Soul Score at the Death to Beat Empire
Empire lose second consecutive game in the last seconds
The Philadelphia Soul showed their championship mettle on Saturday night as they came back from a 12-point deficit in the final minute to shock the Albany Empire, 75-74, in front of 9,534 at the Times Union Center. The win moves Philadelphia into a second-place tie with Albany with an advantage in point differential (+17).
The two teams traded touchdowns throughout the course of the game and it started early when on the second play from scrimmage, Empire QB Tommy Grady found WR Malachi Jones on a 45-yard score. The Soul responded with a six-play drive that ended when Austin found WR Darius Prince for a four-yard touchdown pass. After the Empire recovered the ensuing onside kick, WR Joe Hills increased his touchdown reception streak to 89 with a five-yard pass from Grady. The Soul would respond again with another Austin-to-Prince connection, this time from 13 yards to knot the game at 14.
The second quarter would start with an Empire drive that almost ended with a fumble as Grady seemed to have been strip sacked by a Soul defender and the ball was recovered by Philadelphia. The play was challenged and it was overturned when it was found that Grady’s arm was moving forward and was ruled an incomplete pass. On the next play, Jones would cash in with his second touchdown of the game on a four-yard sweep. The next Soul drive took only two plays as Austin threw a bomb to a wide open Wascha to tie the game at 21. The Empire responded with a drive that saw Grady find Hills for his second touchdown of the game that was to be answered by a second Austin-to-Wascha connection. After another onside kick attempt was recovered by the Empire, Grady found WR Greg Carr in the back of the end zone to put the Empire up again, but the conversion by K Kenny Spencer failed. The Soul came back again with the third Austin-to-Wascha connection, but K Adrian Trevino’s conversion would hit the side bar. The Empire would take the lead into the locker room with another Grady-to-Jones connection with the score 41-34.
The second half started with a stop on defense for the Empire and It took one play to increase their lead to 13 as Grady found Jones for another touchdown. The Soul came right back with touchdown after FB Jeramie Richardson ran 20 yards to shrink the lead. In the same series, Empire DL Joe Sykes was disqualified after committing two offside penalties during the game. This had an effect on the Empire’s pass rush for the rest of the game. It took only two plays on the next offensive series from the Empire to get back no the board on another long Grady-to-Jones connection. The Soul replied with another touchdown as some poor tackling by the Empire contributed to a 40-yard catch-and-run from Austin to Wascha. The Empire stuck back with yet another long touchdown pass, this time from Grady to Hills from 45 yards. The third quarter ended with the Empire up, 61-48.
The fourth quarter would see the continuation of the Austin-to-Wascha combination as they got on the board first in the final quarter with another long touchdown pass from 32 yards. The Empire answered back with a long Grady-to-Jones touchdown pass from 32 yards, but Spencer would miss his third convert attempt of the night. Austin found Wascha again from 13 yards out to keep within arm’s reach of the Empire, 67-62. After recovering another onside kick, Grady would find Carr for the second time of the night with a corner fade touchdown pass to put the Empire back up by 12. The Empire defense would hold again on fourth down as they looked to put the game away with 1:55 remaining. After a short run by Jones, Grady failed on three pass attempts to Hills and the Soul would take over at their own seven-yard line with 51 seconds remaining.
The Empire offense would not have another chance to take the field again.
After the defensive hold, Austin found Wascha for the seventh time with 28 seconds remaining. Empire LB Terrence Moore appeared to have recovered the onside kick attempt but was laid out by a Soul player and the ball was recovered by FB Adrian Ferns at their own 12-yard line. The Soul marched inside the Empire’s 10-yard line and after the teams exchanged their final timeouts, Austin threw a lob pass towards the corner of the end zone that sailed over Prince’s head and it seemed the game had ended. But.4 seconds was left on the clock to give the Soul one last shot. Austin scrambled out of the pocket to draw Empire defenders towards him, which allowed Prince to sit in the back of the end zone and catch the game-winning score.
Elation for Philadelphia, heartbreak for Albany yet again.
Odds and Ends: For the second consecutive week, the Empire allowed over 150 yards to a single receiver. Last week, Brigade WR Brandon Thompkins had 159 yards and Soul WR Aaron Wascha gained 208… With three TD pass receptions, Empire WR Joe Hills entered the top ten all-time with 253. He is 10 behind Valor WR Rod Windsor, who has been on IR since May 24th... The last time Albany saw two teams score in the 70’s was on June 25, 1999, when the Iowa Barnstormers outscored the Albany Firebirds 31-20 in the final quarter to win, 77-76.
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