Panthers beat Lions twice in ’10
By CHRIS WHITE
The Albany Panthers are on a path to make up for last season’s postseason woes one game at a time.
Two weeks ago, the Panthers (2-0) defeated the Louisiana Swashbuckers, the team that upset them in the first round of last year’s playoffs after Albany held the top spot most of the season. And this week they host the Columbus Lions (2-0), a team the Panthers defeated two times in three meetings last season. The Lions took advantage of the playoff upset to win the Southern Indoor Football League championship.
But Lions coach Jason Gibson said he has avoiding thinking much about the rivalry and any playoff implications tonight’s Southern Division matchup could have. Instead, Gibson said, it’s all about tempering early-season expectations with late-season success in mind.
“I know (we) got a bulls-eye on our back because we’re the champs, and I know Albany has something to prove after last year,” Gibson said. “It’s a big game, I know that. But at this point in the season I’m not playing it up like it’s the Super Bowl. Our guys know there are a lot more games to win after this one, and they’re just as important.”
While last season’s playoff upset may be motivating Albany’s returning players, Gibson said it was anecdotal evidence that the outcome of an early season rivalry game such as tonight’s does not always set in stone the way the rest of the season will go.
“I think Albany showed last year exactly what the regular season means: Nothing,” Gibson said. “What’s going to matter is who is hot later in the season.”
Each of the Eastern Conference’s three division winners and a wildcard advance to the playoffs. If the Lions can build a lead or at least maintain pace in the standings with Albany and Alabama, the final leg of the season appears to be working in Columbus’ favor as it hosts those teams in back-to-back weeks on May 26 and June 4 and closes the season with four of its five final games at the Civic Center.
Reaching that point will take some work as the Lions play four of their six division games on the road, beginning with the trip to Albany tonight. They follow it by traveling to the Hammers on April 21 and at the Panthers again on May 14.
But with one win over Alabama already out of the way, the Lions are the only Southern Division team with a division victory.
“That first game against the Hammers, that really was the biggest game for us so far,” Gibson said. “I saw that we had three of our first four games on the road and thought that, if we could escape 2-2, we would be sitting pretty at this point. Well, we’re already 2-0, so we are sitting pretty regardless of what happens.”
Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhite and at facebook.com/lechriswhite.