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Off bye week, Empire seeking No. 1 seed

Off bye week, Empire seeking No. 1 seed

Albany plays at Columbus
Off bye week, Empire seeking No. 1 seed
The Empire play Sunday at Columbus.
Photographer: Erica Miller

COLONIE — Before its bye week, the Albany Empire saw its two-game winning streak snapped in Philadelphia, putting its hopes of clinching the No. 1 playoff seed on hold.

Refreshed after its break, the 8-2 Empire is ready for the next chance to earn the postseason’s top seed when it travels to take on the 1-9 Columbus Destroyers for a 3 p.m. Sunday kickoff. 

“We need to bounce back and just move on,” said Empire fullback Mykel Benson, whose team beat the Destroyers in both meetings earlier this season. “We are in playoff mode now, so we have to make sure we are rolling on all cylinders heading into the playoffs. Columbus is better than what their record says. We need to keep believing in ourselves and continue playing at a high level.”

In the first-place Empire’s 54-43 loss to Philadelphia, a variety of mistakes were too much for Albany to overcome.

“Philadelphia is a good team. We’ve played them before and beat them on the road. They were fighting for a playoff spot, so they played very hungry and aggressive,” Empire head coach Rob Keefe said at Thursday’s practice at Afrim’s Sports Complex. “We turned the ball over. There were some plays that we’d like to have back.”

Keefe views his team as a recharged one after its bye week.

“We need to focus on the here and now, focus on the present. We recovered well during the bye week, came back refreshed and we looked a little sluggish in the game against Philadelphia,” Keefe said. “The bye week has absolutely helped us. Anytime you have a week off in a professional-sports setting, you are going to come back fresh, rejuvenated, renewed. Guys that are banged up are a lot healthier; guys that are on injured reserve are a lot closer to coming off the list. So we are feeling good about the time off. The guys have come back with a renewed sense of purpose.”

After its game against Columbus, Albany will finish its regular season with a home game against Philadelphia. The Empire don’t want to head into the season finale looking to avoid a three-game losing streak.

“We need to come together as a team, play hard, and execute plays,” Albany Empire defensive back Arkeith Brown said. “What we practice, we have to bring into the game.”

“We know we’re going to see their best. I’m sure they really want to stop us, so we need to focus and play really disciplined football,” Keefe said. “We’ve done a great job taking care of the football in our previous two games against Columbus. We did a really great job with situational clock management. They have a lot of newer players on their team, but a rookie in their 11th game of the season really isn’t a rookie anymore. Even though they are still learning the game, they are a lot better than they were before, so we know we are going to get their best. We have to play our game and take what the defense gives us, make sure we are ready for trick plays, onside kicks and utilize our skills we’ve been teaching all year.”

If the Empire do that, it should head into next weekend with the No. 1 seed secured.

“We need to remain focused and continue our 1-0 mentality every week,” Keefe said. “It’s all about going 1-0 right now — and what that means for us is earning the No. 1 playoff seed, which could ultimately lead to the ArenaBowl.”

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