By: Eric Tabor
Albany Panthers Indoor Football
Media Relations Director
Home field means everything in the Southern Indoor Football League. The five division leading teams are 16-2 at home this season.
Home-field advantage in the playoffs and more is at stake when the Columbus Lions visit the Albany Panthers on Saturday, May 14th “Hero’s Night” (7:30 ET) at the Albany James H Gray Civic Center. The winner has a great chance of securing the No. 1 seed in the SIFL playoffs. With the Lions and the Panthers atop the division with 7-0 and 7-1 records, this could end up being one of the better Saturday night games of the season.
The Panthers won the first meeting between the teams, beating the Lions 46-26 in Week 3. Blocked field goals and bad plays buried the Lions late in the game, and quarterback Chris McCoy couldn’t recover.
The pressure is on the Panthers more than the Lions in this game. The Lions’ closing schedule is pretty easy (three home games), so they could survive losing this game and have a chance to catch the Panthers. Albany has no margin of error. Its final four games are against the Richmond Raiders, the Alabama Hammers (twice), and the Lions in Columbus, with three of the four on the road.
Chris McCoy has given the Panthers fits since joining the Lions. And he’s been doing that his entire career. McCoy has won one of his two starts against the Panthers, throwing nine touchdowns in those two games.
But the Panthers fear McCoy’s legs more than his arm. Even when the Panthers had Alton Pettway and James Harris on their defensive line, they always have had trouble with quarterbacks who can run.
McCoy can turn any bad play into a first down with a scramble. That’s a big concern for Panthers coach Lucious Davis.
The other concern for the Panthers is Cecil Lester’s inconsistent passing. He struggled at times but bounced back with a solid effort in the Week 7 victory against Richmond. Coming off the bench, Lester has been one of the main reasons the Panthers have re-emerged as a playoff team.
Fortunately for the Panthers, Davis knows what to ask of his quarterback. This season, Davis went back to the style of football that previously led him to the SIFL regular season championship, relying on great recievers and a great defense.
Antoine Savage, Antwontis Cutts, Clenton Rafe, and John Harris form one of the best wide receiver corps in football. The Panthers got bigger and stronger along the offensive line. Lester has been asked to throw more than 29 passes only three times this season. The Panthers remain undefeated.
Naturally, Columbus co-defensive coordinators Brett Wink and Brandon Redd will try to stack the box, blitz, and force Lester to make some bad throws. Cecil then will be asked to try to hit a few quick out completions to John Harris.
Both teams enter the game reasonably healthy, which should make this game even better and eliminate any excuses for the loser.
These two teams could meet in the playoffs. The winner of this game should end up either 11-1 or possibly 12-0. The loser should make the playoffs at 10-2 or 11-1, which would put it in position to play the winner of the Northeast, most likely the Erie Explosion, in the first round of the playoffs.
If the Southern Division second-place team wins that game, there could be a fourth installment of this Lions-Panthers rivalry. In other words, this could be a playoff preview.