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Empire Dominates Valor, 47-23, for First Win

Ryan McCarthy
Sunday May 6, 2018

The Albany Empire’s first win came in decisive fashion on Saturday night as they stifled the Washington Valor, 47-23.

After veteran QB Nick Davila went down with a season-ending injury last week, the Valor started rookie QB Warren Smith. This presented the Empire’s pass rush with a great opportunity to get after Smith.

“We have an unbelievable pass rush, and they understand when they’re up against a rookie quarterback, they just get hungry,” said Empire head coach Rob Keefe.

The Empire almost committed the first turnover early: Valor DB Dominic Addison appeared to have picked off a pass by Empire QB Tommy Grady on the third play from scrimmage. However, Addison lost control of the ball as he landed on the turf and WR Joe Hills would dispossess Addison to run in the ball for a touchdown. One of the oddest scoring plays of the season was challenged by the Valor, but the play stood and Albany had a 7-0 lead.

The Valor scored on their first offensive possession with a Smith-to-Rod Windsor connection on fourth down, then got the ball back in a hurry after DB Michael Knight recovered a ball in the end zone stripped by DB Tracy Belton on the Empire’s second possession. The Empire’s defense held as they forced a turnover on downs via a strip sack by DE Joe Sykes. This was followed up by 14-yard catch-and-run by WR Malachi Jones and the Empire would take a 14-7 lead.

The Valor’s next drive concluded with another Smith-to-Windsor score from eight yards and capitalized on a blocked kick conversion that turned into a two-point conversion. The 15-14 lead would be the only time that the Valor would have the lead as the Empire would begin their march to victory: Grady would find Hills in the end zone for the second time on the next drive and the Empire took a 21-15 lead.

Empire WR Malachi Jones recovered an onside kick with 1:06 remaining in the first half and would punch in his second score of the game on a 1-yard run to end the ensuing drive, giving the Empire a 28-15 lead going into the locker room.

Washington started with the ball in the second half, but a deflected pass on the first play from scrimmage ended up in the hands of Empire DB Marrio Norman, who ran twelve yards into the end zone for the score. The Empire defense continued to shut down the Valor for the remainder of the second half; a strip sack by DE Willie McGinnis would create more points for the Empire as Grady threw another touchdown pass to Hills to increase the lead to 40-15. Another hold on defense turned into more points as a Grady pass bounced off of the net into the hands of Collin Taylor to increase the lead further.

Norman put the game on ice with his second interception late in the fourth quarter. The Valor would close the gap to 47-23, but the Empire would walk off with their first win in franchise history.

The teams will meet again this Friday night in Washington for the Valor’s home opener.

Odds and Ends:
Joe Sykes’ two sacks during the game moved him into a tie with Sam Hernandez for the all-time league lead with 57.5… WR Joe Hills extended his league-record touchdown catch streak to 83 games after his TD reception in the first quarter. He has seven TDs in two games… The announced crowd of 10,065 was a slight decrease from opening night, but they were boisterous during crucial moments when the Empire was on defense. “Albany brings a lot of enthusiasm. I’m just happy they were able to bring an Arena football team back here and get its first win,” said DB Marrio Norman.

Ryan McCarthy has been an on-and-off Internet columnist and blogger since 1997. He has been an avid follower of Arena Football since 1990 when the Albany Firebirds were established. Ryan currently attends Regent University, where he is pursuing his Bachelors degree in Communications with a Journalism concentration. He anticipates graduating toward the end of 2019. You can follow Ryan on Twitter at @rwhoisryanmcc
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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