Empire Continue Winning Ways, Dominate Valor Again
The Empire would face a seemingly rejuvenated Valor team that saw a coaching change and a quarterback change last week. That was not to be as the Empire would take the wind out of the Valor’s sails early; on the sixth play of the game, Valor QB Shane Austin was intercepted by Empire CB Arthur Hobbs in the end zone on a long pass attempt. Four plays into the Empire’s first drive, QB Tommy Grady found a WIDE OPEN WR Joe Hills for a 30-yard touchdown and the Empire lead 7-0 after the conversion.
The Empire gained some fortune on the ensuing kickoff as K Kenny Spencer was able to bounce the kickoff off of the netting bar and also recovered to put the Empire inside of the Valor’s 7-yard line. On the first play, though, a backwards pass from Grady to FB Wes Maui’a was mishandled and recovered by Valor DE Greg Reid. The Valor offense would score on a 7-play drive thanks to a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone from Austin to WR TT Toliver.
The second quarter began with another Grady-to-Hills touchdown strike from 17 yards out. The Valor’s next offensive drive started from their own five and Austin was intercepted again, this time by LB Terence Moore, who rumbled 17 yards into the end zone to further the Empire’s lead to 21-7. The Valor would go back on offense on a long drive, only to be stopped on fourth and goal from Albany’s 1-yard line to turn the ball over on downs. Albany’s offense marched down the field towards and seven plays later, Grady found WR Malachi Jones from eight yards out to lengthen the lead to 28-7. The Valor would manage to score with five seconds left in the half as Austin found Josh Reese in the back of the end zone to finish the half at 28-14.
The Empire would start with the ball in the second half and they continued to score. Washington attempted an onside kick to try to keep their momentum going, but it was recovered by WR Oshay Dunmore on the Valor’s 19-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Grady threw to Jones, who walked into the end zone to extend the lead to 35-14.
The big question going into the game is if the Valor could score against the Empire in the third quarter as they failed to in their first two games. Their first drive of the second half stalled at their own eighteen as they could not convert on fourth-and-8. Empire CB Varmah Sonie’s knockdown would prove to be the final pass that Austin would throw as the Empire took over again on downs. It took one play for the Empire to extend their lead further as Grady would find Hills for the third time in the game and it was Empire 42, Valor 14.
During the kickoff, it looked like the Valor had scored on the return by WR Chris Duvalt. However, it was called back after the officials had a discussion about the play and it was found that Taylor had actually stopped Duvalt into the boards at the Washington 12-yard line. Warren Smith replaced Austin on the next drive and it looked like the Valor were going to score, but the quarter would end and once again, the Valor could not score against the Empire in the third quarter.
The Valor would turn the ball over on downs to start the fourth quarter, which lead to another Grady passing touchdown for the Empire, this time to Taylor. The Valor would finally score a conciliatory touchdown with four minutes to go to make the final score, 48-21.
The Empire’s win sets up two games at home against Baltimore (5-1) to determine who will be in the driver’s seat in the league, which will be important come determining playoff seeds.
Game MVP: Empire QB Tommy Grady: 17-for-23, 237 yards, 6 TD
Offensive MVP: Empire WR Joe Hills: 5 receptions, 99 yards, 3 TD
Defensive MVP: Empire LB Terence Moore: 10 tackles, 2 pass break-ups, Pick Six
Odds and Ends: Two Valor players, FB Will Corbin and WR Jared Dangerfield, were each ejected after they collected two personal fouls during the second quarter… Empire HC Rob Keefe noted the importance of setting the tone early knowing they would be facing a new QB and head coach: “They’re trying to find themselves, they’re trying to find an identity. What we did not want to do tonight was allow them to find that identity at our expense.” Moore credited the Empire’s third quarter dominance to their preparation by Keefe. “We rub off on coach,” said Moore. “He preaches coming out strong in the third quarter and pretty much playing our best football in the third quarter.”
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