ALBANY — It took until their third game of the season but the Albany Empire finally walked out of an arena with a victory, beating the Washington Valor on Saturday night at the Times Union Center, 47-23 for the first win in franchise history.
The Valor had a 15-14 lead early on, but the Empire came up huge in the final moments of the first half as quarterback Tommy Grady found Joe Hills for a three-yard touchdown with just over a minute left in the first half.
Albany came up with a trick onsides kick and Malachi Jones recovered it, giving the Empire the ball back with a minute left in the half. They made a quick drive downfield and Jones came up big again, with a one-yard rushing touchdown as time expired to put the Empire up 28-15 at the break.
“If we kicked it deep, (Washington) would have milked the clock the entire time, and we would have not seen the ball back. If they scored, the score would have been tied up at halftime and they got the ball back first in the second half. It’s like basketball, it’s a two-for-one there. That’s what I try to teach people, it’s a possession game,” Keefe explained. “We scored on the last play. That’s exactly what it was designed to do.”
For the rest of the day the Empire defense came up very big, not allowing Washington to get too close to the end zone, shutting them out the rest of the night. The Valor did not score for over 30 minutes until they scored a garbage time touchdown with under 20 seconds left to play.
“We controlled the game on defense, and we’re not going to let you get anything deep. Eventually you saw at the end there that interception by Marrio Norman, eventually they get impatient, and they get greedy,” Empire head coach Rob Keefe said. “We really pride ourselves on our defense around here, defense wins championships.”
The Empire’s defense deep on their side of the field was stellar the whole way, not allowing Washington quarterback Warren Smith to complete many deep passes, and he threw two interceptions, both by Marrio Norman in the second half that really helped the Empire come up with the win. One of the picks by Norman was returned for a pick-six.
“I’m just a playmaker so when the ball comes my way I just try my best to make a play on it. After that play, I pretty much sensed it that we had it in the bag,” Norman said.
Smith was also sacked twice by the Albany defense in key spots, one of them being on fourth down and the other coming on third down.
After Washington led, the Empire scored five straight touchdowns that gave them the substantial lead, with the touchdown late in the third quarter to Joe Hills that really put the game away. Quarterback Tommy Grady connected with Hills for three touchdowns, and Hills had seven receptions for 85 yards in all. Grady had a great night, going 20-29 passing for 221 yards and five touchdowns.
The win marks the first in Albany Empire history, doing it in their second home game, in front of an announced attendance of 10,065.
“The fact that fans are choosing to spend their night with us, I really appreciate that. We want to give them wins, we want to give them victories, we want to give them entertainment,” Keefe said.
They are now 1-2 on the season. Washington falls to 0-3 on the year, and these two teams are set to play each other again next week, but at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. The game will be played on Friday, May 11 and begin at 7 p.m.