ALBANY — A goal line stand inside the two-yard line flipped momentum Saturday and helped the Albany Panthers run through the first half of their PIFL schedule undefeated with a 62-53 win against the Alabama Hammers.
Alabama led for much of the first half after confusing Albany was different defensive looks in the secondary and planned on going back ahead in the third quarter with three downs to score from the 2-yard line, trailing just 41-35.
The Panthers’ defense had different plans. Albany stopped the Hammers on second, third and fourth down inside the two with multiple big hits. Linebacker Larry Edwards stuffed Alabama running back Charlie McClain at the goal line on third-and-goal and then Chauncey Debose cut down McClain on fourth-and-goal to turn the game’s tide.
“I felt like they had the momentum and it was up to us (to get a stop),” said Debose, who had seven tackles and a sack. “I felt like it was a good time to gain the momentum. It was a great momentum shift. We got the crowd involved and once they get into it we just feed off of them and it just gives us energy.”
The Panthers took over at their 1-yard-line and capped off a 49-yard drive with Cecil Lester’s 12-yard scoring strike to Clenton Rafe for a 48-35 lead, Albany’s largest lead of the game.
The defensive stand at the goal line all but took the confidence Alabama (2-4) had worked to build the entire first half.
“When it’s two yards and you’ve got three or four downs to get two yards, it’s just all about who wants it the most,” Panthers’ head coach Lucious Davis said. “And we showed (Saturday) that we wanted it the most.”
The Panthers led 10-0 early after scoring a defensive touchdown on the opponent’s first play of the game for the second week in a row.
Last week in a win over rival Columbus, Levance Richmond took the opening play back 50 yards on an interception return for a touchdown. This time it was fellow defensive back Damian Daniels doing the damage.
Daniels scooped up a loose ball after Alabama quarterback Arvell Nelson tried to pitch the ball to McClain on a speed option, but McClain bobbled the pitch and Daniels returned it 25 yards for a score.
Daniels, who also intercepted a deflected pass in the end zone for his 85th career indoor football pick, seemed to be in the right place at the right time all night.
“I try to be,” said Daniels, who is 11 interceptions shy of the all-time indoor league record. “That’s a goal we have as a defense. Anytime we can get a turnover, we want to try to put points on the board.”
The Hammers, though, kept Albany out of rhythm long enough to lead 28-27 before Albany’s Derrick Wimbush scored on a 1-yard run at the halftime buzzer to get the lead back. Wimbush scored three touchdowns on six carries.
Albany blew the game open in the second half with touchdown throws to Richmond, who had only caught one pass prior to Saturday’s game, Rafe and offensive tackle Demetrice Jackson.
“They started giving us (defensive secondary) looks we were looking for and that’s why it was a little easier down the stretch,” Davis said.
Lester finished 18-of-36 passing for 208 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Rafe led the receiving corps with 87 yards and one touchdown on seven catches. Alabama’s Mico McSwain caught nine passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Hammers.
The Panthers will next play at Columbus on Sunday at 4 p.m. to begin the second half of the season.