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PREVIEW: Panthers hoping return home can end three-game losing streak

Want To Go or Listen?

WHO: Louisiana Swashbucklers (3-3) at Albany Panthers (3-3).

WHAT: Panthers try to end three-game losing streak in first home game since March 23.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.

WHERE: Albany Civic Center.

RADIO: 97.3 FM.

LIVE SCORING UPDATES: Log onto twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.

ALBANY — The Albany Panthers’ first home game in almost two months couldn’t come any sooner for the two-time defending league champs.

After a disappointing 51-49 loss to the Richmond Raiders last week — despite jumping out to a 22-0 lead on the road — the Panthers will look to bounce back against the Louisiana Swashbucklers. The two teams met in the season opener in Louisiana in a matchup that the Panthers won, 51-40.

Since that point, much has changed for both teams.

While they are tied in league standings, the Panthers have slid to 3-3 thanks to three consecutive road losses, while two of the Swashbucklers’ three straight wins came on the road.

“It’s great to play in the Civic Center again,” Panthers defensive star Larry Edwards said Thursday. “We love the energy of the crowd. We feel like we have the best fans in the arena league, so it’s going to give us that much more fuel to put on a good show for the home crowd and get back on the right track.”

But the champs don’t expect to face the same Bucs team they did in March.

Quarterback Chris Mitchell has passed for 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions during the Bucs’ winning streak. Louisiana also ranks third in league turnover margin, just one spot behind the Panthers. The two squads also rank first and second in league interceptions, respectively, and Panthers head coach Lucious Davis was quick to acknowledge the Bucs’ growth as the season progressed.

“When we played them the first game, their quarterback was new,” Davis said. “He didn’t really understand the system. Plus, defensively, they were adjusting to a new coach. So you can’t look at the first game and expect the same outcome. They’re a different team, we’re a different team, and the records show it. Since then, they’ve gotten better, and it seems like we’ve gotten worse.”

Edwards said the slide is still a head-scratcher, considering this year’s team is made of many of the same stars from the last two title teams.

“Everything’s been there for us,” Edwards said. “We just haven’t been making those plays. That being said, it’s going to be on us to stop them. We have to make sure we make more plays than they do.”

While most teams in the PIFL lean on a heavy passing attack, the Swashbucklers aren’t scared to run between the tackles. They lead the league in rushing attempts, and running back Kendrick Perry is second in the league in rushing. Also, Mitchell can scramble for tough yards if need be.

Stopping the Bucs’ multi-faceted attack was a huge area of focus this week in practice.

“We just have to be disciplined. Their style isn’t the typical arena style,” warned Davis. “They’re the only team I know that plays outdoor football inside. You’ll see a lot of zone read, play-action looks, stuff you wouldn’t normally see. So defensively, we have to be disciplined and understand what’s coming at us. We have to understand our keys and react on the ball.”

Edwards added that Louisiana can simply make good defenses look terrible.

“We’ve got to be disciplined. If everybody worries about his specific assignment every play of the game, we’ll have success. If we play fundamentally sound out there, there aren’t too many teams that can play with us. If we play undisciplined and out of control, they’ll make us look bad.”

The Swashbucklers’ offensive line has allowed 11 sacks on the season, coming in at third in the league.

Davis reacted to that stat with a knowing chuckle.

“We have to put pressure on them, first of all. We haven’t done that (against anyone) in three weeks,” he said. “We have to pressure the quarterback. Chris is a pretty good quarterback. He escapes well and he runs well, so we have to make sure we contain all four rushing lanes and be disciplined. If we’re not disciplined, he’ll kill us.”

Davis said one thing is certain: the tables have turned on both teams since Week 1.

“It’s just a matter of momentum. Right now, they have the momentum and we’re looking for some type of momentum. That’s the difference right now,” he said. “We just have to come ready to play.”

Edwards thinks it will be real interesting to see how his team responds after facing a rough patch for the first time in two years.

“Sure, we’ve never faced this kind of adversity,” he said. “But adversity builds character. And at the end of the day, this is a team full of characters. We’re going to pull together and do what we’ve got to do.”