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First year, first seed: Empire earn top playoff spot

First year, first seed: Empire earn top playoff spot

Beat Philadelphia Soul 71-57
First year, first seed: Empire earn top playoff spot
The Albany Empire will be the top seed for the AFL playoffs.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

ALBANY – One of the rarest plays in the Arena Football League is a safety, but that’s exactly the play that helped the Albany Empire lock up the regular-season title and the top seed for the playoffs with a monumental victory against their arch rival.

Greg Carr’s tackle for a safety on a Philadelphia Soul kickoff return by Poppy Livers in the second quarter resulted in the key safety that turned into 10 points for the Empire during their 71-57 triumph over the two-time defending champions Saturday night before a crowd of 10,082 at Times Union Center.

The first-year, 8-4 Empire takes on the fourth-place Washington Valor in a two-game playoff series beginning next weekend in Washington. The Empire returns to the Times Union Center for the second game of the playoff series July 21 for a 7:30 p.m. game. (The winner is determined by most aggregate points.)

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After Carr made the tackle for a safety, Malachi Jones hauled in a 9-yard TD pass from Tommy Grady to stretch the Empire’s advantage to 23-7. They would need that cushion, as the Soul later rallied late in the game to give Albany a scare, much like what occurred June 16, when Philadelphia came from behind for a 75-74 win here.

Behind 63-50 in the final minute, the Soul pulled within 63-57 by recovering a fumble in the end zone on a kickoff. But Joe Hills caught his fourth TD pass of the game moments later, and Terence Moore locked up the win with an interception.

“It’s unfortunate that they kicked it deep. We thought they would go for an onside kick again, but they took advantage of a rookie in Jordan Williams, by kicking it deep, and he fumbled the ball,” Hills said. “But Coach’s message was to stay the course. We got it done, and the rest is history.”

Most everyone agreed that the safety turned the game around for the Empire. “The safety is something you don’t see every day on a kickoff,” Hills said.

“That safety was huge,” Empire head coach Rob Keefe said. “In this game, a safety can give you a huge momentum shift.”

Besides the safety and the ensuing touchdown by Jones, the Empire got two big rushing touchdowns from fullback Mykel Benson. The Empire also did an excellent job covering onside kick attempts by the Soul. Moore, although he’s a jack linebacker, was used on the kickoff return team, especially late.

“It feels great,” Moore said. “Coach has trust in me in that situation.”

Keefe said the Empire has achieved the first of many goals he has for them.

“This feels great,” he said. “I’m super proud of this organization, the fan base, and coaching staff and the players. We’ve come full-circle after losing to Philadelphia in our very first game. But this is just the beginning.”

Keefe said his team has come a long way, especially in clutch situations. ‘You’ve got to manage the game, even when something like that fumble on the kickoff happens,” he said. “I’m so proud of them. We lost three games on the last play of the game this season. This is also the first game this season where we have scored on every possession.

“For me, we created a team that is hungry,” Keefe said. “We are going to Washington first, and then return here on July 21. We aren’t going to take Washington lightly. We want to play to win, not play to not lose.”

Grady completed 21 of 29 passes for 239 yards and 8 TD passes. Hills stretched his streak of catching at least one TD pass to a league-record 92 straight games. He had 10 receptions for 106 yards. Jones added 3 TD receptions.

Philadelphia    7  7 22 21 – 57

Albany            7 23 14 27 – 71

A – Benson 1 run (Spencer kick).

P – Reynolds 13 pass from Raudabaugh (Trevino kick).

A – Hills 4 pass from Grady (kick failed).

A – Carr safety.

A – Jones 9 pass from Grady (Fafaul run).

P – Outlaw 8 pass from Raudabaugh (Trevino kick).

A – Benson 2 run (Spencer kick).

P – Prince 15 pass from Raudabaugh (Trevino kick).

A – Jones 43 pass from Grady (Spencer kick).

P – Prince 18 pass from Raudabaugh (Prince pass).

A – Hills 13 pass from Grady (Spencer kick).

P – Wascha 7 pass from Raudabaugh (Trevino kick).

A – Jones 6 pass from Grady (Spencer kick).

A – Carr 2 pass from Grady (kick failed).

P – Prince 5 pass from Raudabaugh (Trevino kick).

P – Prince 5 pass from Raudabaugh (Trevino kick).

P – Recovered fumble in end zone.

A – Hills 5 pass from Grady (Spencer kick).

 
Reach Bob Weiner at Weindog58@gmail.com or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter.

 
 

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