By Eric Tabor
Editor’s note: After a week off, the Albany Panthers host the Alabama Hammers at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Southern Indoor Football League action at the Albany Civic Center.
When Albany Panther defensive back LaVance Richmond converged on a William Richardson pass and snagged it, the Panthers’ sideline erupted.
Richmond returned the ball 30 yards, weaving his way through the Columbus Lions players and head coach before finally reaching the end zone for what would ultimately be the nail in the coffin of a 46-26 decision on April 2.
“It kind of took me back to my little league days, but I just saw the route develop,” he said. “We went zone, I’m running the deep middle and I saw McCoy eye the slot receiver the whole way, trying to sit him down right in front of me and I kind of just gambled to jump over it.
“If there was someone over my head, it would’ve been another story, but I gambled and it worked out for me.”
Richmond was just one of many foundational players to come up big against Columbus.
Tight-end Brandon Bishop had the first of six Albany scores – a short pass he rumbled four yards for a touchdown.
The play gave the Panthers the first score of the game.
“It just happened to be what they played in that circumstance,” said Albany Panthers Head Coach Lucious Davis of the play call. “I though Cecil (Lester) did a really good job managing (the game). He didn’t make any mistakes where we had the ball in danger.
“There were a couple of shots that he took where the ball sort of got away from him a bit and the ball was in danger of getting picked, (but we never gave one up).”
Albany would then tie the game on a Wes Vergilio field goal, getting the ball back after a defensive stop by the Albany defense.
The Panthers’ defensive line had QB Chris McCoy under duress throughout the game, undoubtedly leading to Albany’s big plays down the stretch.
“I think we just had to turn up the intensity,” said defensive end Tito Hannah of Albany’s second-half defensive performance. “I think it was more or less what we weren’t doing in the first half, as far as executing and guys came out and played with a lot of energy.
“For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been learning how to win and close out games in the fourth quarter. This is just another example of that.”
He and the Panthers’ defensive line were in McCoy’s face throughout the game, helping a Panther secondary that dominated the Lions receiving corps
“It has been the story, it seems like, all year,” said Lucious Davis.
“Corey Rue did a great job today and it’s just playing together as a secondary back there and making the plays and the stops when we needed to – especially in that third quarter and fourth quarter.”
It isn’t coincidental that this third-consecutive win for Panthers saw many up-and-coming players contribute significant plays.
\It shows that Davis and General Manager Will Carter have been doing what they said they would at the outset of their tenure: build a championship team, and bring a winner to Albany, Georgia.
“(Having a week off) will be big – we have a couple of guys banged up and a chance for them to get healthy – then (we’ll) get back in front of our home crowd again,” said Davis. “A lot of people (are) playing for the playoffs, but we might be playing for something more important than the playoffs: the direction of this team and the momentum to secure a number one seed and a championship.”
Player of the Game – Cecil Lester
Play of the Game – LaVance Richmond interception
Catch of the Game – John Harris