COLONIE — Resilient.
That’s one way to describe this Albany Empire team. That was evident in the team’s 63-61 victory last weekend against the Atlantic City Blackjacks, which came a week after the team’s epic 27-point comeback on the road at Washington.
“Atlantic City is a good team, and at this stage, every team is just getting better and better,” Albany head coach Rob Keefe said at a practice earlier this week at Afrim’s Sports Complex. “It was a great battle for us. It was a test of adversity. We did a really good job on special teams. Our offense worked well together, and our offensive line is phenomenal. We stayed calm, nobody panicked and we stuck together.”
Now the Empire (8-1) will face the Philadelphia Soul (5-4), another familiar opponent the Empire defeated at Philadelphia in Week 3. The game will take place Saturday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia with opening kickoff set for 3:30 p.m..
“They’re a good team and one of the best-coached teams in the league. The biggest thing for us is we have to take care of the football and we have to get it back,” Keefe said. “We have to do a better job on defense getting fumble recoveries and interceptions. Dan Raudabaugh is a two-time MVP Arena Football champion for the Philadelphia Soul and is one heck of a quarterback, so we have to make sure we put our offense in good positions all day.”
One way to do that is with great defense.
“Last game, Atlantic City scored too many points,” Empire defensive lineman Joe Sykes said. “They showed up to play. This week, we got back to our routine, practice making the right plays, reads and breaks on the ball so that we can get more stops to put the offense in the best position.”
Philadelphia won’t make it easy. With a victory, Albany would secure the top seed in the playoffs with three weeks left to play in the regular season after already clinching a playoff berth, while Philadelphia will attempt to position itself for playoff contention and try to cut down on the Empire’s three-game lead in the standings. With a win or Atlantic City loss, Philadelphia will clinch a playoff spot.
“Philadelphia does a great job preparing their offense. They want to win this game and to make the playoffs, so we know that we are going to get their best shot. We are 8-1 so every team is going to give us their best,” Keefe said. “We have to lock in, focus on playing our toughest game and get this victory no matter how we do it.”
The Empire knows that.
“We’ve been in a couple nail-biters where we won by one point, lost by one point, won by two points last week,” Sykes said. “It’s been a great season with some ups and downs, but we know how to win in crunch time as we practice like that, so that we can go out and execute in those situations.”
The Empire will look to own the top overall seed for the playoffs, helping the team on its quest for a championship.
“One of our goals this year was to secure the No. 1 playoff seed,” Keefe said. “However, we still have a lot of work to do. We want to get better as a team, better as coaches, better as an organization. But that would be a heck of an accomplishment.”