National Arena League

High Country Grizzlies Can’t Complete Comeback Against Columbus Lions

With a playoff spot on the line, the High Country Grizzlies (3-5) welcomed the Columbus Lions (6-3) on Saturday night. While the Grizzlies kept it close, their playoff hopes took a hit with a 56-41 loss.

Columbus scored on the first drive of the night, and the first telling sign was that High Country could only answer with a field goal. The Lions struck again thanks to a 25-yard deep ball from quarterback Mason Espinoza to wide receiver Tristan Purifoy to extend their lead. The Grizzlies tried to get a rhythm together, but Stephen Panasuk faced heavy defensive pressure most of the night, and Logan Ingle joined in on an early sack.

As the second quarter started, High Country’s receivers still couldn’t corral passes through the air. However, Undra Hendrix made up for it on the ground, scoring on an eight-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit back to four points.

While the game itself wasn’t working out, things became even scarier for the Grizzlies. While attempting to make a tackle, Mackenzie Williams was knocked unconscious for a brief moment, and on one occasion suffered seizures on the field. Players and coaches reported he was awake and alert while in transit to the hospital, and there have been no further updates.

When the game resumed, High Country got a spark on defense thanks to Larry Ford wrangling a sack, but third down defense failed to appear, as Mason Espinoza found Gregory Hollister wide open thanks to some bad coverage. Tristan Purifoy scored on a handoff to make the score 21-10, and again, Michael Lima got the call for a 29-yard field goal for the last Grizzlies points of the half.

Brandon Sutton did manage to get to Espinoza on the next drive, but Espinoza found Hollister again to extend the lead. High Country, as they did all night, struggled to gain any sort of momentum offensively, and a long field goal attempt hit the scoreboard for a turnover, leading to a 21-yard field goal to end the half.

The Grizzlies did find the end zone in the second half thanks to Malachi Jones and newly-signed Alex Coleman, but they best they could do was to trade touchdowns thanks to Mason Espinoza having a comfortable pocket and great blocking. However, down 49-26 late in the third quarter after Purifoy spun out of a tackle for a touchdown, High Country made a big defensive play as Ethan Farmer blocked an extra point, and Brandon Fuentes returned the ball to the end zone for two points.

The Grizzlies continued their limited success in the fourth quarter, but after recovering a fumbled snap inside the final minute, they couldn’t find their way into the end zone to begin a comeback.

While there’s still time left in the season, High Country is now in must-win mode, beginning with a trip to Allentown, PA, to visit the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 3.

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