Following a thrashing from the Albany Empire a week ago, Jersey Flight head coach Terrence Foster knew their week three battle was a gut-check game.
Beginning the first chapter of the franchise history in the National Arena League with two losses isn’t desirable. First, the Flight lost on a walk-off field goal against the Carolina Cobras. Then, one of the top teams in the league tore the top open against Jersey on their home turf.
Through two losses, the Flight showed glimpses of defensive excellence. Unfortunately, letting the big play convert on fourth downs has become the identity of the defense. Fourth down conversions allowed the Cobras to stay in the game and the Empire to run away with one.
Another area to clean up was Pat Clarke’s performance. He missed tonight’s game. Former ArenaBowl 24 champion Marco Capozzoli kicked tonight for the first time in five years (Jacksonville Sharks, AFL.)
Did Jersey get back on track? Here’s how the game unfolded from the CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton, New Jersey:
In arena football, speed kills. When you press your luck and don’t let the kicker do their job, greed kills. Both of those adversely affected the Jersey Flight in the first quarter.
The Columbus Lions received the opening kickoff before moving downfield to score on their first drive. Mason Espinosa moved across the goal line on a quarterback sneak to provide an early lead. Defensively, the Flight didn’t enforce enough resistance but almost killed half of a quarter. Jersey had to do a better job of getting their defense off the field.
To answer, the Flight faced a fourth and goal scenario. Instead of kicking the field goal with Marco Capozzoli, Terrence Foster attempted to get his team into the endzone.
Capozzoli hasn’t kicked in five years but was perfect on the evening. Did Foster have more faith in Warren Smith beating the Lions’ defense? Has Pat Clarke’s recent kicking performance created a bias in red zone playcalling? Either way, Capozzoli should have been called upon for the field goal. Finding early trust in a kicker is crucial.
Jersey would have likely scored but finished the quarter down, 0-14.
You Get a Fumble, And You Get a Fumble!
Following the Jersey Flight not electing to kick a field goal, Sean Daniels looked to have stripped Mason Espinosa of the ball, but the ruling reversed in a deflating series of events.
Warren Smith had an unfortunate night. He wasn’t in sync with his receivers. Tyron Laughinghouse did not dress, so perhaps timing and spacing altered. Whether it was due to mishandling a snap exchange or by downs, Smith had a hand in seven different turnovers. During the second quarter, the Columbus Lions had an opportunity to make that final count even higher.
Maurice Leggett had a few opportunities to intercept errant throws by Smith. Lions head coach, Jason Gibson, commented:
“We dropped a bunch of picks. There’s a lot of humble pie to be passed around come Sunday night film and Monday morning film.”Jason Gibson; 6/12/21
Espinosa turned every mistake into points during the second quarter. Columbus took advantage every time they had a short field ahead of them. In the second, Espinosa threw a touchdown pass to four different receivers (Outlaw, Dobbs, Reece, and Deloatch.) The Lions shut out the Flight in the first half, finishing with an interception on Smith by Rodney Hall.
“He’s [Outlaw] such a tough matchup guy. You cover him one on one and take a shot, or he’s taking two and somebody else is open.”Mason Espinosa; 6/12/21
By the end of the first half, Columbus led, 0-42. The first thirty minutes was a meltdown by Smith. It looked as lopsided as it seems.
More of The Same, But Jersey Scores
If you were to place a prop bet on Warren Smith fumbling on the first drive of the second half, you would have cashed out a winner.
In less than five minutes, the Columbus Lions took advantage. Mason Espinosa finished his night as he started it, with a quarterback sneak for a touchdown.
The Jersey Flight fumbled away another possession, allowing Chase Fourcade to step on the field. Nick Haag recovered a strip-sack fumble, giving the Flight prime field position. All Smith had to do was make it less than ten yards downfield for the score. With 1:45 remaining in the third quarter, Jersey finally gets on the scoreboard after Smith executed a quarterback sneak for two yards.
“On paper, the Flight have an all-AFL talent defensive line. They get after it.”Jason Gibson; 6/12/21
Smith had been bothered by the Lions’ defense all game long. Though the Flight had a short field, converting meant Jersey did something right when everything was going wrong. Heading into the fourth quarter, Columbus led, 7-49.
Ugly Football, Except For Once
Between a team who sat their starting quarterback due to a seven-possession game and a team full of starting players, the fourth quarter featured ugly football.
Nearly fourteen minutes expired before anyone scored in the fourth quarter. During those fourteen minutes, fans and viewers witnessed all sorts of penalties from both teams. Chase Fourcade missed Lonnie Outlaw open in the end zone en route to a turnover on downs.
Then, it happened. Terrence Foster called a designed run by Warren Smith for a 27yrd touchdown. To build confidence, the Jersey Flight went for two and got it. A ball deflected in the air took a Flight bounce. Regulation ended in a Columbus Lions victory, 15-49.