Richmond Raiders in Championship Game Monday night

First championship in either team’s history on the line Monday night

(July 5, 2013) The Richmond Raiders (8-5) will travel to Huntsville, AL to take on the Alabama Hammers (10-2) in the Professional Indoor Football League Championship Game at 8:00 Monday night. Both teams won home games in the semifinal round last week, and the Hammers beat the Raiders in both regular season meetings. It’s the second straight appearance for the Raiders in the title game, while Alabama is playing in the postseason for the first time in team history.

Last week the Raiders got by the Lehigh Valley SteelHawks, 44-40, thanks to a touchdown saving tackle by RoShawn Marshall as time expired. Warren Smith connected with a diving Hakeem Moore, the PIFL’s Offensive Player of the Week, for a 24 yard touchdown with 30 seconds left. T.C. Stevens added his second uno of the game on the subsequent kickoff to extend the lead to four points and force Lehigh Valley to aim for the end zone. The Raiders trailed 15-0 in the first quarter and didn’t lead until midway through the fourth quarter.

Moore had 12 receptions for 149 yards and four touchdowns. Rodney Sledge scored on a 23 yard run, and Scooby Bryant had a receiving touchdown and two kick returns totaling 92 yards, each leading directly to a Raiders score. The Raiders harassed SteelHawk quarterback Adam Bednarik to the tune of a season low 55% completion rate, sacking him four times and registering seven QB hurries.

The Hammers knocked off the defending champion Albany Panthers last week, 61-46. Albany had an early 11-3 lead, but the Hammers forced two turnovers and kept the Panthers’ offense off the scoreboard in the second quarter. They scored 20 unanswered points before halftime. The Panthers closed to within eight points twice in the fourth quarter, but each time the Hammers responded with a touchdown. Alabama recovered two onside kicks in the final minute to preserve the win.

The teams previously met in the Raiders’ first game (and the Hammers’ second) of 2013. Alabama blew open a close game in the second half, holding the Raiders scoreless after the break and cruising to a 65-23 win. Russell Hill threw for nine touchdowns and 340 yards, and the Hammers’ receiving tandem of Charles McClain and Mico McSwain had over 100 yards and two touchdowns apiece.

Late in the season, the teams met in Huntsville, where two big returns sprung the Hammers to a 45-29 victory. The Raiders trailed by just three points and had the ball inside the Alabama five yard line late in the first half, but a Rodney Sledge fumble was returned 47 yards for a touchdown by Cortez Stubbs. In the third quarter, Charles McClain took a missed field goal back 50 yards for a score to extend the Hammers’ lead to 31-7. Though the Raiders closed the gap to nine points in the fourth quarter, Alabama ran more than five minutes off the clock during a backbreaking, game-clinching touchdown drive.

Four of the league’s most prolific receivers will be showcased. The Raiders’ Herb Jones led the PIFL with 95 receptions, and teammate Hakeem Moore was third with 77. Hammers Mico McSwain and Charles McClain also finished in the top 10. McSwain, Moore, and Jones each had over 1,000 yards in the regular season with McSwain’s 1,164 yards edging out Moore by 20 for the top spot. Moore and Jones had 15 touchdowns each, but McSwain singlehandedly outscored the duo, leading the league with 31 TDs.

As in any high stakes game, turnovers figure to weigh heavily in the outcome. The Hammers had 31 takeaways this year, the most in the PIFL. Meanwhile, the Raiders have a -10 turnover differential, which the Hammers exploited in both regular season meetings. Alabama forced four turnovers in both contests while not giving the ball up at all.

The Hammers scored the last 42 points of the first meeting to turn a tie game into a blowout, and continued that trend the rest of the season. They outscored their opponents by 113 points in the third quarter and led the league with 57.4 points per game. But the Raiders are used to erasing deficits, having come back from 21 and 23 points down in two of their wins, and rallied after trailing by double digits in two others. Warren Smith and the offense registered six game tying or game winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime this season.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center. Live coverage of the game will begin with an extended pregame show at 7:00 Monday evening on the Raiders’ website, Fans can also get real time updates on the Raiders’ Facebook and twitter feeds.