Hammers Title Game Preview

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Huntsville Al, written by Mark Mcarter of (al.com)  - The Alabama Hammers' presence in the PIFL championship game may be little surprise. They dominated the league with a 9-2 regular-season record and led the league in a dozen statistical categories, including most points scored and fewest allowed.

The Richmond Raiders, who'll invade the Propst Arena at the Von Braun Center in Monday's 7 p.m. title game, are a more surprising story. They present the Hammers with that great postseason quandary/cliché.

"You know how tough it is to beat a team three times in one year," said Hammers coach Dean Cokinos, sitting in his office before a team meeting.

The Hammers have already pounded the Raiders 65-23 in Richmond on the second week of the season, then won 45-29 in Huntsville on June 8 in the Hammers' lowest-scoring game of the year.

The Raiders (8-5) stumbled late in the season, losing three of four before knocking off Louisiana in the season finale to slip into the playoffs. They beat Lehigh Valley 44-40 on Monday, getting a TD pass in the final 30 seconds, then tackling a Lehigh player a yard from the goal line on the night's final play.

"They've improved since the first time we've seen them," Cokinos said. "They've got a rookie quarterback (Warren Smith, from the University of Maine) and he's playing a lot better. He's acclimated to the game."

As Cokinos spoke, his laptop yawned open on the desk. Therein is the Hammers' scouting tool. The days of grainy film from a projector on film that evolved to tape and then DVD are now a click away. The Hammers subscribe to a service called VidSwap, an online operation through which every play of every Professional Indoor Football League game is available.

What Cokinos sees of Richmond is a "tough team, because they're balanced. They've got a strong defensive front. They don't give you big plays in the secondary. The offense is diverse. They have a running fullback, which is atypical in this game, but it gives you problems, and a good corps of receivers."

Cokinos holds the philosophy of "worry about yourself first, your opponent second."

"You want to get a feel for how they play. You want to get a good solid understanding of their approach to the game on offense and defense. You have to have a general plan," he said. "But it all comes down to what you're doing. It really does. You've got to take care of yourself first. The three things you strive for is to have the right players, prepare the guys the right way and they've got to go out and execute."

The Hammers, who went 7-17 in the previous two seasons, have the opportunity to bring Huntsville its first indoor football title since the Cokinos-led Tennessee Valley Vipers won the 2008 ArenaCup. The city's last professional sports championship came from the 2009-10 Huntsville Havoc, who won the Southern Professional Hockey League crown.

Richmond was in the PIFL championship against Albany last year but lost that. Perhaps that's why the celebration was a bit tempered after the Raiders' win over Lehigh Valley. As defensive back RoShawn Marshall told The Richmond Times-Dispatch, "It doesn't mean anything until we seal the W. We felt like we let Albany off the hook last year. We've got to take care of business."