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Hammers hand Panthers second straight loss

ALBANY --- Well, now ... this is unusual.

Losing one game, much less two in a row, is very un-Panther-like, but that's exactly where the two-time defending league champion Panthers find themselves after Saturday's 51-38 loss to the Alabama Hammers.

With the win, Alabama not only avenges a March 23 loss to the Panthers in Albany, 64-51, but the Hammers are now alone in first place in the PIFL standings.

Alabama was ready for revenge.

"It's the way we play," Hammers coach Dean Cokinos told The Birmingham News. "We want to be able to make plays on both sides of the ball. Our defense rose up and turned the game for us."

Hammers (4-1) quarterback Russell Hill tossed four TDs to the five from Panthers QB Cecil Lester. But it was Lester who was harassed all night by the Hammers' defense --- getting sacked twice, picked off twice and roughed up constantly --- while Hill was rarely under much pressure as he led a second-half comeback that included a 21-0 run by the Hammers that all but sealed it.

"In the arena game, you've got to be around the quarterback if you want to have success," Cokinos told the newspaper. "The way we've always played is just be around the quarterback and make it hard for him. (Meanwhile, Hill)'s been clean all year. Our guys have done a good job up front on both sides of the ball. When you win a lot of games, it's usually because of the guys up front."

A bad night got worse for the Panthers when kicker Ryan Gates --- the hero in two games this season for Albany --- went down with an injury on a kickoff and did not return. Albany had to go for two points after every touchdown the rest of the way and converted just once out of five attempts.

Luckily for Albany (3-2), it has two back-to-back bye weeks to heal and won't play again until May 4 at the Richmond (Va.) Raiders, marking the final game of a three-game road trip.