June 27, 2017
By: Kristi Fulkerson
Painful is the only word to describe the sudden end to the Steelhawks (9-2) 2017 campaign. In a franchise-first home playoff game Friday, Lehigh Valley dropped just their second game of the season 52-50 to rival Columbus (Ga.).
Leading 43-21 with 1:57 left in the third quarter, the No. 3 Lions would outscore the No. 2 seed Steelhawks 31-7 to finish the game. A somewhat surprising statistic considering the Steelhawks offensive success this season, captained by the most-likely-to-be-named NAL MVP Warren Smith Jr.
But as disappointing as the loss was on Friday, it’s not shocking. Did I think the Steelhawks would win? Yes. Did I think it would come down to the final possession? Yes, because it was against Columbus.
Anyone that's followed the Steelhawks over the last seven season knows how tightly contested the games against the Lions have been. Their 2017 regular season meeting on April 9 was just as nerve-wracking. After giving up a 12-point lead to trail by one, the Steelhawks got the ball back with :19 to play, scoring the game-winning touchdown (Smith Jr. to Brandon Renford) with just :02 on the clock. Nerve-wracking in an exciting home-team-got-the-win kinda way. But the nail-biters go back several seasons.
Prior to game time on Friday, Columbus head coach Jason Gibson remembered a few that stand out, specifically recalling a botched field goal in 2015 at Stabler Arena. I actually found my notes from that regular season game on May 2 and another almost exactly two years prior on May 5, 2013 with a near identical finish.
In a back and forth game, a 28-yard Steelhawks field goal with :38 left gave Lehigh Valley a 52-51 lead. The Lions blew a chance to win the game with :08 on the clock after a bad snap on a field goal attempt resulted in a Steelhawks safety. (A touchdown to follow made it 60-51). That started a 5-game Steelhawks win streak that later ended at Columbus on June 2, 2013 (59-48).
Overall, over the course of 4 seasons (2013, 2014, 2015, 2017), the Steelhawks are 3-5 against Columbus. But few losses sting worse than Friday’s because the Lions will play for the inaugural NAL championship. And the Steelhawks will have to wait a-whole-nother season to have a shot at their first league title in franchise history.
Oh, and 2018 can’t come soon enough for Steelhawk enthusiasts who look forward to another chapter in the rivalry versus Columbus.