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Heartbreaker: Panthers fall

By   /   July 11, 2010  /   Comments

By Walter L. Johnson II

After an undefeated regular season at home—to go with a share of the regular season crown—it appeared that everything was in place for the Albany Panthers to win a postseason title.

But just like in previous postseasons with the now defunct South Georgia Wildcats of arenafootball2, the Panthers saw that dream slip away in the opening round of the playoffs.

This time, it was the defending Southern Indoor Football League champion Louisiana Swashbucklers turn to break the hearts of local football fans.

“Rod Chappell (Panthers owner) is a man of his word,” Hager added. “Everything he said he was going to do, he did. Everything that Will Carter said he was going to do, he did. Everything that Lucious Davis said he would do, he did.”

The visitors from Lake Charles, La. jumped out to a big lead over the Panthers, only to hold on in the closing to pull off the upset, 41-35, in semifinal action at the Albany Civic Center last Saturday.

“We started off slow, and missed a lot of opportunities,” a disappointed Panthers general manager Will Carter said after the game. “But we came out in the second half, and played strong, and had a couple of chances in the end to win the ball game, but we just couldn’t find a way to get the ball in the end zone, to take that go-ahead touchdown.”

Albany (8-4) struggled almost from the opening kickoff, as the Panthers couldn’t convert on their first two fourth down opportunities. Sammy Knight put the Swashbucklers on the board first, returning a Cecil Lester interception 18 yards for a touchdown. Louisiana took a 7-0 lead into the second quarter.

Antwontis Cutts scored the Panthers only points of the first half just seven seconds into the second quarter. He found himself on the receiving end of a 29-yard touchdown pass from Lester. But a missed extra point left the home team trailing 7-6.

Louisiana (6-6) never trailed during the contest, as the Swashbucklers doubled a 20-6 halftime lead into a 41-13 advantage by the late stages of the third quarter. It appeared as if they on their way to a blowout victory.

But Albany closed the gap down the stretch, scoring 22 unanswered points over the final 16:25 of the contest. Multiple defensive stops which resulted in the Panthers defense creating turnovers helped them close the gap to only six points with 8:38 to play in regulation.

Still, they couldn’t finish the comeback effort as the seconds ticked off the clock. With 3.3 seconds to play, Lester ran towards the end zone in one last-ditch attempt to lead his team to victory, only to be stopped by the Louisiana defense en route to the heartbreaking loss.

“We came up short,” Panthers head coach Lucious Davis said after the loss. “We just keep fighting, and keep plugging, and just didn’t work for us.”

Even in defeat, SIFL President Thom Hager found a few reasons to give the Panthers organization a pat on the back during their inaugural season.

“I’m extremely excited about the fans in Albany, Georgia,” replied Hager. “(Last Saturday), they were loud, I couldn’t talk to the guy next to me. I was so impressed by their enthusiasm, they stuck with their team the whole season long.”

“Rod Chappell (Panthers owner) is a man of his word,” Hager added. “Everything he said he was going to do, he did. Everything that Will Carter said he was going to do, he did. Everything that Lucious Davis said he would do, he did.”

“I’m so proud to have (the Panthers) are in the SIFL.”

Enthusiasm aside, though, the Albany players can now only look back to what might have been.

“We came into (Saturday’s) game with high expectations, and (the game) was there for the taking, but as an offensive unit, we just (sputtered) in the first half, and that’s what killed us,” wide receiver Clenton Rafe said.

As far as offseason plans go, Rafe had a simple explanation.

“I’m just going to go home, and rest up, and take time off, and then go see what happens.”

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About the author

Owner / Editor / Writer

Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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