Thursday, December 1 2022

ALBANY – The Albany Empire opened the 2022 season with a 59-51 loss to the Carolina Cobras on Saturday night.

“All we have to do is fix a few mistakes,” coach Tom Menas said.

Albany turned it over three times, two of which turned into Carolina touchdowns.

“This game has come down to three football games,” Menas said, referring to the turnovers. “Get rid of these three games, we win by seven.”

The first turnover was a fumble by quarterback Mike Fafaul, but Albany’s defense managed to stop. The second, a 6 pick by Trevante Long with the Empire on the 2-yard line in the third quarter, gave the Cobras a 51-31 lead.

Both teams scored eight touchdowns, but the Empire missed five 2-point conversions and one extra-point attempt, while Carolina converted four 2-point conversions and made three extra points.

“Hopefully we never have to do another 2-point conversion and we score and kick the ball and we’re up front and we don’t have to worry about it. But yeah, we’re going to have to work on that,” Menas said.

The Empire cut the gap after the second turnover to 51-37 on a stealthy QB, and stopped when Darius Prince intercepted the ball in the end zone. But on the next play, Zack Brown forced another fumble from Fafaul and collected the ball in the end zone. A successful 2-point conversion early in the fourth quarter extended Carolina’s lead to 59-37.

The Empire opened the fourth quarter with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Prince, then stopped Carolina when Kenneth McGruder intercepted Cobras quarterback Jonathan Bane in the end zone at 4th-and-out. But Carolina’s drive was more than seven minutes behind, and although the Empire got less than an eight on a one-yard touchdown pass to Antwane Grant and a 2-point conversion at the same, they didn’t were unable to recover the kick in play and the Cobras ran out the clock.

Fafaul was 21 for 30 for 251 yards, six touchdowns and an interception.

Prince, the 2021 National Arena League Offensive Player of the Year, had 11 catches for 107 yards and three touchdowns, plus a kick return touchdown. Grant had eight catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns.

Prince, along with lineman Brandon Sesay, played nearly every shot in the game under NAL’s new Ironman rules. He had five tackles and one interception on defense.

“I call (Prince) my mule because I rode him like a mule today. We used him for everything,” Menas said.

The new rules confused the referees almost as much as the players. Each team was penalized for illegal substitutions.

“They’re doing their best and we’re doing our best with this new rule system, but it was dysfunctional at best,” Menas said. “Whether I know them or not, until the guys know them, know the rules like that, the whole team knows we’re exactly on the same page, we’re going to have a hard time.”

Albany took its first lead when linebacker Nick Haag intercepted Bane inside the 10-yard line after lineman Melvin Hollins tipped the pass, which Fafaul converted into a 45-yard touchdown pass to Grant. A successful extra point gave Albany a 19-14 lead.

Carolina answered with a touchdown pass, but Prince put Albany ahead, 31-29, with a 50-yard kick return touchdown.

Bane found receiver Kendrick Ings for a touchdown on the next drive, and the Cobras didn’t give up the advantage.

The Empire suffered their first loss since June 26, 2021, in front of a crowd of 3,211 at MVP Arena.

But Menas still wasn’t worried about the team’s future.

“We lost a game last year. We won’t lose another,” he said. “We have a championship football team on the other end of this building at the moment.”

Menas previously said the first three games of the season would be the toughest. The Empire plays next week in Jacksonville.


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