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Streaking Empire colliding with streaking Hills

Streaking Empire colliding with streaking Hills

Former teammate, now with Baltimore, has caught a touchdown pass in 98 straight AFL games
Streaking Empire colliding with streaking Hills
Joe Hills pulls down a pass for the Empire last season. He'll face Albany as a member of the Baltimore Brigade Saturday.

ALBANY -- Halley's Comet will cross paths with a shooting star on Saturday night.

Joe Hills' touchdown reception streak seemingly has been around forever and will make one pass through the Albany skyline during the 2019 Arena Football League regular season.

In a short burst over the first six weeks of the season, the Albany Empire have remained undefeated and, at 6-0, are threatening to leave the rest of the league in a trail of stardust.

The Empire, the only one of six teams above .500, will square off against wide receiver Hills and the Baltimore Brigade (3-3) at 7:30 at Times Union Center, the only meeting between the two teams this regular season.

He has caught a touchdown pass in 98 straight AFL games, including 12 games with Albany last season, when he led the league with 33 TD receptions, six more than then teammate Malachi Jones.

Jones continues to be a dominant force for the Empire, but they know all too well what makes the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Hills such a touchdown threat, so he'll be a big focus for the Albany defense.

"We have to show him a lot of respect and try to contain him as best we can," linebacker Terence Moore said. "He's a very physical receiver, he's good at catching the ball at the high point of the ball. We just have to get our hands in the way and try to knock the ball out when we can."

"Love Joe to death, man," Jones said. "I literally watched his tape learning how to play this game a few years back, and it was a pleasure to play with him last season.

"I stay in touch with him, and he's a great guy. He's a student of the game and a dominant force. To have touchdowns in almost 100 straight games is a tribute to his preparation as a player and his due diligence to make sure he takes care of his body, understanding what it takes to be a professional at this level."

Meanwhile, the entire Empire team commands the attention of the rest of the AFL.

Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Washington are all bunched at 3-3, and Columbus is 0-6. The Brigade's three losses have come by a combined 17 points.

Empire head coach Rob Keefe said one thing he likes about his team is that they're not letting a six-game winning streak get to their heads, especially since they're only halfway through the season.

"We relish the fact that we're going to get everybody's best, and we expect that," Keefe said. "These guys get paid to do this. I think the biggest thing is don't buy into the hype. It's hard, when you're a young player and everyone's telling you how great you are, to not get cocky. There's  a fine line with cockiness and confidence.

"They don't give trophies for 6-and-oh; that's what coach Keefe preaches every week," Jones said.

The Empire would be OK if Hills keeps his streak alive, as long as they keep theirs, as well.

"He's big, strong and knows how to read defenses," Albany quarterback Tommy Grady said. "Whenever I got in trouble [last season], he was who I was looking for. You just throw it in his area, and he comes down with it more times than not."

"When it's fourth down and 10 in the red zone or wherever it may be, they're going to look to throw to Joe," Jones said. "He understands what the defense is trying to do, he understands what the DB is trying to do and at the end of the day, 50-50 ball, Joe's coming down with it."

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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