ALBANY, N.Y. -- Experience is nice, but the talent of the Albany Empire proved too much for the Philadelphia Soul to overcome Sunday night in the Arena Football League championship game.
League MVP Tommy Grady threw six touchdown passes, four to Quentin Sims, and the Soul were beaten by the Empire, 45-27, in ArenaBowl 32 in front of 12,042 at Times Union Center.
The Soul (9-6), the No. 3 seed in the six-team league, were seeking their fourth overall Arena title and third in the past four years. The Empire (13-2) were the top seed and led the league in virtually every offensive category, holding down six of the eight spots on the all-Arena first-team offense.
“Somebody’s got to win the game, somebody’s got to lose the game,” Soul coach Clint Dolezel said. “Tonight it was us. It was their night. They played with a lot of energy. We had it, too, but we just didn’t make the right plays at the right time.”
It was 35-21 at halftime in favor of Albany, which widened its lead on the opening possession of the second half on a 6-yard pass from Grady to fullback Mykel Benson, a former Soul player.
The Soul, who had eight players on their roster from the 2016 and 2017 championship teams, consumed 6:25 of the clock on the subsequent nine-play drive but couldn’t score on four plays inside the Empire 2. Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh was tackled for a loss by ex-Soul player Jeramie Richardson on fourth down.
Albany’s defense stopped the Soul in a similar situation late in the fourth quarter, failing four times from the 1-yard line, to seal the outcome.
“That’s our bread-and-butter usually, inside the 2-yard line, with our run game and our little screen package” Dolezel said. “They were all over the screens, and they held us a lot. We’ve got to be able to run the ball from the 1-yard line, and we couldn’t.”
Early on, it was the Soul who controlled the game. They scored on their first possession, a 34-yard pass from Raudabaugh to Darius Prince, then created a turnover on Albany’s initial drive. James Romain forced a fumble by Albany’s Malachi Jones, and Tyrell Robinson recovered at the Philly 22.
The momentum immediately shifted to the Empire when Raudabaugh was intercepted by Maurice Leggett, who returned the ball 54 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
“We score right off the bat on a big play down the field, and we strip the ball and get a turnover,” Dolezel said. “Two plays later, we get a pick with somebody open. It definitely changed the momentum of the game. We go up 14, who knows? It would be a different outcome.”
Each team scored again before the end of the first quarter, but Raudabaugh began the second quarter with four straight incompletions. That resulted in a critical turnover on downs for the Empire, who took their first lead on a 6-yard pass from Grady to Simms with 9:59 to play in the first half.
The Soul managed to steal a possession in the second quarter. After a Raudabaugh-to-Prince connection tied the game at 21, former Albany kicker Kenny Spencer successfully executed an onside kick, recovered by Kyle Chandler.
That possession was lost immediately when Prince fumbled after a pass from Raudabaugh, and Leggett recovered. Albany scored on the next play, a 25-yard pass from Grady to Sims.
“They only scored 45 points,” Dolezel said. “We had a stop or two in there. We had them kick a field goal. We had a fumble recovery. We got an onside kick. The opportunities were there.”