Empire looks to build off of miraculous win

Top team in Arena Football League hosts Atlantic City on Saturday
Albany Empire wide receiver Collin Taylor (11) celebrates a touchdown with Quentin Sims during a June 1 game against Washington.
Albany Empire wide receiver Collin Taylor (11) celebrates a touchdown with Quentin Sims during a June 1 game against Washington.

ALBANY — After seeing its opportunity for a perfect season erased one week, the Albany Empire responded in a big way the next.

With a monumental 27-point comeback, the third-largest in Arena Football League history, the Empire upended the Washington Valor last weekend. The first-place Empire (7-1) will look to build on that victory when it hosts the Atlantic City Blackjacks (3-5) for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Times Union Center.

“It was awesome,” Empire head coach Rob Keefe said earlier this week regarding last weekend’s comeback win, which saw the Empire not lead until the game’s final minute. “I think it speaks to the level of character that we have on this team — the belief in one another. I think more importantly, though, it shows that no matter the adversity we face, we’re going to rise to the challenge.”

The Empire, which clinched a playoff berth with last weekend’s win, were down 34-14 at halftime against the Valor. Albany, though, stayed confident and composed as it worked its way back to a 56-55 win.

“We knew going into halftime we were down 20, [but] we had the ball coming out. We knew we were going to cut it down to 14. We just needed a couple stops, and we got them,” Empire quarterback Tommy Grady said. “We all knew there was a chance to come back, and we were able to execute at the end. Everyone stayed calm, and we knew we had to take it one play at a time. We knew we had to keep scoring, and that’s what we did.”

“It was amazing. Coming back from a 27-point deficit shows the character of this team and what we’re capable of,” Empire wide receiver Quentin Sims said. “We’re not going to stop and will keep fighting no matter what. We want to host the ArenaBowl and win it. We know we have a long way to go, but this is a stepping-stone on our way to do that.”

To that end, the Empire have an important goal to achieve.

“Now it’s about getting the No. 1 seed. That’s the goal right there for the regular season, but it feels good to know we’re in the playoffs,” Keefe said. “Now the plan is to position ourselves for home-field advantage.”

Albany defeated Atlantic City 54-35 earlier this season.

“Atlantic City is a good team. We were actually down 28-27 at the half the first time we played them,” Keefe said. “We realize they can be a very dangerous team if we don’t take them seriously. We have to play our game, start faster and make sure we don’t get ourselves in a hole.”

How is the team going to accomplish that?

Simple. Continue to use its “1-0 every single week” mentality, as well as build off the energy and support of the home crowd.

“Playing at home is always a huge game for us. The community does a great job [supporting the Empire] and there’s no better place to play than at home,” Empire wide receiver Malachi Jones said. “We love playing in front of our home crowd — it’s our ninth man. We lean on the crowd to give us that extra boost when we need it.”

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