By: Matthew Hester
Professional Indoor Football League
ALBANY, GA (June 30, 2012) – The Professional Indoor Football League’s (PIFL) Championship Cup is heading to Southwest Georgia following the Albany Panthers (12-2) 60-56 win Saturday night against the Richmond Raiders.
In one stirring night that was reminiscent of the entire 2012 PIFL season, the league’s top two teams were featured in a showdown with the winner being the first to take home the PIFL Championship Cup.
Featuring a roster primarily full of players who returned for a chance at a re-peat, late in the 4th quarter and up by seven, Albany thwarted Richmond’s potential game-tying drive when DB Damian Daniels intercepted a James Stedman pass with 7 minutes remaining giving the Panthers enough breathing room to close out the Raiders.
Daniels, who along with LB Ryan Babb came over in the off-season after spending many seasons with their now in-state rivals the Columbus Lions, joined a number of Panthers who will be sizing up their ring fingers once again.
Despite the loss, Richmond overcame many obstacles including an early 16-point deficit in the 2nd quarter. After scoring a TD on the opening drive, the Raiders offense stalled on their next two series’ allowing Albany an early 22-6 lead.
Once again getting the start under center, for three quarters Albany QB Darnel Kennedy took majority of the snaps before relinquishing the game over to 10-0 starter Cecil Lester who closed out the final three offensive drives completing 7 of 9 passes for 84 yards and two TD’s. Kennedy completed 12 of 20 passes for 164 yards and 4 TD’s before stepping aside in the game’s final quarter.
After stalling on their next two drives, QB Antwon Young led the Raiders on two scoring drives of 30 yards with each taking just two plays. Still down by nine and without the ball, Richmond DB RoShawn Marshall came up the game’s first turnover when he intercepted a Kennedy pass and promptly returned it 50 yards for TD cutting the Raider deficit down to two.
Coming out of the break down by six, Richmond received the ball to start the second half and managed to reach the Albany 12-yard line before FB Jordan Pavlisin coughed up the game’s second turnover with a fumble that was promptly scooped up and returned 38 yards by Antwontis Cutts for a TD.
Altogether, Cutts scored TD’s on four different occasions and was the lone receiving target to go over the century mark in yards hauling in six passes for 110 yards with two of his catches reaching the end-zone. Along with his fumble recovery, Cutts also returned a kickoff the length of the field as his four touchdown effort earned him the game’s MVP.
Down by 13, the Raiders began to unravel as QB Antwon Young was ejected after an unsportsmanlike penalty that saw him throw a football at an Albany player on a play that was blown dead before the snap. Having only attempted five passes all season, back-up QB James Stedman stepped in quite nicely leading Richmond to touchdown drives in his first two series with his second pulling the Raiders even with Albany at 43. Before getting tossed, Young completed 11 of 16 passes for 165 yards and three TD’s while in his place Steadman completed 7 of 10 passes for 101 yards and two TD’s.
With the game very much in the balance and tied at 43, Albany went to the bullpen bringing Lester in to close out the 4th quarter by scoring on their final three drives. Coupled with the Damian Daniels INT at the 7 minute mark, the Panthers secured all the breathing room they would need even letting Richmond score in the final seconds just so they could run the final seconds off the clock.
In lieu of Saturday’s loss, it should not take away from an outstanding 2012 season in which the Raiders franchise entered the season two games under .500 (12-14) only to finish in a first-place tie with the Panthers while experiencing both their first playoff game and win.
For Albany, a franchise in just its third year, Saturday’s re-peat championship caps off a perfect 8-0 home record as well as a start to end finish as the league’s top team allowing them to raise another banner inside the Albany Civic Center.
For a look at photos from Saturday’s inaugural PIFL Championship Game between Richmond and Albany, log on to www.proifl.com and to keep up with news from all six teams be sure to log on to the PIFL’s Facebook page.