A late interception by defensive back Lavance Richmond helped seal a 54-41 victory for the Albany Panthers (1-0) in their Southern Indoor Football League debut over the Columbus Lions (1-1) on Saturday night at the Albany Civic Center.
After putting up 88 points just one week ago, Columbus found themselves in a dogfight in which the Lions offense struggled to find rhythm majority of the night. Thanks to two unos and a 27-yard field goal, Columbus kicker Trey Crum kept his club within distance of Albany in the first half. Later, Crum added another uno, finishing the night with 10 points.
Two touchdown scores by Panthers receiver Clifton Rafe helped stretch a three-point lead into a 17-point lead just as the clubs entered the half. But its not as if the Albany offense faired much better, both clubs managed a scoreless third quarter before both exploding in the fourth combing for eight touchdowns in the last period. Lion’s fullback Melvin Parris collected two of his three rushing touchdowns bringing Columbus to within two of the Panthers.
Halfway through the 4th, Albany countered the Lions comeback with two passing touchdowns from Cecil Lester to John Harris putting the Panthers up 41-26. Lester finished Saturday with seven passing touchdowns including three hookups with John Harris coming in the fourth quarter alone.
Despite struggling majority of the night, the Columbus offense finally seemed to find wrinkles in the Panthers defense as the Lions rallied to within a touchdown on two different occasions late in the fourth. After a 18-yard strike from Columbus quarterback Todd Spitzer to Gerald Gales, the momentum appeared to swing in the Lions favor as the Panthers couldn’t get the ensuing kick-off out of their end zone resulting in another Columbus point.
But the fourth quarter seemed to be who could outlast the other and not commit the major mistake. With less than a minute left in regulation, Columbus answered right back with another Melvin Parris touchdown run, his third of the evening, putting the Lions back within seven.
A successful onside kick recovery and the Lions had the ball in their hands with the chance to pull even. But a couple of costly off-sides penalties followed by an interception by Panthers defensive back Lavance Richmond, the Lions fate was sealed giving Albany their inaugural win.
Albany would tact on another score via a 48-yard touchdown score from Lester to Harris. The Panthers defense contained the Lions passing attack majority of the night getting two interceptions along with constant pressure be supplied by Alton Pettway.
Both clubs will enjoy next week off before returning to action on Saturday April 17. The Columbus Lions will look to rebound as they host the North Georgia Bulldogs with Albany staying put and hosting the Lafayette Wildcatters.
The Panthers are the second indoor team to play in Albany, following the af2′s South Georgia Wildcats which played from 2005 until the league shut down after the 2009 season. For more information, visit www.southernifl.com.
Written by Matthew Hester