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Week 9 Game Preview - Empire vs Bigade

Wednesday June 6, 2018

The hottest team in the league, the Albany Empire matchup against the Baltimore Brigade at home on Saturday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Times Union Center seeking to claim the first-place spot in the standings to themselves. The Empire will look to win their sixth consecutive game as they play a rematch against a Brigade team that Albany defeated just a week ago. The game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network and on Alt 105.7 fm.

“It’s going to be a fight and we are more than ready for the challenge,” said Rob Keefe, Head Coach of the Albany Empire. “Baltimore is a great team and they won’t make it easy for us to beat them in consecutive weeks. The crowd played a huge part in our victory last week and we rely on them to be just as loud this week! Our ninth man is crucial to us gaining momentum at the right time to help us take the lead and never look back.”

The high-scoring affair a week ago went in favor of the Empire, splitting the season series matchup at one game apiece. Albany quarterback Tommy Grady was nothing short of spectacular in the team’s victory tossing for 248 yards and a season-high eight touchdowns. Grady’s counterpart, Randy Hippeard threw six touchdowns and ran in another on the ground. When the two teams met back in Week 3, it was also a back-and-forth game, so expect yet another shootout in Albany as the league’s top two teams meet again.

The first matchup to look out for is between Grady against the Baltimore secondary. Grady has been a terror to opposing defenses all season and has the numbers to prove it. He currently leads the league in passing yards with 1,653 and passing touchdowns with 42. He has been especially brilliant against the Brigade in the two meetings this season. The Empire gunslinger has a combined 14 passing touchdowns in both games against Baltimore. The Brigade simply have no answer for Grady and will have to rely on their potent offense to keep pace with the Empire if they want to come out of Albany with a win. Expect another big game out of the league’s top quarterback as he continues to torch the Brigade backfield.

The key to victory in this matchup is for the Empire to get the ball to Grady’s top two targets early and often. Wide receivers Joe Hills and Malachi Jones have been lethal to opposing defenses since Hills joined the Empire in Week 3. Hills and Jones are one and two respectively for the league lead in receiving touchdowns and have a combined for 11 receiving touchdowns against Baltimore alone. Expect deep balls to Hills and crossing routes over the middle to Jones early in this one as the two both have big nights while competing with one another for the league’s top wide receiver honors. Hills enters the game having a receiving touchdown in 87 straight games and there are no signs that the number won’t bump up to 88 once this one is said and done with. Jones has also scored in every game during his rookie season, so it’s a safe bet that the two will each find pay dirt at least once as Grady continues to feed them.

The next matchup to look out for is between the Empire defensive backfield against the Brigade receivers. Baltimore has four receivers with at least 20 catches and six touchdowns so far on the season as Hippeard has spread the ball out and found the open man all year long. Though all four of these receivers found the end zone at least once a week ago, none of them eclipsed the 100 receiving yard mark. The key to victory in this matchup is to force turnovers. Last week, the Empire defense had an interception, forced four fumbles, and even scored a touchdown. Both meetings this season have come down to which team forces the turnovers. Baltimore’s offense is extremely potent and can score on any play proving that covering their four big receivers is a tall order for any defense. Hippeard can go punch-for-punch with Grady all night long, so it will be up to the Empire defense to come up with a big play and shift momentum in favor of Albany.

The key to victory in this matchup stems from the Empire’s stout defensive line. The Brigade offensive line has been a weakness all season, surrendering 13 sacks in the team’s seven games. A week ago, the Empire were able to get to Hippeard and force a fumble that resulted in an Empire touchdown. In both meetings, the defensive line has pressured Hippeard and forced errant throws, including an overthrow that hit off the back net and landed in the hands of Albany jack linebacker Terence Moore last week. As great as the Albany backfield is, Baltimore just has too many weapons to cover on the field. Expect a Joe Sykes led Empire defensive front to be in the face of Hippeard all night long and either cause sacks or force bad throws while ultimately effecting the outcome of this game.

The last matchup to look out for is between the Empire kickoff team versus Brigade kick returner Brandon Thompkins. Last week Thompkins returned seven kicks for 127 yards including a 30-yarder. Thompkins has the ability to break any return to the house, but has the uncanny ability to pick up a big chunk of yards even if it looks like he has no running room. If Thompkins is able to continue to run back Empire kickoffs for big yards, then the Brigade offense will have the advantage of a shorter field. Last week right before halftime, Thompkins ran one out of the end zone to nearly the 20-yard line and thanks to an Empire penalty, the Brigade were able to kick a field goal as time expired. Albany needs to find a way to limit the return yardage and contain Thompkins from breaking out into open field.

The key to victory in this matchup is for Empire kicker Kenny Spencer to mix in different types of kicks to throw off Thompkins’ return game. Expect a combination of kicks off the back net, short kicks, directional kicks, and even a ball off the bar to make Thompkins uncomfortable. It is imperative that the kickoff team knows exactly where Spencer plans to place the ball in order to get to the spot and corral Thompkins before he gets a chance to work up field. If the Empire are able to limit Thompkins in the return game, it will serve as a domino effect for the defense. In a perfect world, Albany will look to pin the Brigade inside of their own five-yard line on each possession giving Baltimore a lot of turf to travel if they want to find the end zone.

Tickets for the remaining Empire home games are still available at TheAlbanyEmpire.com. Ticket packages include: pro-rated season tickets, family four packs, group and corporate outing experiences, birthday party packages, Bud Light Party Zone tickets, Pioneer Bank Field Zone tickets, Pepsi Family Zone tickets and single game tickets. For additional information, please call 518-533-2200.

Albany Empire 2018 Inaugural Season Presented By CDPHP.