1st flag for Em­pire

Albany scores on ev­ery pos­ses­sion, clinches reg­u­lar sea­son ti­tle in win over AFL champs

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Sean Martin Albany

Albany beats two-time de­fend­ing Arena Bowl cham­pion Soul, 71-57.

The last time the Albany Em­pire saw the Philadel­phia Soul, the Em­pire watched a 12-point lead in the fi­nal minute of the game evap­o­rate in what turned into a 75-74 loss on the game’s fi­nal play.

With a reg­u­lar sea­son cham­pi­onship at stake Sat­ur­day, the Em­pire (8-4) had a 20-point lead with 59.2 sec­onds to play and en­dured a few anx­ious moments be­fore clos­ing out the two-time de­fend­ing Arena Bowl cham­pion Soul 71-57 in front of a crowd of 10,082 in the Times Union Cen­ter.

The win gives the ex­pan­sion team the top seed in the up­com­ing play­offs and, due to hav­ing the high­est av­er­age home at­ten­dance this sea­son, the Em­pire will host the Arena Bowl should they get by fourth-place Wash­ing­ton (2-10) in a twogame se­ries that will be de­cided by ag­gre­gate points.

Albany will travel to Wash­ing­ton for game one of the se­ries next Sat­ur­day at 7 p.m. be­fore host­ing the Valor on July 21.

“It feels great, still a long way

to go,” Albany head coach Rob Keefe said. “Su­per proud as an or­ga­ni­za­tion, su­per proud of the fan base, the coach­ing staff, and the play­ers who did a tremen­dous job.”

In win­ning for the eighth time in its last 10 games, Albany scored a touch­down on ev­ery pos­ses­sion it had in the game for the first time this sea­son and took a 63-43 lead when Tommy Grady hooked up with Joe Hills for a touch­down with 59.2 sec­onds left in the fourth quar­ter.

Philadel­phia (7-5) scored on its next pos­ses­sion with 33 sec­onds left to make the score 63-50 and, with the Em­pire ex­pect­ing the Soul to at­tempt an on­side kick, Philadel­phia kicker Adrian Trevino kicked the ball deep to the un­cov­ered Em­pire end zone where team­mate James Ro­main pounced on the loose ball for a touch­down as no time lapsed on the clock to make the score 63-57.

“That is Arena Foot­ball,” Keefe said. “We brought all eight play­ers up and they kicked it deep and then, it’s a sprint. It’s a mad dash sprint. If we’d got­ten that ball, the game is prob­a­bly over.”

The Em­pire didn’t panic as Greg Carr re­cov­ered an on­side kick and set up Hills’ fourth touch­down catch of the game that sealed the win.

Albany never trailed in the game and took ad­van­tage of a huge spe­cial teams ef­fort early in the sec­ond quar­ter to turn the tide of the game in its fa­vor.

Af­ter Hills caught a touch­down from Grady, the 82nd straight game with a touch­down catch for Hills (an AFL record) to give Albany a 13-7 lead, Ter­ance Moore blasted Soul kick re­turner Poppy Liv­ers as he brought the en­su­ing kick­off out of the Soul end zone.

Moore’s hit didn’t bring Liv­ers down and, as Liv­ers scram­bled for yardage, he ran back into the Philadel­phia end zone where Carr made the tackle for a safety.

“I ac­tu­ally made a mis­take, I got a good hit on him, but I made a mis­take by not wrap­ping him up,” Moore said. “It turned out to be a good thing be­cause he bounced back into the end zone. We had so much hus­tle from other play­ers that went down and fin­ished the play.”

Albany scored again on the next pos­ses­sion on a Grady pass to Malachi Jones and sud­denly, in a span of four min­utes, ex­tended the lead to 23-7 be­fore even­tu­ally tak­ing a 30-14 half­time lead on Mykel Ben­son’s one­yard run on the last play of the half.

Sean Martin, a lo­cal free­lance writer, is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to the Times Union

Hans Pen­nink / Spe­cial to the Times Union

Albany’s Malachi Jones, left, out­runs Philadel­phia’s Dwayne Hol­lis for a touch­down in the Em­pire’s 71-57 reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale Sat­ur­day in Albany.

Hans Pen­nink / Spe­cial to the times union

Albany quar­ter­back tommy Grady con­nected on eight touch­down passes in the em­pire’s 7157 win over Philadel­phia Sat­ur­day, which clinched the AFL reg­u­lar sea­son ti­tle for Albany.

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