1st flag for Empire
Albany scores on every possession, clinches regular season title in win over AFL champs
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
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.
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.