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Panthers set for first game vs. rival Lions tonight

ALBANY — The Columbus Lions’ roster is drastically different than the one that the Panthers battled in the semifinals of last year’s league playoffs.

“But the hatred is still there,” Panthers coach Lucious Davis said Friday.

Davis and his undefeated Panthers host Columbus (3-2) tonight in the first matchup between the two rivals this season.

Want To Go, Listen or Follow Online?

WHO: Columbus Lions (3-2) at Albany Panthers (4-0).

WHAT: Panthers’ fifth game of season, first meeting between Georgia rivals.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.

WHERE: Albany Civic Center.

RADIO: 97.3 FM.

LIVE UPDATES: Log on to: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.

And he expects it to be a battle from the opening kickoff.

“It doesn’t matter if we are 0-4 or 4-0, when we meet up we know it’s going to be a dog fight from start to finish,” said Davis, whose Panthers have started the season with four wins and are the only undefeated team left in the league.

Damian Daniels knows all about both sides of the rivalry. The safety, who is a four-time league defensive MVP, played his first six seasons at Columbus before coming over to Albany with teammate and linebacker Ryan Babb. Daniels left the Lions because of what he called a “lack of communication.”

“It was a pride issue, and a lack of communication,” he told The Herald back in March when asked about his defection to the Lions’ biggest rival. “That’s what it boils down to. They failed to communicate. I felt there was no point in staying there.”

He’s made quite the impact in Albany, where he has already racked up a team-high 20 tackles and three interceptions.

“I told (Daniels and Babb on Thursday) that I could only imagine the way they feel and what kind of emotions they have, considering they are playing against their old team,” Davis said. “The one thing I have been trying to get through to them is that they can’t win the game by themselves, so I’m telling them not to put more pressure on themselves then they need to.”

Daniels and Babb will be right in the heart of a Panthers’ defense that will attempt to stop the No. 1 offense in the league and quarterback Randy Hippeard, who leads the PIFL with 1,380 passing yards and 33 touchdowns. (That’s 380 more yards and 11 more touchdowns than the second-leading passer in the league.)

“In order for us to slow him down, we have to hit him,” Davis said. “The pressure doesn’t go on the defensive backs or the secondary. The pressure lies with the defensive front. The front four has to get after him and hit him and make him move.”

The Lions have scored a PIFL-best 62.6 points per game, but they haven’t faced a defense as tough as Albany’s, which has allowed just 32.8 points per game.

“Albany’s the best defensive team in the league,” Columbus coach Jason Gibson told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer on Friday. “It’ll be an interesting game since it’s the top offense against the top defense and their offense is last in the league and so is our defense.”

Gibson then added: “We can’t turn the ball over if we want to win. When (Albany’s) defense scores, they can get on a roll and win football games. When their defense doesn’t score, they struggle. If we can not turn the ball over and get our defense rocking and rolling, we’ll be in good shape.”