Photo via Valor Instagram.
The top-seeded Albany Empire was upset by the fourth-seeded Washington Valor in the second game of the home-and-home playoff series by a score of 47-40 Saturday night at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY in front of a crowd of 9,261. Splitting the two-game home-and-home series, the Valor defeated the Empire 103-97 in the aggregate scoring format of the playoff to advance to ArenaBowl XXXI.
Valor quarterback Arvell Nelson went 18 of 29 passes for 228 yards, five passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and one interception earning himself the game MVP award. Valor receiver Doug McNeil III caught six passes for 88 yards and three touchdowns being named Offensive Player of the Game. Empire defensive back Terrance Smith added 3.5 total tackles and one interception being named Defensive Player of the Game.
|SCORE BY QUARTER||1||2||3||4||FINAL|
The Empire took the field for the first possession of the game on their own 21-yard line after a nice return by receiver Jordan Williams. After an incomplete pass to start the drive, quarterback Tommy Grady found the league’s regular season touchdown reception leader, Joe Hills, for a 29-yard connection and a score to take the early lead. Washington receiver Chris Duvalt returned the ensuing kickoff and was quickly stopped on the three-yard line as the Valor offense took the field for the first time of the night. On the first play of the drive, quarterback Arvell Nelson was flushed out of the pocket and rushed ahead for a gain of nine yards. On second down, Nelson found receiver Josh Reese for a short gain and a first down. Washington quickly picked up another seven yards on the next play as Nelson hit his top target Reggie Gray on a bubble route. After a neutral zone infraction on Albany and three consecutive incomplete Valor passes, Nelson was able to quiet the crowd on fourth down and find receiver Doug McNeil III for a 20-yard touchdown to take the one-point lead.
Albany began their next possession on the three-yard line after Williams failed to get out of the end zone. Following an incomplete pass, Grady reconnected with Hills over the middle as he was thrown over the wall into the Empire bench at the 14-yard line. After another incomplete pass on first down, Grady found Williams on a stop-and-go route for a 36-yard bomb and another Empire touchdown.
After a quick first down, the Valor were across midfield as Nelson found receiver Jared Dangerfield for his first reception of the game. As time expired in the first quarter, Nelson found Reese down the sideline who carried the ball 17-yards down inside the red zone to the five-yard line. To open the second quarter, Empire defensive back was quilty of a pass interference penalty to move the ball down to the three-yard line. After Nelson failed to run the ball into the end zone himself on first down, the mobile quarterback found McNeil in the end zone as he flew over the wall and hung on for the Valor touchdown. Kicker Pat Clarke missed the extra point to tie the game at 13.
Williams managed to run back another nice return for the Empire as Grady and company took the field from their own 11-yard line. Following an incomplete pass to Hills on first down, fullback Mykel Benson got his first carry of the night and pushed ahead for two-yards. On third down, Grady found the league’s Wide Receiver of the Year, Malachi Jones, over the middle who juked a Valor defender and ran 37-yards into the end zone for the Empire score.
Starting from their own five-yard line, Nelson floated one up McNeil down the sideline who hauled it in for a big gain to set the Valor up inside of the red zone. Following a short rush by Nelson, Washington was helped by a defensive pass interference penalty on Albany to set up a first down on the two-yard line. One play later, Washington was in for the score as Nelson pushed the pile and crossed the goal line to take the lead.
Beginning on their own two-yard line, Grady found Jones on the outside on a quick-hitter for a seven-yard gain. Following two short rushes by Benson, Albany was unable to pick up the necessary yardage and turned the ball over on downs. After a one-yard pickup, Nelson was unable to complete a pass to Gray as time ran down to the one-minute warning. Following another defensive pass interference penalty on the Empire, Nelson ran ahead for a short gain on the QB keeper and were helped by an unsportsmanlike penalty on Coach Rob Keefe. With the new set of downs, Nelson tried to take it in himself again, but came up short as Albany used another timeout. The Empire used their third timeout of the half as Nelson kneeled the ball on the one-yard line leaving 44 seconds on the clock. On third down, Nelson kneeled the ball again allowing more time to run before Washington called a timeout with three seconds remaining in the half. On the final play of the half, Nelson pushed the pile forward for a short score to take a 27-19 lead into halftime.
