Antwon Cutts, left, and the Panthers split the two regular-season meetings against the Alabama Hammers as the teams get set to meet in the rubber match Monday night in Huntsville, Ala., with a trip to the PIFL title game on the line.
WHO: Albany Panthers (7-5) at Alabama Hammers (10-2).
WHAT: Opening round of the PIFL playoffs.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday.
WHERE: Hunstville, Ala.
RADIO: 97.3 FM.
ALBANY — There’s something special when you step onto a football field on a Monday night.
Albany Panthers fullback Derrick Wimbush knows that feeling better than most.
Wimbush spent two years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars and played key roles in a pair of Monday Night Football wins during the 2006 season, and for the past week Wimbush — along with Panthers teammates and former NFL players Tito Hannah and Alton Pettway — has been telling his fellow Panthers what it feels like to slip on a helmet on Monday night as the team prepares for Monday’s PIFL playoff opener in Huntsville Ala., against the Alabama Hammers.
“For the people who have never played Monday Night Football, I was letting them know how exciting it is,” Wimbush said at practice this week. “When I played in the (NFL), we played Pittsburgh and the (Indianapolis) Colts on Monday night, so it was exciting.”
Granted, the Panthers won’t be playing in front of a national TV audience — or a local TV audience for that matter — but the game will be streamed live online, giving fans back in Albany a chance to catch some weekday football action.
“It’s like the world is watching you,” Wimbush said. “On Mondays, it’s not the weekend and you don’t have people out at the club or out partying. On Monday night, you have people at home watching TV after a long work day, and they just want to kick back and watch some football.”
Just hearing about Wimbush’s MNF glory days has livened up the rest of the Panthers players.
“They are telling me how it feels to play on a Monday night, and now I have butterflies in my stomach. I am ready to play,” Panthers linebacker Corey Rue said. “Just like the NFL. Just like Monday Night Football. So we are hyped up about that.”
PIFL games are typically played Saturday nights, but a previously scheduled Jehovah’s Witnesses event at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Ala., forced the playoff opener to be played Monday.
It’s the first Monday night game for the Panthers franchise and will determine a spot in the PIFL Championship game. The two-time defending champion Panthers have won five straight playoff games dating back to 2011, but they are up against an Alabama squad that has won five in a row and are 5-1 at home.
Panthers coach Lucious Davis is appreciating the extra two days of rest and preparation before facing the hottest team in the league.
“It’s an extra day of rest and an extra day of practice,” Davis said. “I feel like come Monday we should be as close to 100 percent as possible. With the guys that have health issues and the little nicks and bruises, all of those guys ought to be ready come Monday.”
STREAK SNAPPED: Albany quarterback Cecil Lester’s near perfect night last week against the Columbus Lions ended a streak of eight straight games during which he has thrown an interception.
The veteran QB threw seven touchdowns and completed 26-of-36 passes in the 59-35 win, but for the first time since March 23 he didn’t complete a pass to the other team.
Lester’s accuracy is good news for the Panthers, who are 4-0 this season when their QB doesn’t throw an interception. Before practice earlier this week, Lester explained that all he cares about is leading his team to victory, regardless of how many picks he throws.
“I’m not the type of guy who lives for rewards or accolades or wanting people to recognize what I am doing or not doing,” Lester said. “I am playing to win the game. If I can win a game with throwing four interceptions and three touchdowns, then we won. I don’t play the game for those types of stats. I play for Ws, no matter how you can get them.”
Lester has a QB rating of 101.91 this season and has thrown a league-high 61 touchdowns along with 14 interceptions. He has completed 283-of-494 passes for a league-high 3,274 yards and has also rushed for a team-high eight touchdowns.
ODDS & ENDS: The Panthers’ all-time road record is 13-10, but they are just 2-4 away from the Albany Civic Center this season ... The Panthers, who won their only road playoff game in franchise history in 2011, are 2-1 at Alabama the past four seasons. … Panthers defensive back Damian Daniels has 96 career interceptions and is three shy of breaking the all-time indoor football record held by Kenny McEntyre. Daniels is currently tied for second in the league with seven picks this season. When Daniels does get an interception the Panthers are 4-1 this year, but in games where he doesn’t get a pick the Panthers are 3-4. … Panthers receivers Antwon Cutts, a former Americus-Sumter star, and Johnny Lester extended their streaks of consecutive games with a reception in last week’s win against Columbus. Cutts has now caught a pass in 26 consecutive games, while Lester has a reception in eight straight. Since Lester became a starter for the Panthers midway through this season, no one in the PIFL has more receptions (64) than the arena football rookie.