunte for the score. Feeling confident, the Lions once again went for two but were stuffed on a run attempted. With the failed conversion the Lions lead 14 to seven.
With 3:01 left in the second quarter the Predators had time to make something happen. With the ball starting at their own 20 due to an out of bounds kick. Kyle Israel continued to target LJ Castle as the two continued to build chemistry. On second and goal Orlando found the endzone. With the extra point the game was tied at 14.
Bones returned the ensuing kickoff to their own seven. The Predators began forcing the Lions to settle for the little yardage given to them. Dallas Jackson intercepted Luke Collis on the next play swaying the momentum even more.
LJ Castle continued to be Kyle Israel’s big target getting the first two passes of the dive being thrown his way. A third and short became a third and medium due to a false start. A bad pass lead to the Lions getting the ball back via an interception with 13 seconds left in the half.
Now it was the Lions turn to make something happen. With four seconds left on third down a long pass was broken up in the endzone with the score 14-14 as the team returned to their locker rooms.
The kickoff from the Lions went out of bounds ging the Predators the ball at their own 20. LJ Castle and Kyle Israel continued what looked a game of catch in the front yard as the Predators once again found the endzone. With the extra point the Predators lead 21-14. Orlando followed that up with a deuce making it 23-14 and a two score game.
On first and 10 from their own five Collis began looking for anybody to get the team some breathing room. A man who could help with that was the Lions top target, Bones Bagunte for the first down. Chris Sanders Mccollum got a few balls thrown his way as the Lions got into the red zone. Collis dove in from one yard out giving the Lions a score himself a headache. The two point conversion was broken up as Orlando lead 23-20.
The Predators set themselves up at their own 10 as they began their drive but the Lions defense was beginning to bring some heat as Kyle Israel was forced out of the pocket multiple times. A fourth down pass was dropped by Castele giving the Lions great field position.
Yet another pass found its way to Bones Baguette as the Lions inched closer to the endzone. On third and down Collis once again found Baguette for a touchdown. Up 26-23 the Lions went for two but were stopped the Predators defense.
The kickoff was returned 17 yards by Orlando, setting them up with good field position. Rob Brown caught a swing pass to get the Predators a first down as he began to carve up the Lions defense. The Lions defense began to fall apart as they gave up a 20 yard touchdown off a screen pass. With the score and missed extra point the Predators lead 29-26.
Bones Baguette returned the kickoff to the Lions 20 and with a personal foul tacked on Columbus had the ball on the Orlando 18. With an incompletion the third quarter ended. The Lions nearly scored a touchdown but Tatum broke up a sure touchdown. On a crucial fourth down a defensive suge forced an incomplete pass giving Orlando the ball.
Orlando continued to use the swing pass to get them moving again. The Predators deep passes didn’t have the same success as the Lions got an interception. Paris Mack made the Predators play as he brought in an over the wall catch for a touchdown. With the two point conversion added on to the touchdown the Lions lead 34-29.
A short kick was slammed down at the Predators 19 and Orlando was haunted by that hit for a short time before everything got back to normal as Israel found Castel over the middle for a first down. A holding penalty on the Lions helped move the Predators down the field even more. LJ Castle caught yet another touchdown. With the extra point the Predators lead 36-34.
Bones Bagunte took the ball out to the Lions 15 as Columbus began a comeback attempt. This was assisted by an Orlando pass interference penalty. A touchdown to Bones Bagunte was negated due to a holding call on the Lions as they began to move down the field. On fourth down with one minute left a Collis pass was broken up.
Orlando wasn’t making much progress and seemed to have nothing going until the Lions commited a holding penalty. This would come back to bite the Lions as late touchdown pass to LJ Castle reeled in another touchdown. With the extra point the Predators lead 43-34.
Columbus still had a little life left as there was a half minute to go. A long bomb to Paris Mack put the Lions in the red zone. A Luke Collis pass slipped through the fingers of Bones Bagunte. The Lions commited a second delay of game penalty on the drive as they continued to move in the wrong direction. This time there would be no stopping Bones as he caught another touchdown. Trailing by two the Lions went for two but muffed the snap.
With a failed onside kick the Lions had to have their defense step up as the Predators were on the brink of putting the game away. Columbus fought until the end put the Amway Center witnessed its first Predators victory since June 24, 2016. The Predators held on to defeat the Lions 42-40 and as they won their inaugural NAL game.
By RJ Ciancio