The Albany Empire won the coin toss, flipped by the honorary captain “Touchdown” Eddie Brown. They elected to defer to the second half, giving the Philadelphia Soul the ball to start the game. Before the kickoff, the Albany Empresses cheerleaders took the field before the introduction of the Empire players and their honorary captain. Everything about the Arena Bowl felt like another away game for the Soul. As much as Albany was a great city to host the Arena Bowl because of the following the Empire has, I couldn’t help but think that a neutral site for a championship game is needed.
Rob Keefe commented about having the home-field advantage in Arena Bowl 32. After hearing his take, it put in perspective just how special the Arena Bowl in Albany was for the Empire. Keefe stated, “the fans, I cannot thank them enough. This is the place, where again, it works. You go to the grocery store, you go to the gas station, you walk into any bar or restaurant here and they know who you are. They care about you.”
In the first quarter, Dan Raudabaugh began the game with a thirty-four-yard touchdown pass to Darius Prince. The Albany crowd wasn’t as loud at the beginning of the game, seemingly taking the crowd out of the game early. The Albany Empire came out to answer, but James Romain forced a fumble on Malachi Jones after catching a pass from Tommy Grady. Tyrell Robinson recovered the fumble from Jones, but was hurt on the play and would not return to the game.
Clint Dolezel commented on Tyrell Robinson’s injury after the game, “it didn’t help, that’s for sure. The kid was playing at a high level. Recovered a fumble. I thought we had a really good plan for our secondary. To hold them to that and then lose him, we definitely missed him several plays they had big chunks of yardage on.”
Dan Raudabaugh and the Philadelphia Soul offense had the opportunity to extend the lead, but Raudabaugh threw a pass into coverage that was intercepted by Maurice Leggett. The interception return for a touchdown would be a new Arena Bowl record at fifty-four yards. Early on in the first quarter, this was a big momentum-changing play. Raudabaugh regrouped on offense and would find BJ Bunn for a thirty-eight-yard touchdown, regaining the lead of the game at 14-7. Bunn had a great game in his first Arena Bowl in place of Aaron Wascha. Clint Dolezel commented, “man, he’s a great player. One of our several rookies that stepped up and played well for us. He’s very good after the catch. He had a long touchdown on the fake, little screen we had there. He deserved it. I was happy to get him back in there.” It wouldn’t be long after for Tommy Grady to answer back with an eleven-yard touchdown to Quentin Sims. The first quarter would end, tied at 14.
The Philadelphia Soul continued their drive into the second quarter and would eventually stall after Dan Raudabaugh’s pass to Lonnie Outlaw for first down yardage was dropped on fourth down. About as quickly as the Albany Empire scored previously, Tommy Grady linked back up with Quentin Sims again for a six-yard touchdown. This would be the first lead for the Empire. The Soul came back out on offense and tied the game back at 21 after Raudabaugh connected with Darius Prince on a four-yard touchdown. Kenny Spencer and the Philadelphia special teams attempted an onside kick and it was recovered successfully by Kyle Chandler. A play later, Albany’s Terence Moore forced a fumble on Prince, recovered by Maurice Leggett. Defensive plays were being made by the Empire and the story so far was that the turnover battle was being lost by Philadelphia.
One play after Darius Prince’s fumble, Tommy Grady completed another touchdown to Quentin Sims, this time for twenty-five yards. Taking a page right out of Clint Dolezel’s strategy, the Albany Empire attempted an onside kick off the foot of Adrian Trevino and recovered by Terence Moore. Unlike the Philadelphia Soul, the Empire would cash in on the successful onside kick recovery when Grady would once again throw another touchdown to Sims for eleven yards. At halftime, the separation in the score began. The Empire led the Soul, 35-21.
Continued on the page below.