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PREVIEW: Panthers look to cap three-game road trip tonight with win

Want To Listen?

WHO: Albany Panthers (3-2) at Richmond Raiders (4-2).

WHAT: Defending league champion Panthers try to end two-game skid..

WHEN: 7 p.m. today.

WHERE: Richmond, Va.

RADIO: 97.3 FM.

ALBANY — As Albany approaches the midpoint of the PIFL season, tonight’s matchup between the Panthers and the Richmond Raiders couldn’t come at a better time for either team.

The Raiders, fresh off a 66-64 comeback victory against the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, are looking to snag a share of first place in the league.

The Panthers, on the other hand, went from starting 3-0 and in first place, to falling to third place after two straight losses — and they’ve had back-to-back bye weeks to reflect on what went wrong and how to fix it.

Tonight’s showdown in Richmond will also mark the first time the two teams have met since the Panthers beat the Raiders in the PIFL championship in the Civic Center almost a year ago, meaning the Raiders will be both hungry and angry for a win.

No pressure, right?

“It’s always going to be pressure with a team that wins championships,” said Edwards of the Panthers’ franchise, which has won the last two arena league titles. “Around here, we put pressure on ourselves because we want to be the best. Our whole team has a natural mentality, a natural hunger for success. We’re trying to be the best team out here, and we play every week to try and prove that.”

In a 51-38 loss to the Alabama Hammers just before the first bye week — in which the Panthers lost starting kicker Ryan Gates to a groin pull — the defending champs were unable to stop the Hammers from grinding out a victory in the second half.

How the defense bounces back tonight after the addition of defensive tackle David Rybinski and defensive back Torez Jones was the hot topic this week at practice.

“We won’t know until after Saturday night,” Panthers head coach Lucious Davis said. “There were some changes we feel we had to make, and we’re going to see how they’ll pan out.”

Rybinski and Jones should provide new blood for a defense that is tops in the league against the pass. That’s good news for Albany, which will face a Raiders team that has already thrown nine interceptions and had a fumble this season.

The Panthers are second in the league in turnover margin, thanks to four interceptions and four forced fumbles.

Panthers star DB Damien Daniels and newcomer Jones will be licking their chops, especially Jones and Rybinski, who will get their first taste of PIFL action tonight. As a senior at the University of Sasketchewan, Rybinski recorded 15 tackles and 4.5 sacks from his defensive line spot. Jones notched 12 passes defended in his senior season at Western Carolina, seven of which were interceptions. It will be crucial to see if the two can do their part to help the Panthers win the turnover battle tonight.

In the win over the Steelhawks, defensive back RoShawn Marshall picked off two passes in the fourth quarter en route to earning PIFL Defensive Player of the Week honors. Despite the clutch effort on Marshall’s behalf, the Raiders currently rank fifth and seventh in the league in terms of pass defense and defensive passing efficiency.

After this tilt, the Panthers return home for a rematch with the Louisiana Swashbucklers, who they faced in the season opener. The Raiders have their last bye week of the season after Saturday.