Empire overcomes slow start to remain undefeated in arena football


Halfway through their first Arena National League regular season, the Albany Empire is spotless and looks down on the other five teams.

The Empire overcame a slow start to score touchdowns in their last eight possessions on Saturday night and exhausted the Orlando Predators 68-40 at the Amway Center in Orlando.

Tommy Grady, statistically the NAL’s top passer, threw six touchdown passes, four to Darius Prince. Grady finished 24 for 31 for 259 yards. Prince had 10 catches for 133 yards and Phillip Barnett made 13 receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

And it’s a team that will add Malachi Jones, the 2019 Arena Football League Offensive Player of the Year, to their receiving corps in time for next Saturday night’s game in Jacksonville.

“Everyone thinks I’m crazy about the score, but we’re a better football team than this,” Empire coach Ron Menas said by phone after the game. “We’re just going to improve this week and get ready for Jacksonville.”

In four games, the Empire (4-0) has been the dominant team in the league, averaging 69 points per game and 22 points over their opponents. At first, it didn’t seem like Albany was coming close to either of those totals.

Albany, despite two touchdowns rushed by Derrick Ross, was led by 11 points behind in the first half. After scoring on 12 of 13 possessions in last week’s 83-58 home win over Carolina, the Empire was stopped on back-to-back practices, allowing the Predators to take a 20-9 lead.

After stopping Orlando at the Predators’ 10-yard line in the first quarter, the Empire couldn’t get the ball into the end zone after four tries. Brian Hicks of Orlando delivered one of his four halftime pass touchdowns to give Orlando a 13-9 lead.

On the next drive, Josh Jenkins intercepted Grady in the end zone. It was only the second time all season that Grady was pulled over. Hicks converted the turnover to a 20-9 lead over the Predators, Albany’s biggest deficit of the season.

“We didn’t play our best game in every facet of the game,” Menas said. “We had a slow offensive start at the start, and defensively we had our struggles. Our special teams were good at the way we shot those two points, but we haven’t played our football yet.”

Kicking played a key role in keeping Albany in control. In addition to hitting his eight point-after touchdown kicks, Craig Peterson produced a “tie” three times – the NAL’s two-point reward for sending a kickoff through the uprights. Peterson scored 14 points in the game.

It was 27-16 when Grady threw his first touchdown pass, 44 yards to Prince 4:21 before halftime. The Empire made a defensive save with 42 seconds left in the half, as Orlando’s DJ Myers dropped a fourth assist in the end zone. Grady led Albany’s offense for 41 yards in just 33 seconds, topped off by a 4-yard throw to Prince with nine seconds left.

The Empire, who got the ball early in the second half, traded touchdowns with the Predators midway through the fourth quarter. That’s when Nhyre Quinerly intercepted a pass from Brian Hicks to help put the Empire in control.

Hicks, although he missed several games late in the third quarter with injury, threw for 208 yards on 21 passes on 37 and six touchdowns.

Albania 9 23 14 22 – 68
Orlando 13 14 6 7 – 40
First shift
Orl-Myers 4 pass fromicks (missed kick)
Alb-Ross 3 run (Peterson kick)
Alb-Peterson two
Orl-Epps 29 pass from Hicks (kick from Leon)
Second quarter
Hicks Orl-Raspberry 20 pass (Leon kick)
Alb-Ross 3 run (Peterson kick)
Hicks Orl-Epps 13 pass (Leon kick)
Alb-Prince 44 pass from Grady (Peterson kick)
Alb-Prince 4 assists from Grady (Peterson kick)
Alb-Peterson two
Third quarter
Alb-Barnett 5 pass from Grady (Peterson kick)
Hicks Orl-Epps 17 pass (missed kick)
Alb-Prince 8 pass from Grady (Peterson kick)
Fourth trimester
Orl-Epps 10 pass from Hicks (kick from Leon)
Alb-Barnett 9 pass from Grady (Peterson kick)
Alb-Peterson two
Alb-Prince 15 pass from Grady (Peterson kick)
Pindell Pass Alb-Petit-Frere 2 (failed race)

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