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Panthers survive testy Hammers on road

Panthers quarterback Cecil Lester drops back and unloads downfield during Saturday night’s game vs. the Hammers. Lester finished with 288 yards passing and six TDs in the 59-40 rout. (Huntsville (Ala.) Times/Special to The Herald)

Panthers quarterback Cecil Lester drops back and unloads downfield during Saturday night’s game vs. the Hammers. Lester finished with 288 yards passing and six TDs in the 59-40 rout. (Huntsville (Ala.) Times/Special to The Herald)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Albany Panthers quarterback Cecil Lester handed out a heavy dose of respect this week when he said the hard-luck, 2-6 Alabama Hammers — who had lost several close games by single digits this season — were “an inch or two away from being real good.”

But all that respect went out the window during the final seconds of Saturday’s 59-40 Panthers rout.

The two teams, who were chippy with one another for most of the game, turned the trash-talk up a notch after Albany turned a five-point game with nine minutes to go into a 19-point rout. Players had to be separated several times in the final minutes as the Panthers made one final stop and took over on offense.

And that’s when things got really chaotic.

As the remaining seconds ticked off, a brawl ensued, punches were thrown and the benches cleared, setting the stage for what’s sure to be a busy week for officials at the Professional Indoor Football League’s head office as they attempt to sort out who was to blame and possibly hand out suspensions.

But when reached late Saturday after the game by The Herald, Panthers coach Lucious Davis said he know who was to blame.

“My guys didn’t start anything. Their guys threw the first punches. Now, don’t get me wrong, my guys threw punches back, but they started the whole altercation and — honestly — that stuff was going on the whole game,” Davis said. “There was cheap shots by them all night. I guess, at the end, they didn’t like the fact we were still trying to score (despite being up 19). But when we played them earlier this year in Albany, I tried to run out the clock and they called a timeout, so I didn’t know if they were going to do that again. So we ran our plays.”

Davis was then asked if he feared suspensions for any of his players for their roles in the fight.

“No, not at all,” he said emphatically. “I’m not worried about that one bit because we didn’t start it.”

Hammers coach Marty Hammond shrugged off the altercation in comments to the Huntsville (Ala.) Times.

"Guys had been playing on high emotion for four quarters," Hammond said. "They had the game and were trying to score. Our guys were a little frustrated, but they were competing."

Now back to football.

Lester had one of the best games of the season as Albany scored on every possession but one. The star QB finished the game 20 of 34 with 288 yards passing and six TDs — two of which went to former Westover star Antwone Savage (six catches, 112 yards) and two more to former Americus-Sumter star Antwon Cutts (six catches, 65 yards). Antonio Bearden (five catches, 81 yards) and Aaron Wheeler (one catch, nine yards) were the recipient of Lester’s other TD passing TDs.

Fullback Derrick Wimbush, who finished with 24 yards rushing on eight carries, also played a huge role in Saturday’s win as he barrelled in for three of the Panthers’ scores.

Defensively, pick-master Damian Daniels didn’t add any interceptions to his league-leading total, but he did lead the team in tackles with five, while Ryan Babb and Larry Edwards each had four.

Davis, who’s often hard on his team even after a win, beamed following this one.

“I just told my guys afterward that this was a good team win — probably our best game we’ve played all season on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We were efficient and didn’t have one turnover. Not much to complain about there.”

The win moved Albany even further ahead in the PIFL standings at 8-1 overall, while Alabama fell to 2-7.

The Panthers, as well as the rest of the teams in the PIFL, are off next week in observance of Memorial Day, but the league will pick back up with a full slate of games June 2. That’s when the Panthers will play their regular-season home finale against the last-place Knoxville Knighthawks.