The Valor took the field for the first possession of the second half at the 15-yard line as kicker Kenny Spencer’s squib attempt hit the sideline dasher. On first down, Nelson located McNeil on the side of the field who forced his way into Empire territory to the 16-yard line. Washington was quickly in the red zone after a screen pass to Reese. Following an incomplete fade attempt to Duvalt, Nelson was intercepted by defensive back Terrance Smith who muscled the ball out of Duvalt’s hands.
Following the Valor turnover, the Empire began their drive with three incomplete passes before completing a bomb to Williams for the 46-yard touchdown. Albany nearly recovered the ensuing kickoff, but Duvalt caught the ball on a high bounce and returned it to the 15-yard line. After a five-yard rush by Nelson, the Valor had a quick first down on a short pass to Reese. One play later, Washington was back in the red zone as Nelson found Dangerfield. After a short pass to Gray, Nelson went right back to Dangerfield for the quick score to reclaim the lead, 33-26.
The Empire began their next possession from their own five-yard line as Clarke’s kick went through the slack net. Albany picked up a quick first down as Grady connected with Hills over the middle. On first down, Grady found receiver Collin Taylor for his first catch of the night as Albany pushed the ball across midfield. After being backed up for a holding penalty, Grady found Jones in stride deep down the field for a 33-yard touchdown.
Nelson led the Valor offense back onto the field starting from their own 24-yard line following a squib kick attempt by Albany. On the final play of the quarter, Nelson was hit by defensive tackle Brandon Sesay to force an incomplete pass as time expired. To open the fourth quarter, Nelson found Dangerfield on a screen pass, but the yardage was erased due to a holding penalty on the Valor. One play later, Nelson connected with Duvalt over the middle who bounced off the wall and made his way to the Empire 15-yard line. Following three short rushes by Nelson, the Valor had the ball on the six-yard line on fourth and short. Washington picked up the yardage on a QB keeper by Nelson for the first down. One play later, Nelson found McNeil from five-yards out in the end zone for the third time of the night.
Clarke’s kick hit high off the bar, bouncing onto the field and recovered by McNeil giving the ball back to the Valor. Following back-to-back incomplete passes and a Valor offensive pass interference, Nelson’s fourth down attempt into the end zone was broken up by Smith as the Empire took over on downs. On first down, Grady found Taylor over the middle for a short gain. Following a false start on Albany, Grady was intercepted by Valor defensive back Svante Davenport as he tried to located Jones in the end zone.
With the fresh set of downs, Nelson found Reese on the outside for a quick first down pick up. After a short completion to McNeil, Reese caught a pass on a bubble screen to set up the Valor with a third down and six yards to go. One play later, Nelson hit Reese over the top for a 30-yard touchdown.
Starting from their own seven-yard line, Grady tried to find Williams down field as Washington was hit with a defensive pass interference penalty, moving the Empire up 10 yards. On first down, Grady connected with Jones over the middle for the first down. One play later, Grady found Williams on the sideline who was able to get out of play at the 16-yard line as a roughing the passer penalty was enforced to push the ball to the eight-yard line. Following another defensive penalty on Washington, Grady threw a short pass to Jones for the Empire score to pull within seven points.
Albany recovered the Valor onside kick attempt and took over with just 24 seconds left in the game from their own 17-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Grady hit Jones along the sideline dasher to push the ball across midfield. Following an incomplete pass, Albany was pushed back 10-yards due to an offsides penalty. After two incomplete passes, Albany faced a fourth and 20 situation with just six seconds remaining in the game. Albany was unable to pick up the necessary yardage as time expired and Washington walked away with a 47-40 victory and secured a spot in ArenaBowl XXXI.
Albany Empire playoffs presented by SEFCU. Albany Empire 2018 Inaugural Season Presented By CDPHP.