Empire is King (of the Regular Season); Defeats Soul, 71-57
Big second quarter helps Empire secure regular season championship
In the first three meetings of the 2018 season between the Albany Empire and the Philadelphia Soul, the road team came out on top. On Saturday night, the Empire used their home field advantage for an historic win.
Empire QB Tommy Grady threw for eight touchdowns, four to WR Joe Hills, and FB Mykel Benson ran for two as the Empire defeated the Philadelphia Soul, 71-57, in front of 10,082 at the Times Union Center. The win secured the regular season title and the number one seed in the league playoffs for the Empire.
Based on the results of the Valor-Brigade game in the matinee match, in which the Valor upset the Brigade, 42-35, the winner of this game would categorically be the number one seed. Both teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter and after Hills’ first touchdown to start the second quarter, the game’s fortunes shifted heavily in Albany’s favor. On the ensuing kickoff, WR Poppy Livers ran out of the end zone but was pushed back by an Empire player. After being pursued in the end zone, Greg Carr and Jordan Williams tackled Livers for a safety. The play was challenged by Soul head coach Clint Dolezel, but it stood and the Empire would go up 15-7.
The Empire received the kickoff and their drive was capped off by a Grady pass-and-catch to WR Malachi Jones. The extra point attempt became a two-point conversion when backup QB Mike Fafaul used a trick play to run the ball in to help the Empire go up 23-7. The Soul responded with a touchdown and the Empire, who has been known to have a quick strike offense during the season, took the remaining 5:51 and drove down the field, capped by Benson’s second touchdown run.
The third second showcased how good both offenses are as each team scored 21 points in the third quarter with additional fireworks in the fourth. The final quarter started with the Empire scoring another touchdown and they would go for the onside kick, a bugaboo at times for the Empire this season. K Kenny Spencer’s kick would land in the arms of Soul WR Aaron Wascha but Wascha fumbled and the ball was recovered by Carr. Carr would be rewarded when Grady threw him a one-yard touchdown to help the Empire go up, 57-36.
Similar to their last game against the Empire, the Soul refused to give up. They would get within 13 with 33 seconds remaining, but then used some trickery of their own on special teams. The Empire were lured into thinking that the Soul would go for an onside kick, but K Adrian Trevino’s kick instead went deep and DB James Romain recovered the ball off of the netting to get the Soul within six after the PAT.
Would it be déjà vu all over again for the Empire? The Soul attempted an onside kick but it would be recovered by Carr at the Soul’s six-yard line. Unlike their last game, the Empire would seal the game on both sides of the ball. Grady’s fourth touchdown to Hills and a successful two-point conversion would put the Empire back up by 14. The Soul would drive down the field in the remaining seconds but Empire LB Terence Moore’s sixth interception of the season with no time left on the clock secured the win.
The Empire will travel to Washington next Saturday night to face the Valor in the first round of the playoffs. If the Empire win both of their playoff games, they will host the ArenaBowl on July 28th as they were the team with the highest average home attendance in the 2018 regular season.
Empire Odds and Ends: K Kenny Spencer’s PAT on the team’s second touchdown was considered a failed PAT when, by physics or some kind of sorcery, became lodged in the side netting bars. By league rule, the attempt was no good because it did not go through the uprights… The Empire attempted only one on-side kick during the game, which was successful when WR Greg Carr recovered Soul WR Aaron Wascha’s fumble. The Soul attempted three on-side kicks and could not convert on any of their attempts… DL Joe Skyes was honored prior to the game on achieving the record for most sacks all-time. Skyes was credited with a half-sack in last week’s game at Washington when he and Derrick Summers (number five on the list) sacked Valor QB Arvell Nelson in the second 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