Empire vs. Brigade: Keys to the Game
The Brigade visits Albany with first place on the line…
The Albany Empire will face the Baltimore Brigade in the first of two consecutive home games against each other this coming Saturday night at 7PM. Both teams are coming off of dominant victories: Baltimore built an early lead against a struggling Philadelphia team to win their fifth straight game, 54-35. Meanwhile, Albany continued their winning ways against Washington, 48-21, on the back of an overpowering performance on defense.
This will be the second time that the two teams have met: they first played in Baltimore on April 21 and the Brigade came away with a 52-49 win. Brigade QB Randy Hippeard threw for 297 yards and seven touchdowns and WR Milton Williams had 100 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. For the Empire, WR Joe Hills made his 2018 debut with 108 yards and 4 touchdown receptions. The determining factor in the game, though, was turnovers: the Brigade forced three turnovers, including one on the Empire’s final drive to secure the win.
So, what are the keys to this week’s game?
No Quarter in the Third Quarter: The Empire defense’s strongest quarter has been the third quarter, surrendering only 28 total points in that quarter this season. This includes no points surrendered to the Washington Valor in their three games. The third quarter has not been as kind to the Brigade; they have only scored 42 in the third quarter this season and they were shut out in the same quarter last week against Philadelphia. The game could hinge on how strongly these two teams come out to start the second half.
Strength vs. Strength: Both teams have excelled in categories on both sides of the ball. Brigade WRs Brandon Thompkins and Milton Adams each have over 300 yards receiving and Thompkins leads the league in all-purpose yards. They face an Empire secondary that has gotten better by the week. CB Varmah Sonie leads the league with 10 pass breakups and CB Marrio Norman has two interceptions. One player on Albany’s defense to watch out for is LB Terence Moore, who is second in the league in tackles with 33 and has two interceptions. He will be key in helping stop Baltimore’s top-rated offense. The Brigade’s secondary aren’t any slouches either: Virgil Gray leads the league with 44 tackles and both he and Joe Powell have two picks to their credit. They’ll be facing the duo of Empire WRs Joe Hills (476 yards, 13 TDs) and Malachi Jones (487 receiving yards, 14 overall TDs).
Protect the QB: In their first meeting, the Empire racked up three sacks against the Brigade. Joe Sykes got his first two of the season, including a strip sack that resulted in a turnover, and Willie McGinnis also got his first sack of the season. The Empire are tied for the league lead with ten sacks while the Brigade have given up 11. On the flipside of the ball, the Empire offensive line has only surrendered three sacks (to be fair, two were in garbage time last week) while the Brigade defensive line has only two sacks so far. Pass protection could be a big determinant in this match.
Gunslingin’: The matchup to watch will definitely be Albany QB Tommy Grady vs. Baltimore QB Randy Hippeard. After a slow start, Grady has emerged as the quarterback the Empire had hoped for; he has 1,405 yards and 34 touchdowns. Hippeard, after being assigned from Tampa Bay, has had a very remarkable season as well: 1,438 yards and 28 touchdowns. But the difference has been turnovers: Grady has been intercepted four times while Hippeard has only been picked off twice. If either team are looking to win, both quarterbacks will have to be at their best.
Prediction: Both teams are on long winning streaks entering this week’s game. Although Baltimore has the upper hand against the Empire in the win column, the Brigade will be facing a vastly different Empire team this time around. If the Empire defense can force Brigade QB Randy Hippeard to make mistakes and the Empire offense can limit their own, their chances for a win are very good.
Score Prediction: Albany 42, Baltimore 35.
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