Albany Panthers fullback Derrick Wimbush, left, scored two touchdowns on offense Saturday night in his team’s 51-40 win against the Swashbucklers, but he also came up big on defense here when he stuffed Louisiana fullback Kendrick Perry at the goalline. (The American (La.) Press/Special to The Herald)
ALBANY — Usually, even after an impressive win, consummate perfectionist Lucious Davis can find at least three things he wants his team to improve upon.
Following Saturday’s season-opening victory, he could only find two.
Good work, Panthers.
Albany, the two-time defending league champs, jumped out a to 14-0 lead Saturday night in its 2013 season opener against the Louisiana Swashbucklers on the road and came away with a convincing 51-40 victory — a win that only ended at an 11-point margin after Louisiana scored a garbage touchdown in the final seconds.
“I liked the effort by everyone. The effort was definitely there,” the Panthers’ fourth-year coach said Sunday. “We made just a couple mistakes — on the pass rush, defensively, and we blew a couple of coverages — but other than that, things went pretty good.”
Davis said he was also pleased with the fact he saw very little rust on any of his players in their first game — not that he expected much, anyway. After all, the two-time champion Panthers are made up of mostly veterans who have been here before — and it showed Saturday. The Panthers scored on every drive but one in the first and second half and were nearing boredom against the new-look, inexperienced Swashbucklers late in the game.
“I wouldn’t say there was much rust at all. I do think we put it on cruise control a little bit there late in the game and didn’t (exhibit) that killer instinct,” the coach said. “I think we still have that (killer instinct). I guess we’ll find out (Saturday).”
That’s when the Panthers (1-0) play their home opener against the hated Columbus Lions at 7:30 p.m. at the Civic Center. The Lions (1-0) opened their season Sunday with a 58-28 win against Knoxville.
Albany started Saturday 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 Louisiana coach Darnell Lee, who saw his team miss a pair of field goals in the opening quarter. “They took it too us to start the game. That took us out of what we wanted to do.”
Lester was once again a giant pain in the Swashbucklers’ backside. A year ago, he led the Panthers to a comeback win in the Civic Center that crushed Louisiana’s spirit.
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,” Lester said. “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,” he said. “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.
The Panthers took final control on a play that should have gotten the Bucs close late in the game. After a 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 and former Panthers State star Demetrie McCray, who raced 47 yards for two points.
Lester then hit another former ASU star, Clenton Rafe, on a 6-yard scoring pass moments later to make the lead 51-34 — and the game was over.
“Even though we have won the last two titles, we want to be the hunters this year,” Lester said, reiterating a comment he made to The Herald last week about how Albany no longer has the target on its backs as two-time champs — now the Panthers are the ones doing the intimidating. “We wanted to come out and make a statement.”
Davis felt Albany did — especially Lester, the one-time Panthers backup who has now become the face of the franchise.
“His feet looked a little slow — but that’s about my only complaint. We joke with him about it all the time, but we don’t want him running anyway, so it’s OK,” Davis said Sunday. “Otherwise, his decision-making was the best I’ve seen out of him for a first game in four years. He looked great.”
Davis also lauded the play of newcomers Marcus Johnson (defensive line) and Stoney Woods (defensive back), who are the only two new players not on last year’s team who saw playing time Saturday.
“Marcus got some good defensive pressure early in the game before he got a little tired, and Stoney was solid,” Davis added.
So while Saturday’s opener didn’t exactly provide a stiff test for the Panthers, there’s plenty of time for that, starting Saturday, which will be a “challenge,” the coach said.
“It’s always tough playing (Columbus). They’re well-coached,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough game. Always is. We just have to step up and meet the challenge.”
Information from The American (La.) Press was used in this report