Stat Pack Attack Week 8: The Empire Strikes Back

by David Taylor

Football is a game where you have to have a short memory. If you dwell too much on past mistakes, (a loss, an interception, a dropped pass), or get too comfortable during a win streak, teams can get stuck in a hole they can’t crawl out of.

The Albany Empire looked like they were in too deep after the first 33:32 of their game against the Washington Valor. The Valor had a chance to break the game, and the league, wide open, before back to back fumbles lead to the lead being cut to just six points headed to the fourth.

With the ball on the Empire four yard line, and a one possession lead, the Valor chose not to go for the field goal and go for the touchdown, leading to an interception and giving Tommy Grady and Albany the ball back with 1:04 left.

The Empire would score with 12 seconds left, thanks to an amazing pass from Grady to Quentin Sims on fourth down. An Empire pick would end the game, and give Albany the 56-55 win.

Albany scored 42 points in the second half, the most since July 7, 2018 when the Philadelphia Soul scored 43 points in a 71-57 loss to, strangely enough, the Albany Empire.

Unfortunately for the Valor, they go down in the record books as the team who blew the third largest lead in AFL history, as they lead by 27 points at one point in the game. The largest blown deficit was when the Pittsburgh Power overcame a 31 point deficit to knock of the Orlando Predators in 2012.††

With the win, Albany becomes the first team to clinch one of the four AFL playoff spots. The Baltimore Brigade sit two games back in second and are the AFL’s hottest team after two huge wins over Albany and Columbus. The Valor and Soul are currently just a game back, both 4-4, while Atlantic City is just one spot out of the playoffs at 3-5. Columbus sits in last place at 1-7 but with four games left in the regular season, the Destroyers still have an outside chance

Standings (As of June 16, 2019)

Team                                     Record
Albany Empire                        7-1
Baltimore Brigade                   5-3
Washington Valor                    4-4
Philadelphia Soul                     4-4
Atlantic City Blackjacks           3-5
Columbus Destroyers             1-7

Bold = Clinched Playoff Berth

Week Eight Results:
Baltimore 44 Columbus 39
Albany 56 Washington 55
Philadelphia 54 Atlantic City 29

Joe Hills Makes History

In what would’ve been the lead story this weekend in the AFL if it wasn’t for the Empire’s epic come back, Joe Hills made not just AFL history, but football history.

With 3:23 left in the first quarter in Columbus, Hills caught an 11 yard pass from Shane Boyd, giving him his 100th straight game with a touchdown reception.

Hills had already broken the league record when he played for the Tampa Bay Storm, catching a pass in his 79th straight game in 2017 against, oddly enough, the Baltimore Brigade.

To truly appreciate Hills record, the NFL record for most consecutive games with a touchdown reception is 13 by hall of famer Jerry Rice.

Joe Hills doesn’t look to be done this season. He’s tied for third in the AFL with 17 touchdown receptions, and now ranks eighth all time with 276 receiving touchdowns.

League Lookback: The Largest Come Back In AFL History

On April 14, 2012, the Pittsburgh Power took on the Orlando Predators in an early season clash. The Predators were sitting at 0-4, looking for their first win.

And for 38:25 of game time, it looked like they would, as the Preds would pull away for a 48-17 lead.

The Power would go on a 34-3 run, including a touchdown catch by Randy Hymes with 37 seconds left to tied the game at 51.

In overtime, Orlando would get another field goal, but Christian Wise would catch his only pass of the game, a 19 yard reception for the game winning touchdown for the Pittsburgh Power in the largest come from behind win in AFL history.

The loss would give the Predators their first ever 0-5 start in team history. Orlando would finish 4-14, while Pittsburgh would finish 5-13 with two wins over the Predators.

Game of the Week: Baltimore at Washington

I’m going to bookend this week’s Stat Pack with how I started, you have to have a short memory in football.

Washington will need a short memory to rebound this week after such a heartbreaking loss. Baltimore will need a short memory to continue their winning streak.

The key payer this week is the Valor QB Arvell Nelson. Nelson went 23-for-34 with 262 yards and six touchdowns but threw two interceptions in the last two minutes of the game.

He’ll be facing a tough Brigade defense that tallied four sacks last week against Columbus. Darryl-Cato Bishop has made a case for Defensive Player of the Year this season, as the former NC State Wolfpack defender has four sacks, four and a half tackles for loss and has forced two fumbles.

Dezmon Epps will need to be a factor as he had four receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown last week.

This Week’s Games

June 20, 2019
Baltimore Brigade (5-3) @ Washington Valor (4-4) — 7:00 PM

June 22, 2019
Atlantic City BlackJacks (3-5) @ Albany Empire (7-1) — 3:30 PM
Philadelphia Soul (4-4) @ Columbus Destroyers (1-7) — 7:00 PM

The Collapse

by Bee Jay Glosson

Week 8 brought the match-up of the number 1 and number 2 candidates for the AFL MVP competition with Tommy Grady and Arvell Nelson leading their teams in battle.  This would be the third time this regular season that these two teams met, with the first 2 being decided by less than 10 points. 

This game would however see the Albany Empire have their worst half of the entire season, scoring on only 2 out of 5 drives in the first half, losing the ball on a fumble, an interception and downs on the other 3.

The Valor on the other hand would score on 5 out of 6 possessions with the only exception being when time expired going into the half.

