Albany Panthers coach Lucious Davis and his guys will close the regular season Saturday at home against Columbus and then open the playoffs next week on the road at the PIFL’s No. 1 seed Alabama Hammers.
WHO: Columbus Lions (4-7) at Albany Panthers (6-5).
WHAT: Panthers’ regular-season and home finale.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Albany Civic Center.
RADIO: 97.3 FM.
LIVE UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
ALBANY — With their impending matchup against the hated Columbus Lions serving as a mere formality before the playoffs start, the Albany Panthers are focused on many things.
Mostly, staying alert.
Though a win won’t vault them any higher in the PIFL standings or improve their playoff seed, Panthers players said Thursday at practice they still want to get the job done in this season’s home finale.
“We don’t have time to rest,” coach Lucious Davis laughed. “We only have time to get everything together. It’s not hard to get up for (Columbus). They don’t really like us. With rivalry games, we don’t have to talk much; we just have to make sure all the guys stay focused.”
Panthers QB Cecil Lester said just because the game doesn’t mean much in the big picture, it hasn’t changed their intensity during practice this week.
“It’s still the Columbus Lions,” Lester said. “We still look forward to playing them every year, whether it’s for a championship, the season opener or the season finale.”
Added defensive back Damian Daniels: “This game still means a lot to us. Just as far as us wanting to get some momentum. We don’t want to lose two back-to-back games going into the playoffs.”
No one wants that.
“We’re coming off a loss,” receiver John Harris said. “Going into the playoffs, we want everybody to be comfortable and give everybody something to look forward to. Winning (the season finale) will help that.”
DANIELS ZEROING IN ON HISTORY: Come Saturday, Daniels has another shot to get closer to the indoor football record for career interceptions. Currently, Daniels sits at 95 career picks, just four away from breaking AFL standout Kenny McEntyre’s record of 98.
Daniels has grabbed six interceptions this year to go along with 24 total tackles and four passes broken up. In his seventh year in the league, Daniels earned Defensive Player of the Year honors four times (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011) in the Southern Indoor Football League. A former Columbus Lion who spent five seasons with the team, Daniels is more familiar with the franchise than the rest of the Panthers.
“They’re a pretty good organization,” Daniels said. “They pride themselves on offense, but they’ve been struggling a bit here lately. Either way, it’s going to be a dogfight, it always is, so we’ve just got to come ready to play.”
Daniels said he has tried not to think about the record this year.
“I couldn’t even answer that,” Daniels said about whether he thinks he’ll break the record before his playing career is done — whenever that may be. “I don’t know, I’m not trying to even think about it. I’m just trying to finish the season strong. We’ll see what happens.”
The team could’ve used a few picks from Daniels and the secondary in last week’s loss versus Lehigh Valley as the Panthers’ streak of nine straight games with a takeaway was snapped in the 53-49 loss. In games in which Daniels intercepts a pass, the Panthers are 3-1, and in those where Daniels does not, they hold a 3-4 record. In six games against his former team, Daniels has four interceptions.
“I don’t think he’s as focused on the record as he is on winning these games,” Davis said. “I believe if he could trade those picks for wins, he would. On the other hand, we’re all aware of what’s at stake for him. It’s a great accomplishment, but we’re not putting any emphasis on it, I just want him to relax and play.”
CATS LICKING THEIR WOUNDS?: Though it’d be a stretch to say they’ve been snake-bitten by injuries thus far, one has to think that with their playoff picture set in stone, the season finale gives the team a chance to rest some of their starters in preparation for the playoffs. However, it doesn’t seem like Davis buys into that strategy except for a few legitimate cases where players will rest due to injury.
“I think the (most significant injury) right now is Chauncey (Debose’s) ankle. John (Harris’) shoulder and (Trae) Ivory’s) knee is banged up a little bit, but they’ll be all right,” the coach said. “There’s regular old nicks and bruises here and there, but we’ll be fine.”
Harris may be the only one who sits out Saturday.
“I don’t think I’m going to start this game,” Harris said, “My shoulder’s been bothering me. I am planning to get in there and help the team when I can, but I’ve got to stay out of injury’s way. I’ll probably be able to chill and do a little cheerleading this week.”
ODDS AND ENDS: The Panthers’ all-time record in the Civic Center is 25-3. Last week’s loss to Lehigh snapped a 15-game home wining streak that stretched two years ... The Panthers’ all-time record after a loss is 8-3, last season, they were 2-0, this season, they are 2-2 ... Over the past four years, five players from the Columbus Lions subsequently signed with the Panthers, including key players such as Ryan Gates, Daniels, and Brandon Harris.