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PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Former Albany State WR Rafe gives Panthers another weapon

Former Albany State wide receiver Clenton Rafe caught two touchdown passes Saturday in his first game back with the Panthers.

Former Albany State wide receiver Clenton Rafe caught two touchdown passes Saturday in his first game back with the Panthers.

ALBANY — Clenton Rafe didn’t brag about catching the winning touchdown pass Monday when he got back to work. He’s just not that kind of guy.

“I’m the type of guy, I don’t do too much bragging,” said Rafe, who hauled in the go-ahead score from Cecil Lester Saturday with 4.5 seconds left to lift the Albany Panthers to a 58-55 win against Louisiana. “It was kind of routine for me. I just have a good time playing the game.”

So good, in fact, Rafe couldn’t give the game up at age 30 after five seasons in the arena league. The former Albany State star joined the team Thursday — one day before the Panthers loaded up the bus and took off for Louisiana — when coach Lucious Davis found out receiver and Westover grad Antowne Savage, who was taking the state’s teacher certification test, couldn’t make the 10-hour trip to Lake Charles, La. Rafe stepped in and led the team with a pair of touchdown catches.

Looking Ahead

WHO: Louisiana Swashbucklers (1-1) at Albany Panthers (2-0).

WHAT: Rematch of last week’s regular season game and last year’s league championship game.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Albany.

RADIO: 97.3 FM.

“It was huge for us for him to make that play,” Davis said. “I have all the confidence in the world in Clenton.”

The addition of another veteran receiver didn’t go unnoticed among Rafe’s fellow wideouts, either.

“It was good to have him back,” Albany receiver and former Americus-Sumter star Antwon Cutts said. “He knows the game. He can come in on Thursday and Friday and get the rust off. (The catch) couldn’t have come at a better time than that.”

The Panthers (2-0) are now the only undefeated team remaining in the PIFL and will face the Swashbucklers again Saturday at the Civic Center on Phoebe Field. Things might not have been that way if Rafe hadn’t traveled from his home in Atlanta for the game after deciding he still had gas left in the tank.

“(Coach Davis and I) have been going back and forth throughout the offseason on whether or not I was going to play,” Rafe said during a break from his job at Atlanta’s Fed Ex Tuesday. “I was working two jobs at the time, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to play because I wouldn’t have time. One of my jobs worked out, so everything is good now.”

Davis said Rafe makes the three-hour drive to Albany one or two times per week for offensive team practices. The two have worked together for five seasons now and developed a bond on and off the field.

“He and I have been talking the entire offseason,” Davis said. “It’s not always just football. I think that may be the best relationship of all the players I have. I just said, ‘Hey man, I may need another wideout (Saturday).’ And he said, ‘I’ll be there.’ ”

Rafe expects to commute back-and-forth during the season to help make another run at a second title.

“At the end of the day, it’s worth it,” he said. “We’re just trying to bring another one back to Albany.”

LOW-KEY RING PRESENTATION: The 2011 championship Panthers team will be presented their title rings Friday, instead of the originally scheduled ring ceremony at Saturday’s game. After beating Louisiana in the championship game last season, Davis didn’t want to rub it in too much in another rematch with the Swashbucklers.

“I know how I felt as a coach last year when Columbus gave theirs out,” Davis said. “I didn’t want anybody to feel the way I felt. I (also) didn’t want to supply any distractions for our team.”

Friday or Saturday, it didn’t much matter to the players, most of whom will be sporting league championship jewelry for the first time.

“This is my first championship,” Cutts said. “It really hasn’t hit me yet because I haven’t seen the (rings). Once I see the ring, I guess it will hit me.”

Rafe added: “I’m excited to get that and put it on my finger.”

REFS IN TRAINING: The PIFL is being used as a farm system of sorts for officials this season, with referees training on the job in the arena league. Some of the officials working this season’s games are getting work in for future jobs in the college and pro game, Davis said.

The revues have been mixed thus far.

“It’s more training for them,” Davis said. “Some of them don’t really know the (arena) rules, but they’re doing the best they can.”

Because many PIFL coaches search for gray areas in the rulebook to benefit their teams, some confusion has been created among the officials new to the arena game who aren’t familiar with the depths of the arena rulebook, Davis said.

NOTES: Saturday’s game will be the first time Davis has coached against the same team in back-to-back weeks. There’s some good and bad that comes with consecutive matchups. “It’s tough, but we’ve already seen them so we kind of have an idea of what to look for,” Davis said … The Panthers were a little beat up early in the week with injuries to wide receiver John Harris (quad) and fullback Derrick Wimbush (knee). Both may play Saturday depending on how they progress this week.