Empire Fall to Brigade in a Heartbreaker, 59-56
Timely turnovers and onside kicks make the difference in the Brigade win
The Baltimore Brigade exacted a measure of revenge on Saturday night as they defeated the Albany Empire, 59-56, in front of 8,767 at the Times Union Center in Albany. The win moves Baltimore into sole possession of first place heading into the final third of the season.
Brigade QB Randy Hippeard threw for 270 yards and eight touchdowns. His primary target was WR Brandon Thompkins, who had 17 receptions for 159 yards and three touchdowns. In the loss, Empire QB Tommy Grady threw for 275 yards and seven touchdowns, four to WR Joe Hills.
The game started with the teams exchanging touchdowns; on the game’s opening drive, Grady found WR Malachi Jones in the corner of the end zone for a 10-yard score to give the Empire an early 7-0 lead. The Brigade responded with a long drive capped by a Hippeard touchdown to WR Quentin Sims to tie the game at seven. The second quarter would see Hills catch a tipped pass from Grady to increase his touchdown reception streak to 88. The second drive by the Brigade would be stopped thanks to LB Terence Moore’s fourth interception in as many weeks after DL Joe Sykes tipped Hippeard’s pass at the line of scrimmage. This lead to another Grady-to-Hills touchdown connection to increase the Empire’s lead to 21-7. The teams would trade touchdowns again; Hippeard with a 13-yard catch-and-run to Milton Williams and Jones with a sliding effort on a pass from Grady.
The first turning point of the game would come late in the first half. After the Brigade responded with a Hippeard-to-Thompkins touchdown, K Mark Lewis backheeled an onside kick on the left side of the field, which was recovered by WR DJ Stephens at their own 13. They would successfully cash in with second Hippeard-to-Sims touchdown and the teams were deadlocked at 28 going into halftime.
The Brigade would score on first drive of the second half with Hippeard connecting with Thompkins, taking the lead for the first time in the game. The Empire responded with a long touchdown from Grady to WR Collin Taylor. The Brigade regained the lead after Hippeard found WR Brandon Collins. The game proceeded to get chippy in the fourth quarter; Hills would be assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Empire’s next drive but would respond with a big catch that lead to a rushing touchdown for Jones to tie the score again. Baltimore’s Joe Powell and Josh Victorian each received unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after the touchdown, which would be huge on the next kickoff.
Empire K Kenny Spencer’s squibbed onside kick down the field that would find its way into the hands of CB Arthur Hobbs and the Empire started their next drive at the Brigade four-yard line. Grady would find Hills again and Hills’ dive into the endzone would give the Empire back the lead, 49-42. A roughing the kicker penalty on the conversion sent the Brigade back to their own six-yard line following the kickoff, but on the first play of the next series, Hippeard threw a short pass to Thompkins, who would do the rest and the game was tied again.
The second turning point of the game came on the next Empire drive; a miscommunication between quarterback and receiver saw Grady’s long pass attempt to Jones be intercepted by Victorian. The Brigade regained the lead two plays and a pass interference penalty later with Hippeard finding Sims again. The Empire responded with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Grady to Hills and the game was tied at 56 with 1:17 to go.
The game’s deciding factor was on the ensuing kickoff, which was an onside attempt recovered by Brigade LB Lamark Brown at Albany’s 11-yard line. Hippeard used a maul from his offensive line to gain nine yards on the first play from scrimmage, which forced Empire head coach Rob Keefe to burn their first time out. Two kneedowns by Hippeard and a rushing attempt forced the Empire to take their remaining time outs and with five seconds remaining, Lewis would convert a 17-yard field goal to give the win to the Brigade.
Odds and Ends: One evident difference in this week’s game compared to last week’s game were penalties: Albany was penalized six times for 62 yards compared to five penalties for 32 yards for Baltimore. Head coach Rob Keefe mentioned that discipline issues would be addressed in this week’s practice… Prior to the interception late in the fourth quarter, Empire QB Tommy Grady had gone 132 attempts without throwing a pick… With four touchdowns, Empire WR Joe Hills jumped ahead of Siaha Burley and Reggie Gray to move into 11th place all-time in receiving touchdowns with 250.
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