Courtesy: Albany Empire Media Relations
Clinch Top Playoff Seed for Second Straight Season
COLUMBUS, OH – The Albany Empire (9-2) defeated the Columbus Destroyers (1-10), 49-18, in front of 9,275 fans at the Nationwide Arena on Sunday night. With the victory, the Empire clinch the top seed in the 2019 AFL playoffs and will host the number four seed (still to be determined) in a home-and-home playoff series with the winner going to the ArenaBowl. Albany will play the first game of the series at home in the Times Union Center on July 27 at 7:00 p.m. The pregame block party will begin at 3:00 p.m. Times are subject to change based on television rights. Tickets for the game are on sale now at TheAlbanyEmpire.com or by calling 518-533-2200.
Columbus began with the ball on their own 22-yard line after a nice return of the opening kick by Fabian Guerra. After an incomplete pass to open the drive, quarterback Grant Russell completed a pass to Guerra who fumbled as Homer poked the ball loose and it was scooped up by Joe Sykes. The Empire began their first possession with a short pass to Jones, followed by an incomplete pass. On third down, Grady went back to Jones as the two connected for a 33-yard touchdown to take the early lead.
The Destroyers would begin their second drive on their own five-yard line after the Empire kickoff traveled through the slack net. On first down, Russell threw a dart over the middle to Kenny Cook who was leveled at the Empire 24-yard line. Following an incomplete pass, the Destroyers were aided by an Albany penalty to move the ball to the 19. Russell connected with Paul Browning along the sideline who was thrown into the wall by Terence Moore for a minimal gain. After a short gain to Guerra, Russell handed the ball off to the wideout in the backfield who ran ahead for a first down. From the nine-yard line, Russell pitched the ball back to Guerra who ran the ball in for the score. The extra point attempt was no good as the Empire clung to a one-point lead.
AJ Coney returned the ensuing kickoff to the Albany 20-yard line as the Empire began their second possession of the night. Set back 10 yards by an offsides penalty, Grady would throw a deep one to Jones as the receiver came down with the ball for another touchdown, his second of the first quarter. Terrance Smith would recover the Empire’s onside kick attempt and set the offense up for a third possession on their own 18-yard line. In one play, Grady found Quentin Sims deep downfield for a 32-yard score.
Starting from their own 19, Russell would link up with Cook to move the ball over midfield to the Empire 16. Following an incomplete pass, Russell would complete a short pass to Guerra as the first quarter ended with the Empire in the lead, 21-6. After an incomplete pass to open the second quarter, the Destroyers were faced with a fourth and four on the Albany 10-yard line. Unable to complete a pass, Columbus turned the ball over on downs. After incomplete passes on first and second down, Grady handed the ball off to Mykel Benson, who only picked up three yards. On fourth down, Grady connected with Jones downfield for a 37-yard score, Jones’ third touchdown grab of the first half.
From their own 15 yard-line, Columbus would be quickly backed up 10 yards by a holding penalty. On first down, Russell was pressured in the pocket and tackled just after releasing the ball. Russell was injured on the play, as Liam Nadler entered the game at the quarterback position. Under duress, Nadler finds Guerra who has space and ran the ball down to the Empire five-yard line before being tackled by Homer. After an incomplete pass, Columbus was moved up to the two-yard line due to an offsides penalty on Albany. Nadler would then hand the ball off to Rob Wheelwright who ran it in for the score. Guerra and Smith were ejected from the game following offsetting unnecessary roughness penalties. The two-point conversion attempt was no-good as Albany held a 28-12 lead with five minutes to go in the half.
Coney brought the ball out to the Empire 15 where Albany would open with an incomplete pass on a screen play. On second down, Grady would complete a pass along the sideline to Coney who was pushed over the wall at the 24-yard line. Grady would then hand the ball off to Benson who plowed ahead for two yards and a first down. Columbus would use their first timeout of the half following an incomplete deep attempt to Coney. Grady would go right back to Coney for a gain of 10 yards and another first down as the Destroyers used their second timeout with just over two minutes to go in the first half. Columbus would use their final timeout after a swing pass for a no-gain to Jones. On second down, Grady threw another swing pass to Jones, this time Jones was able to move the ball inside the five. Albany would use their first timeout of the half with just over one minute to go. The next play, Grady would hand the ball off to Benson who plowed ahead for the short score, leaving just 26 seconds on the clock for Columbus. Now back returning kicks for the Destroyers, Varmah Sonie returned the kickoff to the two-yard line as time expired in the first half with the Empire in the lead, 35-12.
The Empire would receive the kick to start the second half and began on their own 10. After an incomplete pass to open the drive, Grady threw a lob to Collin Taylor who secured the ball on the Columbus side of midfield. On first down, Grady threw a screen pass to Benson who had room to move down to the Destroyer 10-yard line. Opting for another screen, Grady threw a quick one to Sims who was taken down at the four. Following a short rush by Benson, Grady went back to the fullback who was tackled in the backfield for a loss of two. On fourth down, Grady was unable to complete a pass to Sims, turning the ball over on downs.
Moving around in the pocket, Nadler was able to locate Wheelwright for a quick 16-yard gain. Two plays later, Columbus was across midfield to the 19-yard line following consecutive completions. On first down, Nadler went back to Wheelwright who was tackled at the five. After a holding penalty and an incomplete pass, the Destroyers were back inside the 10 yard-line as Nadler once again connected with Wheelwright. On third down, Nadler was sacked by Sykes for a loss of three. Unable to make it to the end zone, Columbus turned the ball over on downs to the Empire on the one-yard line.
On first down, Grady swung a pass to Jones who was upended after a gain of four. Two plays later, Grady went deep to Sims who hauled the ball in with one hand and dragged a Columbus defensive back into the end zone with him for another Empire score. Sonie would take the Albany kickoff over midfield to the Empire 18-yard line. The third quarter came to a close after a short completion and an incomplete pass with the Empire still in the lead, 42-12. To open the fourth quarter, Nadler completed a short pass to Wheelwright for a first down. Under pressure, Nadler threw a bullet to Cook in the end zone. The two-point conversion attempt was no good.
Taking over on their own 20, the Empire would quickly cross midfield on a 15-yard pass to Taylor from newly inserted quarterback, Mason Espinosa. After finding Taylor on consecutive plays for short gains, Espinosa floated one up for a wide-open Sims in the end zone to widen the lead. Sonie was unable to get out of the end zone on the ensuing kick, giving the Destroyers the ball on their own three. After picking up a quick first down on the opening play, Nadler threw consecutive incomplete passes before connecting with Cook over midfield. Following back to back incomplete pass, Columbus used their first timeout of the second half with just under four minutes to go in the game. Nadler would then complete a pass to Browning along the sideline for a first down at the five-yard line. Following a no-gain and two incomplete passes, Nadler was unable to complete a pass to Wheelwright, turning the ball over the Albany with just under a minute remaining in the game. After one kneel by Espinosa, the game was over with the Empire being victorious, 49-18.
Albany Empire 2019 Season Presented By CDPHP.