ALBANY — Fresh off a 61-26 victory against the Baltimore Brigade, the Albany Empire are preparing for the second leg of its playoff quest.
The opponent, again, is Baltimore — and the Empire start Saturday’s 7 p.m. road game with a large cushion given the aggregate scoring system the Arena Football League uses for the first round of its playoffs, in which the combined score from both games determines which team advances to the ArenaBowl.
That means — essentially — the Empire starts Saturday’s game up 35 points, which seems like more than enough of a head start for a team that has scored 133 points in its last two games.
“We’re just clicking on all cylinders right now,” Albany Empire head coach Rob Keefe said Thursday. “This is the right time of the year to have the offense clicking. Having the last game at home really helped us to carry the momentum in from the regular season to the first home game. How we are approaching the next game is the score is 0-0. We can’t go in there assuming we have it in the bag. This is professional football; we came back from being down 34-7 earlier in the year against Washington on the road. Baltimore can easily do that at home if we aren’t careful.”
Fourth-seeded Baltimore is one of only two teams this season to defeat top-seeded Albany. Normally, Baltimore relies on its staunch defense, but the Empire solved that last weekend at Times Union Center.
“Our offensive line did a really good job of blocking their defensive line,” Empire wide receiver Quentin Sims said. “That helped out our defense a lot. If they can repeat that next game, I think we’ll have some success. We need to score in the red zone and our defense has to keep getting stops.”
That’s to say the Empire don’t plan to go into Saturday’s game satisfied because of how it started its home-and-home postseason series with Baltimore.
“We are still going in with the mindset the score is still 0-0, so we are not looking at the 35-point aggregate lead,” Empire defensive lineman Joe Sykes said. “We are looking at the score being 0-0, and playing to win. We have to execute on offense, defense and special teams, hold onto the ball and not give up any turnovers.”
“We don’t have to play any different than the first game,” Keefe said. “However, we can’t just sit back and hope that this game will take care of itself. We are not going to play not to lose; we are going to play to win.”
The Empire knows that Baltimore isn’t going to go down without a fight, either.
“We are going to see a lot of onside kicks. We are going to see a pace of play that is extremely fast. They are going to take their shots deep,” Keefe said. “They are going to do everything on defense to try and disrupt our offense. They are going to put a game plan in like their lives depend on it. Desperate men are dangerous men, so we have to continue to score, stay aggressive, and we cannot get relaxed and assume this is just going to take care of itself.”
As announced Thursday, Albany had 11 of its players selected to All-Arena teams, with nine earning first-team selections. First-team spots went to Tommy Grady, Sims, Malachi Jones, Ryan Cave, Jordan Mudge, Mykel Benson, Terence Moore, Sykes and Adrian Trevino. Tevin Homer and Moqut Ruffins were selected to the second team.