WEEK 1 GAME PREVIEW – EMPIRE VS DESTROYERS
After a long offseason, the Empire are ready to get back on the field and settle unfinished business in the team’s sophomore season. The road to ArenaBowl XXXII begins against the League’s newest franchise, the Columbus Destroyers, who return to the AFL after an 11-year hiatus. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. in the Times Union Center on Saturday, April 27 and broadcast live on Alt 105.7 FM.
“We can’t wait to get back on the field and put on a show in front of a packed house of Empire fans,” said Rob Keefe, Head Coach of the Albany Empire. “Falling just short last season gave us extra motivation to come back even hungrier to get to and win an ArenaBowl championship this season. We are relying on all our fans to continue to pack the Times Union Center and give us a true home field advantage over our opponents all season long to help us bring the championship home to the Capital Region!”
The first matchup to come into play is the Empire’s loud and pumped up crowd versus the Destroyers. Last season, Albany averaged nearly 10,000 fans per game – more than any other team in the League. The Times Union Center would be deafening at times during Empire home games last year, making it a tall task for opponents to come out of the Capital Region with a win. Columbus’ trip to Albany will be their first game for the franchise in over a decade. With not much time to gel as a unit, and the vivacious fans of Albany screaming all game long, the Destroyers will have to find a way to tune out the noise if they want to defeat the Empire.
The key to victory in this matchup is simple: BE LOUD! Empire fans showed throughout the entire 2018 inaugural season that Albany has the best fans in the AFL. When the Empire is on defense, the team will rely on the fans to be constant yelling and making life difficult for Columbus. The louder the crowd is, the harder it will be for the Destroyers to communicate with one another. In turn, this could result in miscues and turnovers, ultimately benefitting Albany on the way to victory.
he next matchup to lookout for is between the Empire offensive line against the Destroyers’ defensive line. Albany returns the entire offensive line from the end of the 2018 regular season. Last year, the Empire surrendered a mere four sacks all season – a League low. Hayworth Hicks secured Offensive Lineman of the Year and was joined by Ryan Cave on the First Team All-Arena list. Mo Ruffins joined the unit late last season, but made his presence known as the Empire did not allow a single sack since Ruffins was inserted into the lineup. In the backfield stands fullback Mykel Benson who provides quarterback, Tommy Grady, protection from the opposing mac linebackers. Benson also gives the Empire a running game making the Albany offense a dual threat. The Empire also acquired offensive lineman, Jordan Mudge, the League’s 2016 Offensive Lineman of the Year to help out in the trenches.
The key to victory in this matchup is to keep a clean pocket for Grady. The offensive line was a wall for Grady last year which was a key reason to the Empire’s success, boasting the most potent offense in the League. Grady’s MVP campaign is in large part to hardly getting touched as the offensive line stood tall while Grady hurled 81 touchdowns on the season. It won’t be an easy task however, as Columbus has stacked up on the defensive line position, adding a good mix of League veterans and rookies. Starting at the mac linebacker position, the Destroyers picked up Derrick Summers, who spent 2018 with the Empire and earned Second Team All-Arena honors. Summers has a knack for getting to the quarterback as the eight-year veteran finds himself inside of the top ten on the all-time sack list. More veterans such as Khreem Smith, KC Obi, and Terrance Taylor will be part of the defensive unit lined up in the trenches, all of which have made careers out of making opposing quarterback’s lives difficult. If the Empire offensive line can keep a clean pocket for Grady, he will have time to find and utilize all of his weapons, picking up right where he left off a season ago.
The final matchup and key to victory for the Empire to come out on top is to win the turnover battle. It goes without saying that you never want to turn the ball over on offense while at the same time take the ball away from your opponent as much as possible. A season ago, the Empire led the League in turnovers forcing 13 fumbles and 11 interceptions. Led by jack linebacker, Terence Moore, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year topped the League with six interceptions. Defensive end, Joe Sykes, found himself on top of the forced fumbles category, poking the ball loose a League-best four times. If the Empire is able to win the turnover battle against Columbus, it will set up the Albany offense to do what they do best: score. The more times the Empire offense can get on the field, the more points Albany can tack onto the scoreboard. The combination of crowd noise and team cohesiveness will go a long way in ensuring the Empire win the turnover battle. With a very young receiving unit for the Destroyers, don’t be surprised to see Albany come away with a couple of interceptions before the game is over.
Tickets for Empire home games are 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.