ALBANY — The Albany Empire used a stifling defense to secure its second consecutive National Arena League championship with a resounding 47-20 victory over the Carolina Cobras, a team that won all three regular-season meetings between the two clubs, Saturday night at MVP Arena.
Game MVP Sam Castronova tossed six TD passes for the Empire (10-4), but it was their defense that was the real MVP. Albany stopped the Cobras (9-6) six times, including interceptions by Jake Metz and Melvin Hollis. Nick Haag stopped two other Carolina offensive series with a quarterback sack and a fumble recovery on the 1-yard line.
“People hate me because I always say we’re going to win, but we’re always going to win,” said Albany Empire head coach Tom Menas. “We’ll see you next year and we’ll get the third title.”
“Thank God we were able to win the title,” added Castronova. “It’s a great feeling to bring another championship back to Albany.”
The Empire were the league’s best offensive team behind league MVP Darius Prince, a wideout who topped the NAL in touchdowns, and the two-way performance of Castronova, who was a threat both passing and running.
But the Cobras had the Empire’s number before Saturday night, winning three times this season, all by eight points or less.
Castronova got the scoring started with a 2-yard run on the first possession of the game for a 6-0 Empire advantage.
The Cobras took their only advantage of the game, 7-6, on their first possession when QB Jonathan Baine found Kendrick Ings for a 3-yard pass and T.C. Stevens added the PAT.
It was all Albany from there. Castronova hit Aaron Warscha with a 1-yard TD pass for a 13-7 Empire lead, and Albany stopped the Cobras on downs to end the opening quarter.
Castronova and Prince combined on a thrilling TD pass when Prince caught the ball as it rebounded off the wall and scored from 16 yards out. Following a Metz interception, Wascha caught his second scoring strike from Castronova and it was 27-7. Castronova and Prince hooked up again to make it 34-7, and Haag closed out the half with a sack of Bane to preserve that hefty lead.
Haag recovered a fumble on the Cobras’ first possession of the second half, and Castronova fired a 7-yard TD pass to Marquel Wade to make it 40-7.
Following another Albany defensive stop on downs, Cornelius hauled in a TD pass from Castronova to extend the lead to 47-7 just before the end of the third quarter.
Carolina scored when it recovered its own fumble following a long pass, and Bane found Adam Smith for a long TD pass to close out the Carolina scoring late in the game.
The NAL announced it will have at least one more team, the Fayetteville Mustangs, next season. Empire officials said it was pretty certain that there would be another team added for next season, as well.
Carolina 7 0 0 13 — 20
Albany 13 21 13 0 — 47
A — Castronova 2 run (kick failed)
C — Ings 3 pass from Bane (Stevens kick)
A — Wascha 1 pass from Castronova (Orozco kick)
A — Prince 16 pass from Castronova (Orazco kick)
A — Wascha 8 pass from Castronova (Orazco kick)
A — Prince 10 pass from Castronova (Orazco kick)
A — Wade 7 pass from Castronova (kick failed)
A — Lewis 10 pass from Castronova (Orazco kick)
C — Fumble recovery (Stevens kick)
C — A. Smith 10 pass from Bane (Stevens kick)