Albany Empire press release. Photo via: Empire Twitter
The Albany Empire (8-1) defeated the Atlantic City Blackjacks (3-6), 63-61, in front of 9,417 fans at the Times Union Center on Saturday night. The game would be the highest scoring affair in the League so far on the season. Empire quarterback, Tommy Grady, completed 18 of 27 passes for 229 yards and seven touchdowns, earning himself the game MVP award. Empire receiver, Quentin Sims, hauled in seven passes for 91 yards, five receiving touchdowns and one touchdown on special teams, being named Offensive Player of the Game. Empire defensive back, Tevin Homer, led Albany with 4.5 total tackles and a key pass breakup that led to an interception, being named Defensive Player of the Game.
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Albany received the game’s opening kick and began on their own five-yard line after Mark Lewis’ kickoff traveled through the slack net. Moving the chains in one play, Grady connected with Malachi Jones on a slant route. On first down, Grady located Collin Taylor along the sideline to move the ball into Blackjack territory. After an incomplete pass, Grady went back to Jones over the middle who forced his way into the end zone to take the early lead from 18-yards out.
Tripped up by kicker Adrian Trevino, Kendrick Ings returned the ball to the 17-yard line where Atlantic City’s offense took the field for the first time. In one play, the Blackjacks were over midfield as Warren Smith found Antwane Grant for a first down. On the next play, Smith connected with the team’s touchdown leader, Lamark Brown, in the end zone to tie the game. Attempting an early onside kick, the ball hit the wall, giving the Empire offense possession on the Blackjack 14. On The first play of the drive, Grady hit Jones for wide open in the end zone to reclaim the lead.
Stopped in their own end zone on the return, the Blackjacks began with the ball on their own three-yard line. After a short completion to Ings, Atlantic City was aided by an Empire penalty leaving them just short of a first down. On the next play, Smith went deep down the field and connected with Grant from 38-yards out for the score.
Atlantic City failed to recover another onside kick as Sims recovered the ball and ran down to the seven-yard line. On the first play, Grady had a ton of time in the pocket as Sims maneuvered his way open in the end zone to shift the lead back in the Empire’s favor. Ings would return the ensuing kickoff to the Blackjacks nine-yard line. Following three consecutive incomplete passes and a holding penalty, Smith took a shot as he found Ings at the 20-yard line for a first down. One play later, Smith went back to Grant down field for the deep touchdown to put the Blackjacks ahead, 21-20.
Starting on their own six-yard line, the Empire opened up the new drive with a short pass to Sims. After an offsides penalty on the Blackjacks, Grady handed the ball off the Mykel Benson who plowed ahead for a short gain. The Empire would pick up a first down as Grady connected with Jones on a hitch route. Setback by a holding penalty, Grady would throw three consecutive incomplete passes, setting up a fourth and 20 situation. The Empire would not only convert, but score as Grady went deep to Sims who caught the ball over a defender in the end zone.
Ings was tripped up in his own end zone, Atlantic City would begin on their own three-yard line. On first down, Smith went to Grant on a screen pass to gain a quick eight. Smith went right back to Grant on second down to pick up a first down. The Blackjacks crossed midfield on another screen pass, this time to Brown. After another short completion and an incomplete pass, the Blackjacks would gain two yards, but face a fourth and short. On fourth down, Smith faked a handoff and ran a bootleg into the end zone.
Once again attempting an onside kick, the Blackjacks were finally successful as Rashad Still came up with the loose ball to give Atlantic City possession on their own seven. After a pickup of nine on first down, Smith would hand the ball off to Wes Mauia who moved the chains for the Blackjacks. Following a defensive pass interference, Smith would take a shot to Grant who came down with the ball for his third touchdown of the first half, giving Atlantic City a 35-27 lead near the end of the first half. AJ Coney returned the Blackjack kickoff to the 15-yard line as Grady and company quickly crossed midfield on a completion to Jones. Grady threw a dart to Taylor along the sideline, moving the ball down to the 11 as the Empire used their final timeout of the half. After a penalty on Albany and an incomplete pass, the Empire had to hurry to run a play before the end of the half. Grady then found Sims right on the goal line who muscled forward for a touchdown. Albany would then successfully convert a two-point conversion, Grady to Taylor, tying the game at 35 apiece at the halftime break.
The Blackjacks would start the second half from their own 10-yard line. Losing three yards on first down, Atlantic City would make up the ground due to a penalty on the Empire. On first down, Smith found Still open downfield who ran down to the Albany 12. Three plays later, the Blackjacks would pick up a first down just a yard away from pay dirt. In two plays, the Blackjacks would convert on a handoff to Brown.
Coney would return the ensuing kickoff near midfield to the Empire 24-yard line. Albany would quickly move into Blackjack territory as Grady hit Jones for a gain of 12. Going right back to Jones, Albany would enter the red zone as the receiver was dragged down at the two-yard line. After an incomplete pass, the Empire would reach the end zone after two carries by Benson. Starting from their own four, Smith would connect with Grant over the middle for a gain of 18. Three plays later, a Smith pass was deflected ending up in the hands of Empire defensive back, Cheatham Norrils. On the first play of the new drive, Grady linked up with Jones who ran his way to midfield. Following an incomplete pass, the third quarter came to a close with the game knotted at 42. After another incomplete pass, Albany was aided by an offsides penalty on Atlantic City giving the Empire a first down on the opposing 20. After picking up eight on a completion to Jones, Grady would throw a bullet to Sims in the end zone for the receiver’s fourth touchdown of the evening.
The Blackjacks would begin their first possession of the final quarter on their own 10-yard line. In one play, Smith found a wide-open Still over the middle who brought the ball to the Albany 16. Following a false start penalty and an incomplete pass, Smith would locate his top target of the night, Grant, who worked his way to the four-yard line. After consecutive rushing plays and an incomplete pass, Smith evaded a sack and connected with Grant in the end zone for the score. The extra point attempt was no good, leaving Albany with the one-point lead. The Blackjacks would attempt another onside kick, but the ball was recovered by Sims who ran the ball into the end zone to put Albany back up by eight.
The Empire would attempt an onside kick of their own, but fail to recover, setting up the Blackjacks inside of the 10. Following a pass interference penalty, Atlantic City had a first and goal from the Empire five. Smith would find Still in the end zone for the score one play later. The two-point conversion was no-good as the ball went in and out of the hands of tight end, Fred Ruff. Arkeith Brown would recover the Blackjacks onside kick attempt and set Albany up on the opposing nine-yard line. After an offsides penalty on the high-motion man, Grady would throw a quick-hitter to Sims on the sideline for a gain of nine as Atlantic City used their first timeout of the second half. One play later, Grady found Sims in the end zone to add to the receiver’s League-lead in touchdowns.
Atlantic City would return the ensuing kickoff to their own 14-yard line as the clock halted for the 30-second stoppage. On first down, Smith would find Grant over the middle who ran the ball down to the Empire 14. One play later, Smith would connect with Still in the end zone to bring the Blackjacks within two points. Attempting one last onside kick, the ball would be recovered by a flying Quentin Sims as the Empire offense came back onto the field in victory formation. After two kneel-downs, the Empire were victorious, 63-61.