Panthers QB Cecil Lester has led the team to a 3-0 start.
ALBANY — Fresh off a bye week, not to mention a 64-51 win against the Alabama Hammers, it’d be easy for the Albany Panthers to sleepwalk into their matchup with the winless Knoxville Nighthawks this weekend. However, ever-stoic head coach Lucious Davis has other plans.
“We can’t take them lightly,” Davis said this week. “If we do that, chances are, they’ll beat us. I tell them to take it one play at a time and try to get the job done.”
Despite Knoxville’s record, the Nighthawks managed to field the PIFL’s top passing defense, giving up an average of only 174 yards per game through the air, thirty yards less than the closest team. Knoxville defensive back Johnny Thomas is tied for the league lead in interceptions with two picks on the season.
With the most formidable passing offense in the league on his side, Davis stressed the importance of discipline.
“We have to make sure we’re precise in our routes, you know, we have to have good timing. It’s a matter of being efficient and not making any bad plays, Davis said.
i. As long as we take care of the ball, protect our quarterback, and execute, we have a good chance.”
The Panthers have little reason to worry in that department. Though the Hammers, the second-ranked pass defense in the league, managed to hold Antwone Savage to three catches last week (two of which went for touchdowns), John Harris and Antwon Cutts took advantage to the tune of 19 catches and 251 yards combined.
DANIELS DEXTEROUS DEFENDER
One of the more unsung heroes of the Panthers’ team has been Damian Daniels. A seven-year defensive stalwart, Daniels is inching closer and closer to the indoor league record for interceptions.
He grabbed two against the Hammers last weekend, after being used in a more varied role in the secondary.
“He’s a big part of our defense,’’ Davis said. “We can move him around in different spots. With his knowledge of the game, he’s more of a coach on the field. Being able to move him around like we did last week is going to enable him to make more plays. I think he’ll be more effective in his new role.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
The matchup with Nashville on Friday marks the beginning of a three game road trip. While the indoor aspect of every league team brings a small degree of comfort to every road game, the work required in making each trip can be unsettling.
“The hardest thing about it is the traveling itself. The actual games and all are just like home games for us,” Davis said. “We just have to go out and play the game. Taking the bus to these places, staying in hotels, that’s the toughest part about road games.”
After facing the Nighthawks, the Panthers will travel to Huntsville (Ala.) for a re-match with the Hammers, then Richmond, Va., to face the Raiders. After the road stint, the Panthers get two consecutive bye weeks.
In their win over the Hammers last week, the Panthers got big games out of defensive linemen Tito Hannah and Corey Rue. The duo combined for two tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries. After the game, Hammers’ quarterback Russell Hill remarked that he thought they had figured out his snap count. The Panthers will look to duplicate that effort against the Nighthawks Saturday night.
While the Panthers rank third in the league in sacks, the Nighthawks are sixth in the league in sacks allowed, surrendering eight sacks so far this season. Since the PIFL is such a pass-heavy league, coach Davis recognizes the importance of keeping your signal-caller upright:
“We stay on our guys to make sure they’re aggressive and relentless going after the quarterback,” Davis said in a phone interview on Thursday evening. “I’ve been saying ever since I became coach, if we can get after the other team’s quarterback and protect our own, that’s where the game is won or lost. I’ve seen some things on field that make us think we could have a big game against them up front. We’re going to shoot for it.”
Receiver Clenton Rafe is out with a foot injury, but hopes to be back after the second group of bye weeks.