ALBANY — In a game that was very physical and chippy throughout, the Albany Empire earned their fourth victory in a row Saturday night by beating the Washington Valor 48-21 at the Times Union Center. This is the second time the Empire has beaten the Valor. They previously beat the Valor 47-23 back on May 5.
The first big play of the game for the Empire was made on defense. Arthur Hobbs read the eyes of Valor quarterback Shane Austin and intercepted his pass at the four-yard line. This led to a 30-yard bomb in the end zone by Empire quarterback Tommy Grady to none other than star wide receiver Joe Hills to give the Empire an early 7-0 advantage. With this score, Hills has now caught a touchdown pass in 86 consecutive games, which is an AFL record.
Washington answered with a score of their own with Shane Austin hitting wide receiver TT Toliver for an eight-yard touchdown pass.
The second quarter was dominated by the Empire as they outscored the Valor 21-7. Tommy Grady connected again with Hills for a 17-yard touchdown. The Empire also made their presence known on defense with linebacker Terrence Moore returning an interception 37 yards to the house. The Valor were becoming very frustrated and that boiled over on their next drive as offensive lineman Will Corbin was ejected from the game after two personal foul penalties. The Empire followed up the pick six with an eight-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Malachi Jones, giving them a 28-14 lead at halftime.
The story was the same in the third quarter for the Empire. They held the Valor scoreless and continued to push the gas pedal on offense. Grady found Jones in the end zone for the second time and Hills caught his third touchdown pass. Empire were up convincingly 42-14 after three-quarters.
When it comes to having confidence on defense, Terrence Moore believes it’s because of head coach Rob Keefe.
“A lot of what we do on the field we rub off from coach. He’s big on third quarters, he preaches coming out strong in third quarters and pretty much playing our best football in the fourth quarter,” said Moore.
Tommy Grady ended up throwing one more touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to wide receiver Collin Taylor. The Valor scored one more touchdown of their own as backup quarterback Warren Smith hit wide receiver Reggie Gray for a three-yard score. This game was never in doubt for the Empire as they held onto the big lead to grab the win.
Joe Hills continues his hot streak with scoring touchdowns and is now at 86 straight games. Hills broke the record of 79 consecutive games previously held by AFL Hall of Famer Damian Harrell back in 2007. When it comes to the streak, Hills really isn’t too concerned.
“I think me scoring a touchdown every game really isn’t anything new. I think what would be more to talk about is when I don’t score a touchdown,” said Hills.
Hills is really thinking about what he will have for breakfast on Sunday.
“Skittles, probably some licorice cause I’m a big licorice guy, and probably some orange juice,” said Hills.
The Empire have won four straight games and Keefe thinks it’s because of his team’s chemistry.
“I think synergy, I really think it is. I’ve seen the guys really enjoy each other,” said Coach Keefe.
Next, the Empire will take on the #1 team in the league, the Baltimore Brigade on Saturday, June 2 at 7 p.m. at the Times Union Center.