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PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Panthers control own destiny for home playoff game

ALBANY — Now that the Albany Panthers are entering the home stretch of the regular season, and with the PIFL playoff picture becoming clearer, coach Lucious Davis and the defending champs are working to keep tunnel vision in the most important part of the season.

As they prepare to travel to Columbus to face the Lions, the Panthers sit in third place in the PIFL standings. The Alabama Hammers have already clinched one of four spots, while Richmond, Columbus, and Lehigh Valley are all battling it out with the Panthers for the final three spots. Should the Panthers run the table, they would gain home-field advantage for at least one of their playoff games.

“It’s very important,” Davis said in regards to having a home playoff game. “Our record shows we struggle on the road, so we have to get that home game. I’d rather play the first round here with our fans behind us than to go somewhere else to play.”

Panthers QB Cecil Lester couldn’t agree more.

“We love to play at home,” Lester said. “To win in the playoffs, it takes about 80 percent preparation, 10 percent will and the other 10 percent is from the crowd. We’d love to do it at the house.”

Depending on how the Raiders and Steelhawks fare in upcoming weeks, the Panthers could only reasonably afford to lose one game from here on out.

The league format of a four-team playoff ensures that teams cannot rest on their early-season success, and Davis sees nothing wrong with it.

“I think the format is good,” Davis said. “We don’t have enough teams in the league for more than two rounds, so it’s good the way it is. It makes it tough, because now we know it’s win or go home.”

MORE ACCOLADES FOR LESTER: On the heels of his 336-yard, 10-touchdown performance against Richmond last week, Lester was named PIFL Offensive Player of the Week yet again. Lester’s 15-yard touchdown run in the third overtime was the longest run of the season and proved to be the winning score for the Panthers. Though it was a huge play, Davis wasn’t as thrilled about it as the home crowd was.

“I’m not gonna say he still has it just because he had a good run,” Davis chuckled. “That’s something we don’t want. We don’t want him running, but it was a good play for us. I’m proud of him, I believe this has been the best season he’s had out of his five years here.”

Lester also laughed thinking about the TD run.

“I’ve never ran that far, man,” Lester joked at practice. “You’d probably have to go back to high school for that. I’m getting older now. I’d like to thank my offensive line and receivers for doing their jobs so the defense would lose track of me in the moment.”

HONORING FALLEN PANTHERS: On Saturday, the Panthers will honor injured teammates James Steadman and former Westover star Antwone Savage with helmet decals featuring Steadman’s No. 12 and Savage’s No. 6 as they face the Lions. Both will miss the rest of the season as Steadman suffered a broken ankle in Lehigh Valley a couple of weeks ago, while Savage recently underwent surgery after breaking his leg against Richmond last weekend.

“They meant a lot to us,” Davis said. “James came in in the championship game last year. That made us aware of him. He picked up the offense well, made the right throws, and understood the reads. One game, we even used him as a kicker.”

“Both of those guys were big for us,” Lester said. “Even though James didn’t get in a lot, he did a lot during the week, as far as helping the defense out on the scout team,” Lester said.”

Kickoff is set for 7:30 in the Columbus Civic Center.