By Eric Tabor
Albany Panther’s General Manager Will Carter isn’t expecting Albany’s third meeting with Columbus to be any different than the first two this season – a giant challenge.
The two Southern Division Southern Indoor Football League rivals are playing for the third time in 45 days Saturday. The winner will clinch the division title and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“I think it’s harder, the more familiar you are with each other. It’s like fighting your brother or sister,” Albany Panthers quarterback Cecil Lester said. “You know all their tricks and they know all your tricks. You just have to have a drag out. It’s who can be tougher for 60 minutes.”
Lester struggled in the last meeting, a 60-56 loss. He did have six touchdown passes, though.
“When you play other teams you haven’t played before, it’s kind of tough to know everything that the other teams going to do and for them to know everything you’re going to do,” Lester said. “This one, I think, is going to be more of a grind-out kind of game.”
Albany (9-1) committed only one turnover in the two meetings, taking care of the football against the Lions’ relentless pressure.
“Columbus has a unique style of play and not an easy style to play against for anybody,” Panthers coach Lucious Davis said. “The fact this is the third time we’re playing them that has some advantages.”
With Lester struggling, panther defensive back Levance Richmond made his presence felt with three interceptions. In the first game he returned an interception for a touchdown that put the nail in the coffin and secured a win. The second game was a showcase as Richmond garnered two picks in the first half before leaving with a concussion.
He was stellar in Albany’s two games against Columbus. The 6-foot-5 Richmond helped Albany clinch a playoff berth in each of the franchises two seasons.
Columbus coach Jason Gibson has never posted a losing record in his five years with the SIFL. He also has been to the post season in each of those seasons while winning the league championship last season.
He thinks playing a familiar opponent can go either way.
“It’s a blessing we know the team we are playing and understand them, but at the same time it is a curse we are playing Albany, one of the best teams in the league,” Gibson said. “Nobody’s picking us because of the talent in Albany, so I told the team to go out and have some fun; we’re already in the playoffs.”
Columbus has exuded confidence all season long, playing with a swagger. The Lions have dialed it down a little bit for this game.
“I don’t want to be bulletin-board material,” said Columbus quarterback Chris McCoy, smiling.
While Columbus will need a lot of touchdown throws from him to win, the Panthers put this game in perspective.
“We are the underdogs and no one expects us to win,” Albany Panthers defensive lineman Tito Hannah said. “A year ago no one even knew if Albany would even have a team.”
Now it is all on the line Saturday, June 4 at the Columbus Municipal Auditorium. A “rumble in the jungle?” A “cat fight”? Intra state rivalry? Or “World War III, Battle for Supremacy!”