By: Matthew Hester
Columbus Lions Indoor Football
Media Relations Director
COLUMBUS, GA (June 20, 2012) – On Saturday, the Columbus Lions (6-6) of the Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL) face their in-state rivals the Albany Panthers (10-2) for the right to earn a berth in the league’s inaugural Championship Game.
Saturday’s playoff meeting will mark the eleventh meeting between these two clubs in just the short span of three years along with the second consecutive year in which it will be win or go home mode of either squad. June 23rd will be two days short of year when these two teams met under the exact same circumstances, playoff football with the winner promoted to the Championship Game. Last season, it was the road Panthers who wound up as the victors ending the Lions hopes of a championship repeat behind a 75-61 victory.
In comparison to last season, finishing 2012 as the fourth seed has to feel as a bit of let down for Columbus as Saturday will mark the first time they will have to travel for a playoff game since 2008 (vs. Mississippi). But one has to believe that there are more anxious to end the Panthers 2012 season in the same fashion the Lions 2011 campaign en ded, in a home playoff loss.
Columbus enters the playoffs losers of three of their last four along with last weekend’s 76-63 victory over Knoxville putting a halt to a three-game losing streak, first in franchise history. Despite surrendering 345 yards through the air, Columbus’ defense was able to come away with three turnovers one of which included a 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown by DB Ramon Broadway. It was the first time since May 6th (vs. Albany) in which the Lions won the turnover battle outright versus their opponent and Broadway’s score was the first defensive score all season.
Albany on the other hand, had to do battle with the second-place Richmond Raiders (10-2) and it was contest for the ages. The Raiders came away with a 67-66 victory over the Panthers thanks to a T.C. Stevens 27-yard field goal as time expired. Both of Albany’s losses this season came via last-second with the first coming versus the Lions on May 6th.
The Panthers were also without starting quarterback Cecil Lester who was out nursing a sore ankle that he sustained in the June 9th meeting versus Columbus. In his absence, QB Darnel Kennedy stepped in completing 15 of 22 passes for 257 yards and 7 TD’s. With Lester as the starter, Albany is 10-0 and withou t they are 0-2.
“Lester is one of those vets that no matter how many times you knock him down, he will continue to get back up,” says Columbus Lions Head Coach Jason Gibson. “Matter of fact their whole team is full of vets who have tons of experience compared to our almost nine starters who will be making their first ever playoff appearance. In order to win we will have to play disciplined and mistake free.”
Disciplined and mistake free is something the Lions have not been over the past month. Before their three-game losing streak Columbus was +9 in turnover margin and if not for three turnovers gained against Knoxville they would still be in the negative.
This season Columbus has been led by its stellar passing attack featuring the PIFL’s only 3,000 yard passer along with the only receiving duo to both go over 1,000 yards. QB Randy Hippeard finished the season tops in passing yards (3280), passing TD’s (72), and completion percentage (64.5%). The receiving duo of Maurice Dupree (1278) and London Crawford (1044) both topped 1,000 yards with Dupree leading all receivers in TD’s (40) and Crawford (103) as the only receiver to top the century mark in catches.
Coming out of Albany with a victory will be no easy task considering the Panthers are riding a nine-game winning streak at home as well as own a 3-1 home record versus Columbus. In fact, the Lions stand as the last team to walk away with a win (5/2011) inside the James H. Gray Albany Civic Center.
To see which team comes out on top and earns a berth to the PIFL Championship Game, log on to www.columbuslions.net and click on the Listen Live icon. Coverage will begin at 7:20 PM ET with kickoff slated for 7:30 PM ET.