ALBANY -- If anything, Cecil Lester learned patience. And there was no way he was going to forget it when he needed it most.
Lester, once nearly cast off as the Albany Panthers quarterback, came back with a vengeance in 2011, culminating an unforgettable ride with a star-studded performance in Albany's 69-48 win Saturday over the Louisiana Swashbucklers in the SIFL championship game.
Lester threw for 10 touchdowns and more than 300 yards to capture the city's first indoor football title in front of over 7,000 fans at the Albany Civic Center. No official stats were available at press time.
"Right now I'm just soaking this in," said Lester, who held onto the SIFL trophy and took pictures with what seemed like half of the crowd after the confetti fell. "The team played great. The offensive line played great. The defense played great. All I had to do was throw the ball."
It wasn't that easy, but it was. In a game that had points disappear off the scoreboard at halftime due to an unknown rule on the dropkick point after, nothing really made sense except Lester's pocket presence and patience.
Lester and the Panthers offense lit up a potent Louisiana defense for 48 second-half points after trailing 27-21 at the half. Albany (13-2) left the field with 24 points but came back to find three had been removed after officials ruled the dropkick the Panthers' employed after each score was worth one point and not two as it had been in previous games.
"We just persevered until the end," Albany head coach Lucious Davis said. "We just stuck to our game plan and just kept making plays."
Lester was picked off at the end of the first half on a fluke deflection off the side board of the indoor arena, leading to a lead-changing Louisiana touchdown and huge swing in momentum. The Bucs got the ball to start the third quarter but were stymied on two straight possessions after scoring on every series in the first half. Lester took advantage with touchdown passes to Antwone Savage and John Harris to give the Panthers a 35-27 lead with 7:08 to play in the third.
Swashbucklers quarterback Sammy Knight, starting under center for just the second game, cut the lead to 42-40 on a 14-yard touchdown pass to Mike Maciejewski. Albany answered on its next play when Derrick Wimbush caught a slip screen from Lester and rumbled 25 yards for the score and a 49-40 lead.
Antwontis Cutts picked off Knight on a deep route near the end zone on the Bucs' next possession and then Lester delivered the dagger, hitting Harris on a 37-yard bomb to put the Panthers ahead, 55-40.
"We knew we were a second-half team," said wideout Clenton Rafe. "We just had to come out and continue to make plays."
Albany's defense, which shut out Louisiana in the second-half of its season-opening 30-27 win over the Bucs, held the opposition to just 21 points in the final two quarters while the offense exploded for 48.
Lester, who had lost to Louisiana in the first round of the playoffs a year ago, strutted all over the field for most of the night like a show horse whose time had finally come after years of struggle.
"I'm so proud for him," Davis said of Lester. "The struggle that he faced last season against this same team and to come back and beat them. I'm very proud of him."
Said Lester, "One play at a time. One series at a time. One quarter at a time. That's how you do it. You got to be patient. I was patient all year. There was no reason for me to get out of character and not be patient in the championship game."