Albany—After two years of sweat, tears and hard work the Albany Empire have reached their ultimate goal, an Arena Bowl title. They did so beating the three time AFL champs, the Philadelphia Soul, 45-27.
The early parts of the first quarter were somewhat rocky for the Empire. On the Soul’s first drive, blown coverage allowed Philadelphia’s Darius Prince to break down the middle of the field and score on a 34 yard pass. The Empire’s day didn’t get any better on their first drive. Once Offensive Player of the Year Malachi Jones finally caught a pass from Tommy Grady he gave it up, losing the fumble recovery near the 25 yard line. Thankfully Maurice Leggett erased that play and then some, intercepting Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh in the end-zone and taking it back for the first Empire score. Unfortunately the defense gave the lead back again on the next drive due to another coverage issue.
Two big plays happened before halftime that turned the tide of the game. Albany tied the game up on the next drive that lasted three plays. Capping that off was Albany’s wide receiver Quentin Sims who made an incredible one handed snag while running into the end-zone corner wall. The Empire soon went up a touchdown on another Sims catch, his second of four.
Coach Les Moss said, “The plan wasn’t for it to be Quentin’s show, but big-time players show up in big-time games.”
Philadelphia tied it up and knowing that they couldn’t let Albany have a chance at the lead before halftime, the Soul executed a perfect onside kick to get the ball back. During the following possession they failed to protect that ball, fumbling it near the 25 yard line. Sims caught another pass and the Empire opted to counter with an onside kick of their own. The kick popped high in the air and before any Soul player could get to it, Terrance Moore came flying through the air to grab the ball, flipping over an opposing player in the process. The Empire went into halftime leading 35-21.
Both defenses left their marks all over the second half of this game but it was the Empire’s defense that stayed strong in the waining moments . After getting pushed all the way downfield to the three yard line, the Empire put on an incredible four play goal line stand to get the ball back. The offense found themselves unable to do anything on the ensuing drive so the defense found themselves with another tough task, a first and one. Led by all-time sacks leader Joe Sykes, the defense stopped them once again to effectively kill Philadelphia’s soul.
“It takes commitment and that’s what we’ve had since day one,” said Sykes.
The 18 point victory doesn’t only put the perfect ending to a phenomenal season, but it puts an end to a 20 years championship drought here in Albany. As a measure of respect to the man who orchestrated this magical season and game, the Arena Bowl MVP went to Tommy Grady.
Grady added, “This team is a big group of brothers. Everyone is so close and we have so much fun that we have great chemistry and have all year.”