Courtesy: Atlantic City Blackjacks Media Relations
The final stretch of the season is right around the corner. The Blackjacks (3-5) are one game out of a playoff spot and have four games remaining. The remaining games come against all the teams currently in front of the Blackjacks. Atlantic City just needs to find a way to win, no matter how they get it done. The team will be heading up to Albany to take on the Empire (7-1) who had a tremendous comeback win in Week 8. Fans can watch live on NBCSP+, ESPN3 or the ESPN app, or listen to the call live on 97.3 ESPN on Saturday, June 22nd at 3:30 p.m.
“Albany is the number one team in the AFL for a reason,” said Ron James, Head Coach of the Atlantic City Blackjacks. “They are a physical team that makes few mistakes. They have a tremendous home field advantage and feed off their fans. We will need to match their execution level in all three phases of the game to give ourselves the opportunity to win this week.”
This is going to be a big test for the Blackjacks, heading up to the Empire’s home field and playing in front of their fans will be an electric atmosphere. There are some question marks floating above the Blackjacks’ heads heading into Week 9. A few players got banged up against Philadelphia but none bigger than Randy Hippeard going down. Hippeard did make his way back to the bench during the game but did not play another snap. If Warren Smith gets the start, that will be the first matchup to look out for.
Smith started out a little shaky against the Soul but was able to settle down and finish with a decent first outing in a Blackjacks uniform. If he does get the start, he will have this whole week to prepare and will need to do everything he can to be ready to play against the Empire. The Empire made some big mistakes in Week 8 and found themselves in a severe hole heading into the half. If Smith and the Blackjacks can play smart and capitalize on any chance they get, that will be a good first step in the right direction. Tevin Homer for the Empire still leads the League in tackles and the Blackjacks should expect a hard-fought game from the start. Along with Homer, Arkeith Brown has four interceptions on the year. Whether it be Hippeard or Smith getting the start, the man whose playing must be aware of ill-advised passes. It will be extremely important for the Blackjacks to not turn the ball over and to put points up on every drive possible to give them their best shot at coming out on top.
The defense for the Blackjacks is going to have to play much better this week. They have not stopped a single drive from their opponent over the last two weeks. That is not the recipe for success, especially when going against the best team in the League. The defensive line has not been its usual self and the defensive backs have been beaten up with some minor injuries. This would be the perfect game for all those issues to be forgotten and for the team to make a statement to the rest of the League and propel them moving forward to the playoffs.
When all the players are clicking, that’s when opponents get in some trouble. We have seen it before and it’s important we see it again this week. It’s going to take a collective effort in stopping Tommy Grady, Malachi Jones, Quentin Sims and the rest of the high-powered Empire offense. Arthur Hobbs making big tackles, Kiante Northington making big pass breakups, Monte Lewis pestering the offensive line and getting sacks. It’s clear they are capable of doing these things, but we haven’t seen much of it lately and that’s a big reason the Blackjacks are in a little slump. Sometimes it takes a big game where most people are betting against you, this game has the potential to make every player bring their ‘A’ game and play at their highest levels. It won’t all just be riding on the shoulders of the defense; the offense will have to elevate their play as well.
An area that many people may not take notice of also will have to bring it to another level on Saturday. The offensive line for the Blackjacks has been a little spotty of late. Before Hippeard left with an injury, he was left picking himself up off the ground on several occasions in Week 8. The Soul had three recorded sacks and forced Hippeard/Smith to look uncomfortable on the field at times.
With Albany Empire big man Joe Sykes coming for the quarterback, the offensive line will need to protect whoever is under center on Saturday. Sykes has 4.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. The Blackjacks were dealing with some new players joining the team last week so a full week of practice should build some chemistry. The Blackjacks need to play like their playoff lives depend on it because they do not want to be chasing teams with only three games remaining to close the gap after Week 9. It all unfolds Saturday afternoon at the Times Union Center.
Fans can secure their season tickets for the Atlantic City Blackjacks now with a $50 deposit per seat ($75 for VIP seats) by calling 609-783-9494 or by going to ACBlackjacks.com. A team representative will contact those that have submitted a deposit within a week to select your specific seats, which will be done in order in which deposits were received.
Atlantic City Blackjacks 2019 Season Presented by Tropicana Atlantic City.