Valor Upset Empire to Punch Ticket to ArenaBowl XXXI
Dream season for Albany turns into a disappointing ending
The Washington Valor were 0-for-5 in their previous matches against the Albany Empire, but their first win against the Empire could not have come at a better time.
A two-win team entering the playoffs, the Valor pulled off the one of the biggest upsets in Arena Football playoff history by defeating the top-seeded Empire, 47-40, in front of 9,261 at the Times Union Center on Saturday night. The Valor won the two-game aggregate by a 103-97 score. Valor QB Arvell Nelson threw five touchdowns and ran for two, three to WR Doug McNeil, who started the season in Albany. Empire QB Tommy Grady threw six touchdowns, three to WR Malachi Jones, in the loss.
The game was expected to be a close one and it delivered on its promise. Albany took an early 6-0 lead on a Grady touchdown pass to WR Joe Hills. The Valor answered with a Nelson touchdown pass to McNeil and the Empire would respond in kind with a Grady touchdown pass to WR Jordan Williams.
The turning point of the game would come towards the end of the second quarter: after Nelson’s touchdown run to put the Valor up by one, the Empire attempted to milk the clock. But on fourth and one from their 11, FB Mykel Benson was stopped for a loss and the Valor took over. Nelson would wrap up the quarter with a one-yard touchdown run to put the Valor up 26-19.
The Valor started the half with the ball, but the Empire defense created a timely turnover as DB Terrance Smith picked off Nelson. On fourth-and-10, Grady launched a long touchdown pass to Williams and the Empire tied the game but took the lead on aggregate. The teams traded touchdowns to end the quarter.
After the Valor scored a touchdown to begin the quarter, Valor K Pat Clarke’s bar ball on the kickoff was recovered by McNeil and the Valor would start at Albany’s 11. The Empire defense held to prevent the Valor from scoring. But on their next offensive possession, Grady’s deep pass attempt was picked off by Valor DB Svanta Davenport. Nelson would convert with his fifth touchdown pass to put the Valor up by 14 with just over a minute remaining in the game.
Would the Empire create their own Miracle Minute? Grady’s third touchdown pass to Jones would get the Empire within seven with less than 30 seconds remaining. Their third onside kick attempt of the evening would be the charm when DB Arkeith Brown recovered K Kenny Spencer’s kick. After an initial completion to Jones, the drive would be pushed back after Hills’ offside penalty. Three consecutive incompletions lead to a desperate catch-and-run on fourth-and-20 from Grady-to-Jones, but Jones was cut down and the Valor celebrated while the Empire were left to wonder what might have been.
Stats, Stats, Stats: Three key stats during the game: Empire WR Joe Hills had only three catches for 53 yards and one touchdown on ten pass targets. Another startling stat: penalties. The Empire committed nine penalties for 49 yards. Four penalties were committed by the defense, including three pass interference penalties, and one was committed on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by head coach Rob Keefe, which would lead to Nelson’s second rushing touchdown. The last important stat was time of possession: the Valor offense held the ball for nearly eleven minutes in the fourth quarter, keeping the Empire offense off of the field.
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