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Panthers look to end regular season with win, momentum

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WHO: Albany Panthers (10-1) at Richmond Raiders (9-2).

WHAT: 2012 regular-season finale.

WHEN: 7 p.m. today.

WHERE: Richmond, Va.

RADIO: 97.3 FM.

ONLINE: For live score updates, log onto twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports

RICHMOND, Va. — The Panthers packed up and drove nearly 700 miles for their regular-season finale tonight against Richmond, and win or lose they will be coming back with the No. 1 seed for the upcoming PIFL playoffs.

But receiver Antwon Cutts wants to make one thing clear: The Panthers aren’t treating this like a meaningless game.

“We are going up there to win,” said Cutts, a former Americus-Sumter star. “That’s a long ride to go up there and lose. That would be a sad ride back.”

Albany (10-1) locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with its win last week against Columbus, while Richmond (9-2) is already guaranteed the No. 2 seed in the four-team postseason. The only other time the franchises have played each other was three months ago in the season opener in Albany, which the Panthers won, 40-28.

The Raiders have won eight of nine games since their March 17 loss to the Panthers, and a win tonight would give them momentum heading into their home playoff game next week against either Columbus or Louisiana.

“There is still a lot riding on this game,” Panthers coach Lucious Davis said this week. “We still have to get better. We haven’t really played a really good game yet. We have played good in spots, but we still have to get better. We don’t want to go into the playoffs with a loss.”

Davis remembers the first time he had home field locked up early during the South Georgia Wildcats’ inaugural season when he was the assistant head coach. With the league’s No. 1 seed in their back pockets, Davis and the Wildcats lost their season finale against Columbus.

The Panthers were upset the following week in the opening round of the playoffs.

“We were playing Columbus the last game, and the playoffs were locked up, and we lost,” Davis said. “We went (to Columbus) and weren’t focused on winning. We were more focused on getting ready for the playoffs.”

The Panthers are fully focused on playing well in tonight’s game, which not only would give them momentum heading into the playoffs — but it would also give confidence to backup quarterback Darnell Kennedy, who is getting the start with Cecil Lester being held out with a knee injury.

It’s questionable whether or not Lester will be ready for the team’s playoff run, and Kennedy, a former Wildcats quarterback who is 0-1 as a starter for Albany this season, said he is ready to lead the Panthers to their second straight championship if he needs to.

“They fit me well,” Kennedy said about the team. “I’m not a loud, boisterous type of guy, but they have the same fire and passion for winning like I do. I do not like losing, and I don’t like to make mistakes. And they play the same way.”

And Davis doesn’t want them to stop now.

“To keep everybody with a winning mentality and attitude, you gotta go to Richmond and win,” Davis said.