COLUMBUS — In a season filled with more twists and turns than the average Formula One racetrack, it came as no surprise that the Albany Panthers’ latest meeting with the Columbus Lions was no different.
John Harris, Johnny Lester, Clenton Rafe and Derrick Wimbush all scored touchdowns en route to a 35-15 victory, eliminating the Lions from playoff contention.
The story of the game, however, was the defense. In an unusually low-scoring game, the Panthers’ secondary helped hold the Lions scoreless in the second half, holding the Lions at bay while the offense was able to get itself on the right track.
Antwon Cutts and Damien Daniels stepped up in a major way. Cutts had two interceptions, while Daniels added another in the win. Tito Hannah and Larry Edwards combined for two tackles for loss.
On the very first play from scrimmage, Lions quarterback Lee Chapple was sacked and fumbled the ball, and the defense recovered at the Lions’ 1-yard line. Panthers QB Cecil Lester would punch the ball in to give Albany a 7-0 lead.
After the Lions marched downfield on their next drive, Chapple was intercepted at the 1-yard line. Shortly after, Panthers fullback Trae Ivory was tackled in the endzone for a safety.
The Lions drove down the field on the ensuing drive, capping it with a one-yard plunge by Gerald Harris, giving the Lions a 9-7 lead.
After scoring on their next possession and giving up two field goals, the Panthers went into the locker room down 15-14.
Despite the team knowing that minimizing miscues would be of importance this week, they got off to a pretty forgettable start in that department. In addition to the interception, fumble and a missed field goal, they committed eight penalties for a total of 68 yards in the first half.
Things seemed to be headed downhill in the third quarter, until the Panthers were able to stall a driving Lions offense on fourth down. After a long completion to Wheeler down the sidelines, Cecil Lester found Johnny Lester wide open from 13 yards out to give the Panthers a 21-15 lead with under four minutes left in the third quarter.
On the second play from scrimmage after the kickoff, Damien Daniels picked off Chapple for his 93rd career interception, which couldn’t come at a better time for the Panthers.
After the teams traded interceptions, Wimbush easily walked into the endzone, giving the Panthers a 28-15 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
From that point on, the Lions seemed to implode. Up until the third quarter, the home team had only committed one penalty. After Wimbush’s TD, the Lions gave up costly penalties on each drive. After taking a pass from Lester down to the Lions’ one-yard line, Rafe capped the drive with a touchdown catch, extending the Panthers’ lead to 35-15 with 5:25 left in regulation.
Cecil Lester was his efficient self, going 11-for-19 for 123 yards and a touchdown in the first half; he finished with four passing touchdowns and one on the ground.
The Panthers and Lions meet again June 22 in the regular season finale in the Albany Civic Center.