The Valor would go into the half with a 34-14 lead that was built with Arvell Nelson finding 4 different receivers for touchdowns and running one in himself.  The first half was the best half the Valor have played all year and the worst the Empire have played, but there are 2 halves to a game and one half doesn’t win games without the other half being played too.

The second half would bring a few different things that would include the third largest comeback in AFL history of 27 points to win the game.

This game will forever go down in Valor history known as “The Collapse.” After the first half saw the Valor offense score 5 separate times, the second half would only see the Valor offense score on 2 possessions.  The Empire would capitalize on the mistakes and miscues of the Valor and would score 6 times in the second half with their final score coming with just 12 seconds left in the game to take the final lead 56-55.

The Valor’s kicking woes continued as Clarke would miss yet another point after attempt that would end up being the difference in the 1 point loss. 

It is clear that the head coach doesn’t have confidence in his kicker as he had the opportunity for a late field goal to ice the game and instead went for it on 4th down and were stopped.  After the game when asked why he didn’t go for the field goal the head coach, Benji McDowell said “that’s 100% on me..that was my decision to go for it there and no one should get the blame but me.”

As I am a fan first, and a writer/reporter second, I can tell you this game was the worst gut punch I have ever experienced as a Valor fan.  Even with Arvell Nelson having a day that saw him score on 6 touchdown passes to 5 different receivers and punching one in on the ground, the fact that the Valor choked a 27 point lead in the game away will over shadow anything that anyone could do.  After the game when I spoke with Will Corbin, he said “We took our foot off the pedal and their throat and gave them the spark they needed. We have to find a way to pick ourselves up and get ready for our next game against Baltimore.”

The regular season woes facing Albany continue as the Valor cant find a way to beat the Empire during the regular season again.  The Valor have beaten the Empire during the playoffs as they did last year to punch their ticket to the Arena Bowl and eventual title last year, and will only get another shot at Albany again if the Valor can fight their way into the playoffs as the Empire with this victory punched their own playoff ticket and will be waiting to find out who they will play.

Two-thirds on the way through the season we see the Valor in third place with their next game against their beltway rivals, the Baltimore Brigade, this Thursday for a chance to move into second place with a win.  This game is the beginning of a 4 game stretch which will see the Valor play the Brigade twice in 4 weeks and will help define what the Valor’s season will shape into. 

As much as this loss hurt, look for the Valor to bounce back and get back on track this week as Arvell Nelson continues his MVP campaign with his league leading total touchdowns and league leading rushing yards and touchdowns. 

There is plenty blame to go around for what happened on the field this past Saturday but blame doesn’t win games.  Just like the Valor have to pick themselves up and push forward, us fans must do the same.  It won’t be easy to get the taste out of our mouths but it’s just 1 loss in the grand scheme of things and the playoffs are still a real possibility.  As always, be loud, be proud and Go Valor.

AFL Week Eight Preview and Picks!

Week 7 was brutal from a picks standpoint. Hopefully week 8 will be a little more kind. Here is what is happening this week:

Philadelphia Soul Team Identity - Primary Logo

(3-4) Atlantic City Blackjacks vs. Philadelphia Soul (3-4)

Neither Atlantic City nor Philadelphia expected to be coming into this matchup at 3-4, but that is how week 7 turned out for them. Atlantic City lost to Columbus, giving the Destoyers their first win of the season. Philadelphia lost to Washington, losing the head to head tiebreaker against the Valor. This weekend’s game will likely determine which of these two teams makes the playoffs. Neither team can afford to drop to two games under .500, so this one will be a slugfest.

Player to Watch: WR Lamark Brown, Atlantic City. Brown was the Draft Kings Fantasy Football Player of the Week for his 12 reception, 150 yard, and 5 touchdown game against Columbus. Look for Brown to exploit the Philadelphia secondary this week, as injuries along the defensive line have placed an extra burden on the Soul defensive backs.

Prediction: Soul 47, Blackjacks 44

(6-1) Albany Empire vs. Washington Valor (4-3)

The Empire fell! Albany lost 42-41 over the weekend to Baltimore. The Empire was assessed a celebration penalty prior to the game-tying extra point, which led to a rare miss by kicker Adrian Trevino. Meanwhile, Washington got a statement victory against Philadelphia over the weekend. A Valor win over the Empire would put the teams just one game apart in the standings. Suddenly, Albany is no longer looking like the team that will run away from the rest of the league. The winner of this game will set the tone for the rest of the season.

Player to Watch: Quarterback Arvell Nelson, Washington Valor. Nelson is the leading fantasy football player in the AFL this season. He looks better and better each week and will be extra motivated this week as the Valor and Empire rivalry is the best one on the league right now.

Prediction: Empire 48, Valor 44

(4-3) Baltimore Brigade vs. Columbus Destroyers (1-6)

Baltimore just beat the best team in the league. Now, they face the worst team in the league. Baltimore has been remarkably steady this year, alternating wins and losses. This is the week for the Brigade to end up in the L column again. Columbus, on the other had, finally found their way into the win column last week. The Destroyers will more than likely have to win out to make the playoffs, so look for a sense of urgency for Columbus.

Player to Watch: WR Keyattus Cook, Columbus Destroyers. Cook was activated from injured reserve just prior to last week’s game and made an instant impact, catching 3 passes for 59 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Prediction: Columbus 42, Brigade 41

Here are our staff picks for this week: