The Soul are one win away from extending their season.
After a roller-coaster campaign, the Soul will have an opportunity on Saturday not only to make a statement against the No. 1 team in the Arena Football League, the Albany Empire, but also to clinch their eighth straight playoff appearance. And if they win their remaining three games, they likely will rise to a higher seed.
“We know if we win this game we’re ... guaranteed one of those spots in the playoffs, and that’s all we can ask for,” Soul coach Clint Dolezel said.
The Soul (5-4) will host the Empire (8-1) at 3:30 p.m., Saturday, at the Wells Fargo Center. The Empire won the teams’ previous meeting in May, 57-48. The Soul will play them twice over the next four weeks.
The Soul are tied for second place in the six-team AFL with the Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade. The top four teams will advance to the playoffs. The Soul also would clinch a postseason berth if the fifth-place Atlantic City Blackjacks (3-6) lose another game.
After reinventing themselves on defense, triggering a 3-1 record over the last four games, the Soul will face their toughest test Saturday. Empire receivers Malachi Jones and Quentin Sims are a handful. In the May game, Jones obliterated the Soul’s defense, with 137 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Sims went for 25 yards and two touchdowns.
Sims leads the league with 23 receiving touchdowns. Jones is second with 18.
Defensive lineman Sean Daniels said the Soul will try to contain the Albany passing game by pressuring quarterback Tommy Grady. Grady, though, has not been sacked this season.
“I think it’s a testament to their offense,” Daniels said. “It will be a great test to show us what kind of defense we are. Now, we have to pin our ears back and get to him, because if he doesn’t throw the ball, these receivers don’t get to touch it.”
Dolezel said he doesn’t necessarily want his team to have the ball early in the game. He wants Albany’s offense on the field as long as possible. When the fourth quarter rolls around, in his thinking, the Soul will be the more resilient and fresher and can take advantage.