By Walter L. Johnson II
The Albany Panthers of the Southern Indoor Football League did what the now defunct South Georgia Wildcats of arenafootball2 couldn’t do: finish the regular season undefeated at home.
In their final home game of their inaugural season Saturday, the Panthers scored early and often against the Greenville Force en route to an easy 71-6 win at the Albany Civic Center. With the rout of the visitors from upstate South Carolina, Albany (6-1) finished the regular season with a record of 5-0 at home.
Additionally, the Panthers took over sole possession of first place in the SIFL after the Columbus Lions (5-2) lost to the Louisiana Swashbucklers, 51-31, on the road last weekend. On May 22, the Swashbucklers handed the Panthers their first loss of the season in a 67-43 triumph at Lake Charles, La.
“Our goal was to jump out on them early, and not let up,” Panthers head coach Lucious Davis said. “We just followed the game plan, and started taking advantage of things that we saw.”
The Panthers jumped out to a 28-0 lead after the first quarter, thanks to quick strikes on offense, as well as a fierce defense. Clenton Rafe made one of his two touchdown catches early in the contest, finding himself on the receiving end of a long pass from Cecil Lester. The first of 10 consecutive extra points made by kicker Juan Bongarra gave the Panthers a 7-0 with 12:26 to play in the first quarter.
“We tried to come out here (Saturday), and just tried to execute the game plan,” Rafe said. “First off, we wanted to win our last home game before we take this long, long road trip. So, we just tried to come out (Saturday) and put on a good performance for the fans.”
Two fumble recoveries in the end zone for touchdowns helped give the home team an insurmountable advantage in the first half. One of those recoveries gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead with 10:32 left in the first quarter. The other recovered fumble in the end zone with 10:29 remaining in the second quarter-helped increase that lead to 43-0. Albany led 50-0 at halftime.
“We just wanted to come out here and make a statement, going into the playoffs, and going in there on the right foot, (as) this was our last home game,” linebacker Larry Edwards said. “Actually, we’ve got to go on the road now, so hopefully we can go out there, we wanted to make a statement for our fans, so (we made) sure our fans enjoyed our last home game (going) into the playoffs, and now we’re just going to go on the road, and see if this dominance can carry over from this game into our road games, and hopefully, our defense can win a championship with it.”
Greenville (2-6) scored its only points of the game almost three minutes into the second half. That made the score 50-6 with 12:02 to play in the third quarter.
Albany, though, scored 21 more points the rest of the contest to match the 65-point margin of victory against the Force in their last meeting. The Panthers easily won that game 78-13 on April 25.
With a brutal four-game road stretch now looming for the Panthers, Davis says his team must stay focused each week to earn a home playoff game in July.
“All we’re going to do is just take it one play at a time, one game at a time,” Davis explained. “And then, just get out there, and win the game. As long as we play hard, and play together, we’re going to be fine.”
The first of those four games will be played in Columbus this Saturday, as they face the Lions in a battle for a share of first place in the SIFL. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. Log on to twitter.com/SIFLFootball to follow the action.