The Washington Valor were defeated, 57-56, in overtime by the Albany Empire Saturday night at Capital One Arena in the first meeting of a two-game semifinal series. Valor quarterback Arvell Nelson totaled eight touchdowns (six passing, two rushing) and was named Offensive Player of the Game. Valor defensive back Fred Obi tallied 10 tackles, all solo, and an interception, earning Defensive Player of the Game honors.
Washington must now win Game 2 of the series by at least two points to advance to ArenaBowl XXXI. Game 2 will take place next Saturday, July 21, at 7:30 p.m. at Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS Sports Network.
“We played very well,” Valor Interim Head Coach Benji McDowell said after the game. “We left a lot of plays on the field – bar balls, catches, dropped balls. We just have to clean up those types of things. Our guys fought, we can’t be mad at them…We have a chance to go back up [to Albany]…it is all about the points.”
Albany wasted no time getting on the board, taking a 7-0 lead just over a minute into the first quarter on a 24-yard pass from quarterback Tommy Grady to wideout Malachi Jones. On their first play from scrimmage, the Valor answered – Nelson hit wide receiver Jared Dangerfield down the sideline for a 38-yard touchdown, evening the game at seven apiece. Dangerfield has now scored in three of his last four games. A six-play, nearly five-minute drive from Albany ended with a two-yard rushing touchdown from Mykell Benson, retaking the lead. On Washington’s following possession, Nelson scrambled after feeling pressure from the defensive line and ran for a 16-yard touchdown – his seventh rushing touchdown of the season. Consecutive stops by both defenses – a Washington interception of Grady and a turnover on downs forced by the Albany defense – set the tone for a second quarter that saw only 14 total points. Washington and Albany each scored on passing touchdowns in the final minute to set the score at 21-21 going into halftime.
After a Washington turnover on downs on their opening drive of the second half, Albany took a 28-21 lead when Grady found Jones for the third time of the night. Valor wideout Reggie Gray caught his second touchdown of the night on the ensuing touchdown, a 21-yarder across the middle from Nelson, tying the game at 28. With just over three minutes left in the third quarter, Grady found wideout Greg Carr for an eight-yard score to retake the lead, 35-28. Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, Valor wideout Doug McNeil III scored his fifth touchdown in three games with Washington, tying the game at 35. Jones’ fourth touchdown of the night – a six-yard pass from Grady – gave Albany a 42-35 lead before Nelson once again tied the game on a rushing touchdown. Empire wideout Joe Hills caught his first touchdown of the game with 51 seconds left in regulation, but the Valor responded, scoring just three seconds later on Gray’s third receiving touchdown of the night, tying the game at 49. Albany missed a field goal on the following possession and set Washington up with a long-distance chance to win the game in regulation, but Nelson was sacked, sending the game to overtime.
Washington got the ball to start the overtime period and orchestrated a nine-play, 45-yard touchdown drive that took over eight minutes off the clock, ending with another Nelson-to-Gray connection – their fourth of the game. After a bar ball on the ensuing kickoff was ruled dead after hitting the end zone wall, Albany started their drive at the five-yard line. Grady found Hills three times on the drive, the third time a seven-yard score that brought Albany within one point. The Empire elected to go for two – and converted, winning the game, 57-56, on a Greg Carr two-point conversion.
MVP: ALB QB Tommy Grady – 25/39 passing, 340 passing yards and seven passing touchdowns
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: WAS QB Arvell Nelson – 26/38 passing, 259 passing yards and eight total touchdowns
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: WAS DB Fred Obi – 10 total tackles (all solo) and one interception
The Valor return to action next Saturday, July 21, taking on the Empire in Game 2 of the semifinal series at 7:30 p.m. at Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. Washington must win by two points to advance to ArenaBowl XXXI.
VALOR QUARTERBACK ARVELL NELSON
On tonight’s performance against Albany Empire:
“Every week we want to go into it and take what the defense gives us. We executed but we didn’t make enough plays. So, going back to the drawing board, got to make those plays next week.”
On what it would feel like to make it to the Arena Bowl:
“It would be everything, it would be everything for everyone in the locker room. We still believe…it’s the small things, we make a couple plays here and there, and we win this game easily. We still have the opportunity, next week we are going to step up to the challenge.”
VALOR INTERIM HEAD COACH BENJI MCDOWELL
On Fred Obi’s performance tonight:
“[Fred] Obi is just always consistent, he is a guy that you can put out there and just know that sooner or later he is going to make a play. He has kind of revamped himself by playing in the middle with us. I trust that guy, I really back for him… any time that I have a chance I want that guy on my team.”