WEEK 13 GAME PREVIEW - EMPIRE VS SOUL
Winners of back to back games, the Albany Empire matchup against the Philadelphia Soul at home for the regular season finale on Saturday, July 7 at 6:00 p.m. at the Times Union Center. Though the Empire have gone winless against the Soul at home this season, a win for Albany would secure the number one seed heading into the playoffs. The game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network and on Alt 105.7 fm.
“We control our own destiny and getting the top seed in the playoffs is crucial for this organization” said Rob Keefe, Head Coach of the Albany Empire. “We will really rely on our fans to show up and make things miserable for Philadelphia giving us a huge advantage. A win this week puts us in the driver’s seat moving forward which will bode well for us in the playoffs.”
Should Albany earn the top seed in the playoffs, it would give them back to back matchups against the struggling Washington Valor. Double that motivation with the heartbreaking home loss to Philadelphia just three short weeks ago and expect the Empire to come out with a vengeance. A win on the field will go a long way if Albany can win off the field as well. With the new ArenaBowl host location specifications announced earlier this week, Albany can hold the championship game in the Capital City Region with a victory and a strong showing by the fans. If Empire fans pack the Times Union Center, it will solidify Albany as the top average attendance in the league and guarantee the ArenaBowl to be played in the 518 should the Empire make it that far.
The Empire were able to complete the season sweep of Washington last Friday with a victory on the road in the Nation’s capital. Quarterback Tommy Grady was magnificent again leading the Empire with his 256 yards and seven passing touchdowns. Grady has been consistent for Albany all year long, leading the league in passing yards (2,721) and passing touchdowns (73) while making a strong case for himself as the MVP candidate. Grady spread the ball around to his top three targets; Joe Hills, Malachi Jones, and Collin Taylor. Jones added another three touchdowns to his league lead for overall scores on the season with 31. Hills and Taylor added another two touchdowns each further proving that Albany has the most potent offense in the league. Hills not only continued his streak and active league record with 91 consecutive games with a touchdown reception, but he also surpassed 800 career catches as he added to his league-best 29 receiving touchdowns on the season.
The first matchup to look out for is between Philadelphia receiver Aaron Wascha and the Empire defensive backfield. Saying Wascha torched the Empire defense would be an understatement. The rookie put up huge numbers with 12 catches for 208 yards and a whopping seven touchdowns. Wascha has become one of the top threats in the Soul offense in recent weeks, climbing up the league’s receiving touchdown leaderboard with 20 on the season; tied for third overall. With Philadelphia’s star quarterback Dan Raudabaugh finishing out the final two games for the Soul, expect him to ride the hot hand and feed Wascha all night.
The key to victory in this matchup is to contain the Soul passing attack. Sounds easy right? Well, Philadelphia has three receivers that can put up big numbers and rack up points on the scoreboard. This is an offense that put up 75 points in a narrow, last second victory in their last visit to Albany. The Empire need to force turnovers to swing extra possessions for Grady and company while keeping Philadelphia’s high-powered offense off the field. Albany last saw Raudabaugh in Week 6 in a road matchup where they were able to intercept him twice while also adding two sacks on the way to a victory that snapped a 20-game home win streak for the Soul. The Empire lead the league in turnovers in large part to jack linebacker Terence Moore who leads all defensive players with five interceptions on the season. Moore was able to pick Raudabaugh off when he last faced the former MVP. Turnovers go a long way in any sport, but in a possession game such as arena football, if the Empire backfield is able to intercept Raudabaugh a couple of times, Albany will walk away with a home victory and take a three-game win streak into the playoffs as the one seed.
The next matchup to lookout for is on special teams in the onside kick game. Though it may confuse fans or be unpopular opinion, onside kicks are common strategy inside of one minute of each half. Albany needs to continue to stay aggressive with the onside kicks and recover a couple of their own. If the Empire can recover one or two onside kick attempts, it will give the Albany offense extra possessions and ultimately put more points on the board. On the flip side, the Empire need to recover any Soul onside kick attempts as well to prevent extra possessions for Philadelphia. In the one-point loss just a few weeks ago, Albany recovered all but one Soul onside kick attempt. The extra possession that the Soul were able to create eventually led to the game-winning touchdown in the waning seconds of the game.
The key to victory in this matchup on the return team is for the Empire to be aware of the possibility of an onside kick at any point in the game. It’s no secret that Albany’s offense can score on any play, so expect Philadelphia to mix in onside kicks in unusual times to try to steal a possession away from the Empire. If Albany can simply recover any and all Soul onside kick attempts, then the Empire will be set up with great field position and should be able to capitalize with quick scores. Look for guys like Moore, Jones, and Greg Carr to play a huge role in returning onside kicks. If the kick bounces high and in Carr’s direction, you can expect him to get up higher than anyone on the field and punch the ball out of bounds. The ball going out of play is just as good as an Albany recovery and will keep Raudabaugh from coming back onto the field immediately after a Philadelphia score.
The final matchup and key to victory for an Empire win is to keep Collin Taylor involved. Everybody knows that Hills and Jones will receive the lion’s share of targets from Grady and frequent the end zone, but don’t look away from a veteran like Taylor. ‘Mr. Reliable’ Taylor has put up a quiet 32 catches for 469 yards and nine touchdowns proving to be a viable threat in Albany’s explosive offense. A week ago, against the Valor, Taylor compiled five catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Not only does he serve as a more than capable third weapon for Grady in the passing game, but Taylor also plays a huge role on special teams. Whether he is taking a kick off the net or recovering a short kickoff, if the ball is in Taylor’s hands you can sit back and know that the ball will be safe. Don’t be surprised to see Taylor in the end zone as Grady spreads the wealth with all of his weapons.
Tickets for the remaining Empire home games are still available at TheAlbanyEmpire.com. Ticket packages include: playoff package tickets, family four packs, group and corporate outing experiences, birthday party packages, Bud Light Party Zone tickets, Pepsi Family Zone tickets and 2019 season membership tickets. For additional information, please call 518-533-2200.
Albany Empire 2018 Inaugural Season Presented By CDPHP.