Cobras quarterback Charles McCullum passed for seven touchdowns, and ran for another. The potent Cobras defense frustrated Columbus all night long, and the Carolina Cobras cruised to a 66-8 victory on the National Arena League (NAL) Championship Game last Monday night.
The Cobras, sitting at 11-5 in the franchise’s first year of existence, raced out to a 7-0 lead on their first drive, with McCullum nabbing his first touchdown pass of the night, a two-yard check down to Phillip Barnett. After forcing the Lions to turn the ball over on downs, McCullum picked up where he left off, heaving a 35 yard touchdown to Tyron Laughinghouse. After blocking a Lion field goal attempt, the Cobras marched into the second quarter with a 14-0 lead.
It was only the beginning of a very long night for the Columbus Lions. McCullum earned his only rushing touchdown of the evening with a criss-crossing scamper from 30 yards out. McCullum then added another touchdown, kicker Craig Peterson converted the deuce on the ensuing kickoff (in which the kicker boots the ball through the uprights on a kickoff) and the Cobras defense forced a safety before the Lions even got on the board thanks to a deuce of their own. 31-2, Carolina.
In a sport designed to promote offense, it was Carolina’s defense that reigned supreme that night. A meager two points at halftime—with neither of those points coming on behalf of the Columbus offense—is almost unprecedented in an arena football game. To put the performance in perspective, the Lions averaged almost 52 points per game all season. They finished with two at halftime, and eight on the game. The Cobras played a distinctive brand of team defense, and that chemistry carried them all season.
“We do everything together!” Cobras offensive lineman Chad Kolumber wrote in a text to The Carolinian. “Eat lunch and dinner together, we lift together as a team, play hoops together… And at the same time, we all have that same competitive drive that we want to succeed and we know that we need each other to be able to do that.”
The defensive dominance continued on the Lions’ opening possession of the second half, as Cobras linebacker Pasquale Vacchio intercepted an errant pass from Lions quarterback Jeremy Johnson.
After McCullum tacked on another touchdown pass, this time to Jordan Jolly, the Lions got their only taste of the end zone of the night, thanks to a defensive breakdown by the Cobras. The Columbus receiver was wide open in the back of the end zone. However, the Lions kicker missed the extra point—it was that kind of night for Columbus.
Carolina added another touchdown late in the third to take a 51-8 lead into the fourth quarter. By now, with the Cobras holding an insurmountable lead, the Greensboro Coliseum was humming with excitement. Both fans and players held up four fingers prior to the start of the quarter, jumping and shouting as reality set in: They’d be champions in 15 minutes.
After McCullum added his final touchdown pass, this time to Laughinghouse, Peterson nailed another deuce and Vacchio returned a Jeremy Johnson fumble for a touchdown, streaking down the sideline for the final nail in the Lions’ coffin.
Johnson was displeased with the call, yelled at an official, and was ejected after the play. The Cobras ran out the clock after that and stormed the field, embracing teammates and coaches and family in glee. In their very first season of existence, the Carolina Cobras were champions.
“It feels great,” Kolumber wrote on being champions. “It’s a feeling I’ve never had before.”
It’s Greensboro’s first professional championship since 2011, when the Greensboro Grasshoppers won the South Atlantic League Title. The Cobras will be back to defend their championship in 2019.