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PREVIEW: Panthers look to close regular season on winning note vs. Lions

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WHO: Columbus Lions (4-7) at Albany Panthers (6-5).

WHAT: Panthers’ regular-season and home finale.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.

WHERE: Albany Civic Center.

RADIO: 97.3 FM.

LIVE UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.

ALBANY — Familiarity breeds contempt, and with the Columbus Lions and Albany Panthers meeting up for the third time this year — and the 13th time since the inception of their rivalry — there’s no love lost between these two teams.

Sure, the outcome of tonight’s regular-season finale for both teams has no bearing on their playoff picture — Albany is in, Columbus is out — but the matchup serves its own special purpose.

At least for the Panthers.

“It’s a tune-up game for the playoffs,” Panthers QB Cecil Lester said during Friday’s walk-through in preparation for this evening’s home finale at the Civic Center. “We don’t take them lightly, but at the same time, our mentality is getting ready for the playoffs and staying away from causing turnovers.”

Panthers coach Lucious Davis said whether his team heads to the playoffs on a winning or losing note depends on one thing

“Execution,” Davis said. “We haven’t been doing that on both sides of the ball. We’ve been doing it in spurts, so we’re trying to put together a complete game on both sides of the ball.”

The Panthers’ defense is ranked third in the league in run defense and tops the league in defending the pass. In the past seven games, the Panthers have turned the ball over at least once. Lester is second in PIFL in interceptions with 14, while the Panthers have lost five fumbles to go along with the interceptions, making for an even turnover margin when put against the 19 turnovers the defense has caused. Luckily for Albany, the defense has returned the favor with at least one takeaway in nine of its last 10 games.

On the other hand, the Lions lead the league in takeaways with 30 and have forced three or more turnovers in their last three games. However, in their last six meetings versus the Panthers, they have lost the turnover battle by a margin of 12-9.

“We practice creating turnovers,” Davis said. “But in the last five games, we’ve been turning the ball over. I just keep preaching to Cecil to take his check-downs, make easy reads, and if nobody is open, throw the ball in the stands. Those are the things we’ve got to get better at.”

The Panthers hope to be at their best tonight for the home fans considering no matter happens in the playoffs, as the PIFL’s No. 4 seed, there won’t be another game in the Civic Center this season.

“I feel like ever since I’ve been here, our fans have been great to us,” Davis said. “We have to do a better job to give them something to cheer about. This past Saturday (in a 53-49 home loss to Lehigh Valley), we disappointed them. We had the game, but we gave it away.”

The Lions’ all-time record while playing in the Civic Center is a lopsided 1-5, and the Panthers have been their in-state rival’s nemesis, knocking the Lions out of the playoffs in three consecutive seasons and owning an all-time series record of 9-4.