ALBANY — The Albany Empire came into the Times Union Center just needing to beat the Washington Valor to advance to ArenaBowl XXXI. They fell in a heartbreaking fourth quarter 47-40.
With the AFL’s aggregate scoring system, Albany came into tonight’s game with a one point advantage. Washington needed to win by one point in order to send the game into an overtime period or win by two to advance.
The matchup was very even in the first half. Both teams recorded over one hundred and ten yards through the air. These totals were thanks to a forty yard contribution for Albany’s Joe Hills and sixty-one yards for Washington’s Doug McNeil III. Both team’s completion percentage stayed above fifty percent and there were no interceptions.
Albany’s Tommy Grady had a good showing, throwing three touchdowns. He bested Arvell Nelson of Washington who had two passing touchdowns. For Albany, one touchdown was a thirty-seven yard pass to rookie receiver Malachi Jones, the longest of the half.
But Washington carved out a substantial lead in rushing. Quarterback Arvell Nelson ran for a game high twenty-two yards in the first half against Albany’s defense. This performance on the ground lead to Nelson running for two touchdowns in the second quarter. His performance pushed the Washington Valor out to a seven point lead in the game, and a six point lead in the series.
Albany’s Jordan Williams came out hot and determined in the third quarter, catching a forty-six yard pass to tie up the game. Jar Dangerfield and the Washington Valor responded with a touchdown of their own. Then Tommy Grady would go deep again, this time hitting Malachi Jones for a thirty-three yard touchdown. This tied the game up at thirty-three a piece going into the fourth quarter.
Misfortune would fall on Albany in the fourth quarter. After the opening score by Washington’s Doug McNeil III, the ball took a bad bounce off of the netting and was recovered by Washington. Albany stopped the Washington offense on the next drive, only for Tommy Grady to throw an interception trying to tie up the game. Arvell Nelson found a streaking Josh Reese for a thirty yard touchdown, putting the Valor up two scores.
The Empire had one last chance to punch their ticket to ArenaBowl XXXI in the final minute. Thanks to the last-minute rule, the clock stopped on each dead ball. This allowed Albany to complete their first drive in just forty-six seconds when Malachi Jones caught his third touchdown of the game. They successfully recovered the on-side kick with twenty-seven seconds left. But the culmination of three incomplete passes and an offsides call left Malachi Jones ten yards shy of the much needed second score.
“You have to win two in a row, and that’s the battle. It’s an interesting format but you have to go out there to win them all,” said Coach Rob Keefe on the playoff format.
The Washington Valor won 47-40, which means that they will advance to AreanaBowl XXXI 103-97. They will play the Baltimore Brigade next Saturday night.
After such a tough loss Keefe is very positive about the teams future. “Everything is in place for the Albany Empire to be good for a very long time. You have a great fan base, unbelievable owners, and front office staff that just get’s it. We have proven to the community that we can recruit great players to be here. And that’s because of the Capital Region’s embrace of them,” said Keefe.
The Empire conclude their inaugural season with a record of 9-5.