Spartans, Lions vie for WIFL bowl title

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Can't make it to the game? AugustaChronicle.com will have live updates tonight from Columbus.

Eight weeks ago, Augusta Spartans coach Bubba Diggs said he thought his team was capable of winning the World Indoor Football League championship.

At the time, the Spartans were a .500 team just past the midway point of the regular season.

As the Spartans prepared earlier this week for tonight's World Indoor Bowl I against the host Columbus Lions, Diggs went back and revisited his statement. He said he read his comments with a smile.

"I'm pumped up thinking about it all coming together on a given night," Diggs said in early May. "We just need to click on all cylinders."

He'll find out if he was right tonight, when Augusta takes on Columbus at 7:30 in the four-team league's inaugural title game at the Columbus Civic Center.

Since Diggs' mid-season comments, which followed a loss to the last-place Daytona Beach Thunder, the Spartans have won five of their past seven games, including three in a row.

"Look where we are. It's the end of the rainbow, where you want to be, the light at the end of the tunnel, the biggest stage," Diggs said this week. "This is what you dream about.

"I've been a part of some championships, and you can't replace that feeling," said Diggs, a member of Clemson's 1981 national championship team. "This is probably going to be the biggest moment in most of these guys' careers."

The Spartans (9-6) certainly have the talent to win the championship, and they've proven they can defeat the regular-season champion Lions (10-4). The teams split the season series 2-2, with each winning a pair at home.

Augusta, which struggled to defeat the Osceola Ghostriders 25-19 in the first-round playoff game last week, will need better performances from its offensive stars.

Quarterback Mike Rathe had perhaps his worst game of the season with four interceptions and receiver Marvin Stone, named the league's MVP on Friday, was held scoreless for only the second time in 15 games. The Spartans, who were helped by two touchdowns from receiver Anthony Young, managed less than 100 yards on offense.

"We've got too many weapons to play like that. We've got the top two receivers and the top quarterback, so 75 yards isn't going to cut it," Diggs said.

"And we know that. This is the game we have to put it all together."

Only a couple of times this season has Augusta been able to play well in all three phases - offense, defense and special teams.

One of those was the Spartans' 48-19 rout of Columbus on April 20 at home.

"If we can get all three aspects working together (tonight), it's going to be a long, hard night for Columbus," Diggs said.

The Lions - led by the WIFL's leading rusher - outscored Augusta 125-67 in two meetings in Columbus.

That little tidbit didn't stop Diggs from remaining confident about what will happen tonight.

"We have about the most talent I've ever had on one team," Diggs said. "I believe that we are going to put it all together for one big Saturday night party."

Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or steven.l.sanders@augustachronicle.com.

STONE IS LEAGUE MVP

Augusta Spartans receiver Marvin Stone, who was named the World Indoor Football League's offensive player of the year earlier this week, was given the WIFL's inaugural Most Valuable Player award at a ceremony Friday night.

Stone, a former Josey standout, led the WIFL in nearly every category for receivers, including scoring and all-purpose yards.


WAGERING MAYORS

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington have placed a friendly wager on tonight's World Indoor Bowl I.

If Augusta wins, Wetherington will wear a Spartans shirt at his next city council meeting.

If the Columbus wins, Copenhaver will don a blue and silver Lions shirt at his next city commission meeting.

"I am always up for some friendly competition, and I have happily agreed to Mayor Wetherington's challenge," Copenhaver said. "Though I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting the mayor, I can say with confidence that the Spartans jersey is going to look great on him."


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