Panthers QB Cecil Lester, left, kisses the SIFL Championship trophy as he celebrates with teammate Terrance Smith, 44, after last year's win at the Albany Civic Center against the Louisiana Swashbucklers. The two teams meet for the first time since that game tonight in Lake Charles, La. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
LAKE CHARLES, La. — The Panthers left it all behind Thursday when they boarded the bus for their 10-hour road trip.
The trophy, the championship banner, even the memories of last year’s SIFL title game against Louisiana — none of it came along for the ride.
Lucious Davis made it clear that tonight’s game against the Swashbucklers has nothing to do with last year’s 69-48 rout of Louisiana in the championship game.
“There is nothing either team can do about last year,” said Davis, the Panthers head coach. “It’s never a revenge game. It’s just a new game.”
Want To Listen or Follow Online?
WHO: Albany Panthers (1-0) at Louisiana Swashbucklers (1-0).
WHAT: Rematch of last year’s league title game.
WHEN: 8 p.m. today.
WHERE: Lake Charles, La.
RADIO: 97.3 FM.
LIVE UPDATES: Log onto twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
The Panthers (1-0) are ready to create a new identity.
“The longer you think about what happened last year and the longer you jump up and down about it, the easier it is to fall off your high horse,” Panthers center Terrance Smith said.
Louisiana coach Darnell Lee and his Swashbucklers, meanwhile, aren’t focusing on last year’s title game either.
“We dropped the ball (in the championship game), but we went into the game without a quarterback,” Lee said referring to last year’s starter Ben McLaughlin, who left for a bid with the U.S. National Team before the title game. “It’s too early in the season to talk about a rematch of the championship game. We are just trying to get better each week, and our next opponent just happens to be Albany.”
Albany and Louisiana, which is also 1-0 after beating Alabama in its season opener, are the only undefeated teams remaining in the league.
“It’s going to be the same as it always is with them. It’s going to be a tough game to win,” said Panthers quarterback Cecil Lester, the MVP of last year’s title game. “It will be a tough crowd and a good game, but we have a pretty good gameplan for the matchup.”
The Panthers, however, have never won in the Smuggler’s Den, where the Swashbucklers put on a show for their fans that includes a group of pirates shooting muzzleloaders into the air after every touchdown and a pirate ship parading around the field at halftime.
Albany was 2-0 against the Swashbucklers last season but didn’t make a trip to Louisiana and hasn’t played there since getting knocked out of the playoffs in 2010 — its first year in the league.
“It looks like a hostile environment, a lot like Columbus,” Smith said. “We just have to go in there and take care of business. We are going over there feeling like we have our backs against the wall. They will have their crowd and their environment, and we need to go in there mentally ready.”
Albany is coming off a season-opening 40-28 win against Richmond, but it was a victory that left much to be desired. The Panthers’ offense gained a franchise-low 126 yards and had to rely on their defense to provide the clinching touchdown.
Lester and his receivers think their timing has improved in the past week, but they will be going up against a Louisiana secondary that held Alabama to 186 passing yards and a 46 percent completion rate last week.
“If we don’t execute and if we aren’t disciplined then they are going to beat us. It’s just that simple,” Davis said.
Like the Panthers, much of Louisiana’s team returned from last year — including receivers Sammy Knight and Mico McSwain and running backs Kendrick Perry and Kenneth Williams. Perry was a star prep running back in Amite, La., and accepted a scholarship to Ole Miss, where he failed to make much of an impact.
“(Perry) is up to 260 pounds, but he can still move and is a weapon we have to take advantage of,” Lee said.
Quarterback Alvin Bartie, who will be backed up by McLaughlin, will direct a Swashbucklers’ offense that is known for running a version of the Wing-T offense, which is basically unheard of in arena football.
Louisiana also uses zone reads and play action on offense, causing opposing defenses to be disciplined with its misdirection.
“They aren’t your traditional kind of arena football team,” Davis said. “They run the ball more than anybody, and they run plays that most arena teams don’t run. They play outdoor football indoors.”
The teams will turn around and play each other again March 31 in the Albany Civic Center, where the Panthers rolled in the 2011 championship game.