Albany Empire Press Release
The Albany Empire (8-4) defeat the Soul (7-5) 71-57 in front of 10,082 fans at the Times Union Center to clinch the top seed of the Arena Football League Playoffs. The Empire will travel to Washington on Saturday, July 14 to battle the Valor in Game 1 of the Playoff Series. The Empire will host the Valor in Game 2 of the Series in Albany at the Times Union Center on Saturday, July 21 at 7:30pm. The team highest aggregate score of the two playoff games will advance to ArenaBowl XXXI. With tonight’s attendance, should the Empire advance to the championship game, they would host the ArenaBowl at the Times Union Center on Saturday, July 28. Tickets for the July 21st Playoff game are on sale now at TheAlbanyEmpire.com.
Empire quarterback Tommy Grady went 21 of 29 passes for 239 yards and eight passing touchdowns earning himself the game MVP award. Empire receiver Joe Hills led all receivers with 10 catches for 106 yards and four touchdowns being named Offensive Player of the Game. Hills continued his active streak of 92 consecutive games with a touchdown reception; a league record. Empire jack linebacker Terence Moore had four total tackles and one interception being named Defensive Player of the Game.
Albany received the opening kickoff and began on their own 12-yard line after a nice return by Terrance Smith. After failing to connect with receiver Malachi Jones deep in the end zone on first down, quarterback Tommy Grady went right back Jones for a short gain for the games first completion. One play later, Grady found Jones on a screen pass for an Empire first down as Albany quickly reached midfield. Wasting no time, Grady targeted receiver Joe Hills on a 24-yard pass setting up the Empire on the one-yard line and threatening. On the next play, Grady handed the ball off to fullback Mykel Benson who plowed ahead for the touchdown to give Albany the early 7-0 lead.
After a short kickoff, Philadelphia took the field on their own 12-yard line after a return by Poppy Livers. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Dan Raudabaugh found receiver Darius Reynolds for a quick four-yard gain. After an incomplete pass on second down, Raudabaugh went right back to Reynolds down field setting the Soul up on the opposing 12-yard line. After a penalty on the Soul, Raudabaugh once again fed Reynolds for a 13-yard touchdown to tie the game.
The Empire returned the ensuing kickoff to their own five-yard line and Grady and company were back on the field. Following two consecutive incomplete passes, Grady found Hills near the sideline dasher to give Albany a fresh set of downs. The Empire were across midfield on the next play on a short pass to receiver Collin Taylor. On a quick snap, Grady handed the ball off to Benson who evaded a Soul defender on his way for a 16-yard gain. At the start of the second quarter, Grady found Hills on the first play for a four-yard touchdown to reclaim the lead. On the following kickoff, Livers was hit hard by Terence Moore and was forced back into the end zone before being swarmed by Greg Carr for a safety to quickly give Albany two points and the ball back.
Starting from their own nine-yard line, Grady aired it out to Hills who drew a defensive pass interference penalty. Grady then found Taylor on the sideline for a first down as Albany was set up inside the 15-yard line. After a short gain to Hills, Grady found Jones on a screen pass who used his elusiveness to get into the end zone from nine-yards out. The Soul offense took the field from their own six-yard line and Raudabaugh quickly hit his top target Darius Prince for a six-yard gain. On the following play, Raudabaugh went right back to Prince as the Soul crossed into Empire territory. After a short rush by fullback Jeramie Richardson, Raudabaugh target receiver Aaron Wascha along the sideline dasher board moving Philadelphia into the red zone. One play later, the Soul were in the end zone on an eight-yard pass to receiver Lonnie Outlaw.
The Soul kickoff hit the bar and ricocheted into play before being knocked out of the back of the end zone to give Albany the ball on their own five-yard line. The Empire opened the drive with a four-yard rush by Benson. Grady then found Hills wide open across the middle to push into Soul territory. Grady went right back to Hills moving the ball down to the 12-yard line one-minute warning approached. Grady hit Taylor on a crossing route who hit the wall down at the five-yard line. After two consecutive runs to Jones, the Soul were forced to use their final timeouts of the half. Grady took a knee to wind the clock down to run just one final play before halftime. From the two-yard line, Grady handed the ball to Benson who did the rest and forced his way into the end zone to give Albany a 30-14 lead at the half.
Philadelphia received the kickoff to start the second half and began on their own 14-yard line. Following a neutral zone infraction on Albany, Raudabaugh located Reynolds as the Soul pushed down to the Empire 15-yard line. One play later, the Soul were able to cap off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown to Prince. Albany began their first possession of the second half on their own seven-yard line after being backed up by a holding penalty. On second down, Grady hit Jones in stride for a quick 43-yard Albany score.
The Soul were set up nicely after a good return by Larico Stevenson who carried the ball to the 18-yard line. After two straight incomplete passes, Raudabaugh found a wide open Wascha to push the ball over midfield for a first down. One play later, Raudabaugh hit Prince in the corner of the end zone from 18-yards out. The two-point conversion try was successful, bringing the Soul within 8 points. Albany recovered the Soul onside kick attempt and took over from the opposing 13-yard line. Two plays later, Grady connected with Hills for his second touchdown of the night.
Philadelphia began their following drive from their own 16-yard line following an offsides penalty on Albany. Two plays later, Raudabaugh found Reynolds on a quick slant who made a juke and carried the ball down to the Empire seven-yard line. One play later, Raudabaugh threw a fade to Wascha who made an impressive catch for the score. Starting from their own three-yard line, Grady targeted Taylor for a 13-yard pick up as the third quarter came to an end. The Empire opened the fourth quarter with a screen pass to Jones and a carry by Benson for a quick first down. On the following play, Grady hit Jones in the end zone for the 25-yard touchdown, his third receiving score of the night.
Albany successfully recovered an onside kick attempt and after a penalty on Philadelphia, Grady led the offense back onto the field from their own 24-yard line. In one play, Albany was down to the goal line as Grady connected with Hills who flew over the boards making an impressive catch. After two rushing attempts by Benson, Grady found Carr for the short score to push the lead to 57-36.
After a holding penalty on the kickoff, Philadelphia took the field on their own one-yard line down three scores. The Soul began the drive with an early first down to Reynolds on a slant. After an eight-yard completion to Wascha, Raudabaugh went right back to Reynolds as Philadelphia crossed midfield down to the 16-yard line. Philadelphia was able to cap the drive with a 16-yard touchdown to Prince, his second of the night. The Soul failed to recover an onside kick attempt giving the ball back to Albany in the red zone on the nine-yard line. Beginning with two carries to Benson, Grady found Hills again for the short score to add to the Empire lead.
Philadelphia returned the ensuing kick to the 11-yard line and took over on offense down by 20. On second down, Raudabaugh connected with Reynolds down field who ran out of play at the Albany two-yard line. Two plays later, Raudabaugh found Prince on a quick-hitter for the score, his fourth receiving touchdown of the game. Philadelphia kicked it deep with no Empire player back to recover and dove on top of the ball in the end zone for another quick touchdown to come within six points.
Albany recovered the Soul onside kick attempt and controlled the ball on the Philadelphia six-yard line with 32 seconds remaining in the game. On second down, Grady found Hills in the corner of the end zone on a fade and after successfully converting the two-point conversion, the game was all but over. With 20 seconds remaining in the game, the Soul offense took the field from their own nine-yard line. On the first play, Raudabaugh found Wascha over the middle who carried the ball down to the Empire 12-yard line as the Soul used their second timeout. Following two consecutive incomplete passes, Raudabaugh was intercepted by Moore who added to his league lead with six interceptions on the season as time expired.