Playoff rematch will be tough road test for first place Raiders
Thanks to their epic comeback win over the Albany Panthers, the Richmond Raiders (5-2) have a share of first place in the PIFL standings. In order to maintain their position, they will have to overcome a Louisiana Swashbuckler team with momentum of its own in a hostile road environment when the teams meet Saturday night at 8:00. It’s the first meeting since last year’s PIFL Semifinal game in Richmond, which wasn’t decided until after the final whistle.
Two weeks ago, the Raiders found themselves down by 23 points to the Panthers with less than a minute to go in the third quarter. Special teams magic sparked a 28-0 run as Joseph Jean-Pierre returned a kickoff 52 yards for a touchdown, Raibonne Charles forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return, and Jean-Pierre recovered an onside kick leading to the go-ahead touchdown. T.C. Stevens made a 25 yard field goal with eight seconds left after the Panthers reclaimed the lead, and the Raiders defended a Hail Mary pass into the end zone as time expired, escaping with a 51-49 victory.
Jean-Pierre was named the league’s Special Teams Player of the Week. Quarterback Warren Smith completed 10 of his first 11 passes in the second half, after throwing two interceptions in the first half, and finished with 253 yards and six touchdowns. Herb Jones had over 100 receiving yards for the second time this year, netting 132 yards and three scores on 11 catches.
The Swashbucklers lost their first three games this year, then got back to .500 with a three game winning streak. That streak was halted last week in Albany, as the Panthers bounced back with a 45-42 win. Albany capitalized on two second half stumbles by Louisiana quarterback Chris Mitchell. A fumble as Mitchell was being chased in the pocket led to a gametying touchdown early in the third quarter. In the fourth, after the Panthers took a two point lead, Mitchell was harassed and fell in his own end zone where he was downed for a safety that provided the ultimate winning margin.
The Raiders will embark on their longest road trip of the year as the Swashbucklers return home for the first time in four games. Though their early season three game losing streak occurred entirely in Lake Charles, the ‘Bucs have historically dominated visitors. They are 48-9 all-time in the Lake Charles Civic Center through eight-plus seasons. The only previous time the teams met in Louisiana, the Raiders committed two costly fourth quarter turnovers in a 47-45 loss last April.
The Raiders exacted revenge when they hosted Louisiana in the playoffs. The Raiders built a 19 point lead in the fourth quarter, but when the Swashbucklers took possession with 16 seconds left, they trailed by only six. Maurice Thorne intercepted a pass at the goal line as time expired, but the Raiders were flagged for illegal defense. On the ensuing untimed down, ‘Bucs QB Alvin Bartie had his pass knocked away by RoShawn Marshall, and the Raiders advanced to the league championship game with a 56-50 win.
The matchup will feature two of the league’s top three rushing offenses. The Raiders have the most rushing touchdowns and the highest average per carry, while the Swashbucklers have more carries than any other team and rank second in yardage. The PIFL’s only 200-yard rushers, Mike Jones (Raiders) and Kendrick Perry (Swashbucklers), have been instrumental to their teams’ success on the ground.
Saturday’s matchup will be broadcast live on the Raiders’ website, www.richmondraidersprofootball.com. Coverage starts with the pregame show at 7:30; kickoff is slated for 8:00.