With 14 seconds left, quarterback Mason Espinoza, in the game for all of four minutes, led the Columbus Lions’ (3-3) offense on to the field for one final opportunity to possibly win or force overtime. After a near safety and a short completion, the Lions called for a double pass. The ball sailed into the end zone…and right into the hands of the recently returned David Hyland, who caught the interception and sealed a 37-28 Jacksonville Sharks victory on Redneck Night. They are still the only unbeaten team in the NAL at 6-0. They also matched the franchise’s best start since 2013 (also starting 6-0).
It was a new-look offense for the red and black, as Damien Fleming started under center for Tommy Grady, who was roughed up in last week’s game in Monterrey. It was a quick offensive start on both sides, however, as Fleming found Maurice Williams on a long pass to set up a fourth-and-goal touchdown to Thyron Lewis to answer a Darren Daniel to Michael Reeve score to start the night.
The defenses quickly stiffened, and both kickers began the barrage of attempts at deuces to give their team every possible advantage. The only other scoring in the first quarter was a Lindsey Wolfe 24-yard field goal, and for a rare moment, Jacksonville found themselves trailing in a game at 10-7.
Columbus put the perfect season in further jeopardy after capitalizing on a Fleming fumbled snap, with Jarmon Forston catching a deflection in the back of the end zone for a 17-7 lead. Fleming quickly made up for the error, finding Williams again and setting up Derrick Ross’ first scoring run of the night. After forcing a fourth down stop, the Sharks took the lead for the first time thanks to another Fleming to Lewis connection.
The Lions would kick another field goal after the one-minute warning, and Jacksonville couldn’t score before the halftime siren, taking a 21-20 lead into the locker room.
After Darryl Thompson found the end zone to start the third quarter, both offenses nearly ground to a halt, as penalties and errors mounted on both sides. Fleming did score on a quarterback sneak in the final minute of the third quarter, but both defenses had an easy time in the second half due to inefficiency.
Trailing 37-20 after the only successful deuce of the night by Nick Belcher, the Lions would not score until Duron Neal successfully reached over the goal line after catching a Mason Espinoza pass with 1:44 remaining in the game, building the crescendo to the frantic finish.
The Sharks will stay at home to face the Corpus Christi Rage on Military Appreciation Night on Saturday, May 6. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., and Jacksonville will be wearing special jerseys available for auction after the game.