Courtesy: Albany Empire Media Relations
Completing a monumental comeback over the Valor in Week 8, the Empire remain in first place with a 7-1 record and clinched a berth in the playoffs. Albany’s comeback from a deficit of 27 points was the third largest comeback in League history after trailing 34-7 in the second quarter. Next up, the Empire come home for a matchup against the Atlantic City Blackjacks (3-5). Albany defeated the Blackjacks in Atlantic City in Week 5 by a score of 54-35. Kickoff will be at 3:30 p.m. at the Times Union Center on Saturday, June 22 and broadcast live on MY4 Albany, ESPN 3, and Alt 105.7 FM.
The first matchup to come into play is between the Empire wide receiving unit and the Blackjacks defensive backfield. So far on the season, Albany has scored more points than any team in the League and has proven that the offense can score anytime the ball leaves Tommy Grady’s hands. The receiving unit has been simply unstoppable. Led by Malachi Jones and Quentin Sims, the duo have combined for 34 receiving touchdowns, yes 34, through the first eight games of the season. Jones tops the League with 960 receiving yards, a whopping 301 more than the next closest receiver. Sims leads the AFL with 18 touchdown grabs of his own. The Blackjacks defense has surrendered the most points in the League this season and will most likely be playing catch up all night long.
The key to an Empire victory in this matchup is for Grady to keep feeding his weapons. Last week in the 27-point comeback over the Valor, Jones and Sims combined for 17 catches for 313 yards and five touchdowns. Washington had no answer for the two as the Empire clawed their way back into game and eventually came out on top. The Blackjacks cannot just game plan around Jones and Sims though. Grady still managed to find five receivers on the night proving that he can and will spread the ball around no matter who has the hot hand. Led by rookie defensive back, Kiante Northington, the Blackjacks’ secondary has struggled all season long, tying for last in the League in interceptions. Northington has two of the team’s four total picks and has been a bright spot in his debut season. Former Empire defensive back, Arthur Hobbs, is second on the team in total tackles with 38.5 and will be looking to have a strong outing against his prior teammates. Expect the crowd to cheer a lot thanks to this matchup, as Grady and company light up the scoreboard.
The next matchup to lookout for is between the Empire’s defensive backfield versus the Blackjacks receiving unit. Albany boasts a defense that has forced more turnovers than any team in the League thus far to go along with allowing the second fewest amount of points. The Blackjacks offense has scored the second fewest amount of points on offense this season but have done a good job taking care of the ball. Throwing just six interceptions between their two quarterbacks, Atlantic City has been careful with the ball, but rank last in the League in third down conversion percentage. As turnover hungry as the Albany defense has been all season long, the Empire must not be overly aggressive as Atlantic City has proven to struggle for moving the chains all year. Conversely, the Blackjacks receiving unit ranks dead last in receiving yards and yards per reception through the team’s first eight games.
The key to victory in this matchup is for Albany to get pressure on quarterback. Though it is still a question mark who will be under center for the Blackjacks in Week 9, both options at quarterback are players that Albany has faced before. Randy Hippeard went down with an injury last week against the Philadelphia Soul, leaving backup quarterback, Warren Smith, to finish the game. Whether or not Hippeard is able to go this weekend might still be up in the air, but no matter who is at the quarterback position, Albany must apply pressure all night to force errant throws and late down situations. The Empire defensive front currently ranks second in the League with nine total sacks, half of which come from the League’s all-time sack leader, Joe Sykes. If Sykes and company can break through the Blackjacks offensive line all night, it will force the opposing quarterback to rush throws that would make it that much harder to move down field. If the Albany defense is able to force a turnover or two in this matchup, the game might be all but over early in this one.
The final matchup and key to victory for the Empire is to jump ahead early and win the first quarter. So far on the season, the Empire have scored 12 fewer points in the first quarter than they have allowed. Conversely, Atlantic City has a wider point differential at minus 18. If Albany is able to get up early and gain momentum in the first quarter, the team can do what they do best and dominate in the second quarter and ultimately put the game away. The Empire boast a plus 46-point differential in the second quarter over opponents on the season, taking leads in halftime in five of the team’s eight games. In the first matchup between the two teams, Atlantic City took a one-point lead into half time before Albany salted the game away surrendering a mere seven points in the second half on their way to a 19-point victory. The Empire would like a little more breathing room this time around, especially with their energized home crowd behind them. If Albany can win the first two quarters, then Atlantic City will have a difficult time keeping pace with the League’s most potent offense.
Fans can secure tickets for the Albany Empire by calling 518-533-2200, by going to TheAlbanyEmpire.com, or by stopping by the Empire office located in the Times Union Center. A limited number of great seats are still available! Want to bring your organization to a game, fundraise, or perform on the field? Group experiences are now on sale. Call 518-533-2200 for additional information.
Albany Empire 2019 Season Presented By CDPHP.