ALBANY — The Albany Empire opened their inaugural season with a loss to the Philadelphia Soul, 56-35, Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd at the Times Union Center.
Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh threw for six touchdowns on his way to winning the Offensive Player of the Game award. Torez Jones was named Defensive Player of the Game with five tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception.
The Empire offense was led by quarterback Tommy Grady, who tossed for 529 yards and five touchdowns. His top target, Greg Carr, caught eight passes from Grady, tallying for 74 yards and two touchdowns.
“I was ecstatic with the fan base,” said Rob Keefe, head coach of the Albany Empire. “We didn’t even have a name two or three months ago and to have this many people believe in us and give us a shot, we are greatly appreciative of that.”
Philadelphia came out firing on all cylinders.
After returning the opening kickoff to nearly midfield, the Soul marched their way into the end zone, capping off their drive with a seven-yard touchdown to wide receiver Shaun Kauleinamoku.
The Empire answered right back on their first drive. Despite being the first time in game action together, the Empire gelled quickly and made their way to the end zone, capping off the first-ever offensive possession with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Carr.
The Soul wasted no time going right down the field again on their second possession.Raudabaugh found receiver Darius Prince 15 yards downfield in the back of the end zone for this first touchdown reception of the night at the end of the first quarter.
The first score of the second quarter came on a deep 27-yarder to receiver Collin Taylor, for his first touchdown as a member of the Empire.
After another Soul touchdown, the Empire recovered a failed onside kick from Philadelphia, giving Albany great field position.
The Empire capitalized with another hookup between Grady and Carr for six. To end the half, the Soul scored two touchdowns in the final minute, giving Philadelphia a 35-21 lead.
At the end of the half, Grady had 132 passing yards for three touchdowns. His counterpart, Dan Raudabaugh, compiled 110 yards for four touchdowns.
After a halftime ceremony highlighted by the retirement of Albany Firebird legend “Touchdown” Eddie Brown’s No. 17, the Empire took the ball. Despite moving the ball downfield, Philadelphia forced a turnover on a backwards pass fumble from Grady.
The Soul marched their way down for another score.
Down 42-21, the Empire made their way down the field in large part to a huge gain on the ground from fullback, Wes Mauia. The drive was completed with a short, six-yard touchdown pass from Grady to Doug McNeil III.
The next Philadelphia drive ended with a missed field goal that bounced in play and was recovered for a Soul touchdown. The Empire wasted no time responding, tossing a 48-yard touchdown to receiver, Malachi Jones.
On a crucial drive being down by only two touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter, the Empire turned the ball over on downs on the opposing three-yard line.
Philadelphia milked the clock and moved the ball down field for another score, increasing their cushion to 21.
The Empire were unable to convert on their next possession, giving the ball back to Philadelphia. The Soul maintained control until the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“We still have a long way to go, it’s a journey,” Keefe said. “I don’t want to use the excuse ‘they were two-time defending champs.’ The fans were telling me that it was a great show, and I appreciate that, but our job is to beat the two-time defending champs.”
Albany (0-1) visits the Washington Valor (0-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m.