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Empire wins ArenaBowl 32

Empire wins ArenaBowl 32

Grady throws five TD passes as Albany crushes Philadelphia in championship game.
Empire wins ArenaBowl 32
Moqut Ruffins kisses the championship trophy after the Albany Empire won ArenaBowl 32 Sunday night.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

ALBANY — The Albany Empire finished up its seasonal theme  “unfinished business” with a dominating second half en route to a 
45-27 victory over the Philadelphia Soul in the Arena­Bowl 32 Sunday night before a crowd of 12,042 at Times Union Center.

Game MVP Tommy Grady, who won the last two seasonal MVPs, tossed five touchdown passes, four of them to Quentin Sims, and the Empire defense came up big with numerous turnovers and possession stops for Albany, which went 10-2 in the regular season and then dominated its two-game semifinal series. Sunday was much the same in the second half against the third-seeded Soul.

“We had to break down their defense, and then we got things going,” said Grady. “We picked each other up all night. This is a great team. I finally got my ring,” he said.

Mo Leggett, a veteran defensive back, not only returned an interception 54 yards for a score, but he also recovered a fumble to stop another Soul drive.

“That’s just how we drew it up,” Leggett said. “We prepared so much for this game. All of my teammates deserve so much of the credit, as well as the coaches, for putting me in the position to make those plays. That’s my first championship ring in 12 years as a professional. The last one I got was in college.”

Malachi Jones, both the Arena Football League’s Offensive Player of the Year and Receiver of the Year, caught five passes for 84 yards. 

“Our work is done. It’s a great feeling, and I’m so thankful,” Jones said. “I’m so proud to be a part of this team. Everything happens for a reason. I’ve got a great group of teammates, and we all played for each other. Our defense came up huge tonight.”

Head coach Rob Keefe virtually promised a title after last year’s team earned the top seed but lost in the playoffs to eventual champion Washington.

“This is a memory of a lifetime,” Keefe said. “It’s an amazing feeling to win the title. All the hard work and preparation paid off tonight. We prepared for this.”

Fullback Mykel Benson also caught one of Grady’s TD strikes, and Adrian Trevino, the Kicker of the Year, booted a 31-yard field goal to complete the scoring for the Empire.

Philadelphia got off to a quick start with two long TD passes from Dan Raud­abaugh to Darius Prince and BJ Bunn, respectively, but then Sims caught back-to-back TDs from Grady. Prince snared another scoring pass for the Soul, but the Empire pulled away with two more TD catches by Sims and Benson’s 8-yard score.

The Empire’s championship came 20 years after the Albany Firebirds won an AFL title led by “Touchdown” Eddie Brown, who served as the honorary captain in this game for the Empire.

Philadelphia was led by Bunn with 10 catches for 129 yards, Prince with two TD catches and Raudabaugh, who completed 26 of 29 passes for 300 yards and four scores.

Philadelphia    14  7 0 6 — 27
Albany    14 21 7 3 — 45

P — Prince 34 pass from Raudabaugh (Spencer kick).
A — Leggett 54 interception return (Trevino kick).
P — Bunn 38 pass from Raudabaugh (Spencer kick).
A — Sims 11 pass from Grady (Trevino kick).
A — Sims 6 pass from Grady (Trevino kick).
P — Prince 4 pass from Raudabaugh (Spencer kick)
A — Sims 25 pass from Grady (Trevino kick).
A — Sims 11 pass from Grady (Trevino kick).
A — Benson 8 pass from Grady (Trevino kick).
P — Outlaw 3 pass from Raudabaugh (kick failed).
A — Trevino 31 FG.
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected] or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter.

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