John Harris makes a catch against the Swashbucklers in Lake Charles, La., late Saturday Night. (Kirk Meche/ Special to The Herald)
By Jim Gazzolo
AMERICAN PRESS/Special to The Herald
LAKE CHARLES, La. -- The two-time defending champion Albany Panthers looked like their old form late Saturday in their 2013 season opener.
The Louisiana Swashbucklers rolled out a roster of new players for Saturday night's season opener at the Lake Charles Civic Center, but the outcome looked a lot like last year, as the reigning Pro Indoor Football League champs ruined the Bucs debut.
Scoring on every drive but one each half, the visiting Panthers proved too much for the new-look Bucs, rolling to a 51-40 victory.
Only a touchdown on the game's final play by Sammy Knight made it that close.
"This is not the way we wanted to start," said Bucs head coach Darnell Lee.
Albany, however, started exactly how it wanted, with a pair of defensive stops that led to a 14-0 lead. The Panthers never looked back.
"They are too good of a football team to get in that type of a hole," said Lee, who saw his team miss a pair of field goals in the opening quarter.
"They took it too us to start the game," he added. "That took us out of what we wanted to do."
Albany quarterback Cecil Lester was again a giant pain in the Swashbucklers' backside. A year ago he led the Panthers to a comeback win in the Civic Center.
No comeback was needed Saturday. Lester was in control from the start.
He finished 25 of 37 for 256 yards and five touchdowns to five different receivers.
"We have a lot of weapons and a lot of people we can go to," said Lester. "We don't have just one person you can stop.
"We have played together a long time and we expect a lot of our ourselves."
Lester was upset the Panthers didn't score on every drive.
"Our goal is to score every time we touch the ball," said Lester. "Not to take anything away from them, Louisiana is going to be good, but we are the two-time champs."
Fullback Derrick Wimbush also scored twice on a pair of 1-yard plunges in the first quarter. Both came one play after Lester fumbled at the goal line but Albany recovered.
"We had some chances but we made mistakes and didn't come up with the big plays when we had a chance," said Lee. "It was a close game but for the first quarter."
The Bucs managed to get rolling after changing quarterbacks. When Chris Mitchell, a former member of the Panthers, replaced rookie Tim Curry in the second quarter, the game changed.
Mitchell, who finished 15 of 24 for 205 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters, had the lead cut to 28-22 at half.
Mitchell also ran for a score, as did Kendrick Perry and Jordan Rideaux.
Rideaux, the second-year man out of McNeese State, scored twice more on catches of 16 and 13 yards. He finished with 12 grabs in all for 161 yards.
"I think we got things rolling a big after that first quarter," said Mitchell. "We made some adjustments and showed what we can do."
As for playing against his old team, Mitchell was matter of fact.
"They are just like any other club in the league," he said. "We have to beat them to be the best. That's it."
Mitchell will likely get a chance to start in two weeks when the Swashbucklers play next against Lehigh Valley in Lake Charles.
"I like what I saw out of Chris," said Lee. "He has the experience in the indoor game. It will take Tim some time, but we think he will be good."
Curry was just 3 of 7 for 37 and had a pair of throws batted down.
The Panthers took final control on a play that should have gotten the Bucs closer. After Perry's 3-yard scoring run late in the third, a poor snap led to a disastrous ending.
On the extra point and down just 42-35, kicker Ernesto Lacayo picked up the bouncing ball and tried to make something happen. His pass was intercepted by Albany cornerback Demetrie McCray, who raced 47 yards for two points.
Lester then hit Clenton Rafe on a 6-yard scoring pass moments later and the lead was 51-34 and the game was over.
"Even though we have won the last two titles, we want to be the hunters this year," said Lester. "We wanted to come out and make a statement.
So did the Bucs.
However, in the end, it was the defending champs who got their point across.