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ArenaBowl 32: Winner, MVP and Highlights from Soul vs. Empire 2019

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2019

Footballs sit on the field prior to an NFL football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Mike McCarn/Associated Press

The National Football League has Tom Brady.  

The Arena Football League has Tommy Grady.

Grady led the Albany Empire to the AFL championship with a 45-27 victory over the Philadelphia Soul in Sunday's ArenaBowl 32 at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York. The quarterback, who was named the league's MVP for the second straight season and the third time in his career, completed 64 percent of his passes for 200 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions en route to further recognition as the ArenaBowl 32 MVP. 

It was fitting he spearheaded the attack after he led the AFL in passing yards, passing touchdowns, completion percentage and passer rating during the regular season.

Jeff Levack @THEjefflevack

⁦Grady > Brady ⁦@Albany_Empire⁩ #UnfinishedBusiness https://t.co/RKLUyF6fgr

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

The Albany Empire win their first ArenaBowl championship! #ArenaBowl32 https://t.co/EuWeFCIswA

Grady needed plenty of help, though, to secure the Empire's first championship in team history (Albany won in 1999 when the Firebirds were the city's team). Quentin Sims caught four of Grady's five touchdown throws on his way to nine receptions for 93 yards. Elsewhere, Malachi Jones chipped in five catches for 84 yards as the only other Albany receiver with more than a single reception.

On the other side, the Soul failed to win their fourth championship in franchise history after capturing titles in 2008, 2016 and 2017.

They were something of a Cinderella story after going just 7-5 in the regular season and losing to Albany twice, although they had little trouble defeating the Washington Valor 117-74 over a two-game aggregate series in the semifinals.

Darius Prince scored twice against Washington and again thrived in the ArenaBowl with nine catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow receiver BJ Bunn (10 catches for 129 yards and one touchdown) also impressed, while quarterback Dan Raudabaugh completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 300 yards, four touchdowns and one pick.

It was that interception that proved crucial after Raudabaugh found Prince for the opening score.

ESPN @espn

Coach was ready to celebrate in the end zone after the pick-six 😂 #ArenaBowl32 https://t.co/GKB7MhqIg1

With Philadelphia up 7-0 and potentially on the doorstep of a commanding early two-score lead, Maurice Leggett intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it to the house. It was the type of defensive play and 14-point swing that can flip the script of an entire contest given the high-scoring nature of the AFL, and Sims went into takeover mode the rest of the half.

The playmaker caught four touchdowns in the first half alone, including a particularly impressive one that required a head-turning stiff arm before the goal line:

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

He stiff-armed him and stared him down from the end zone 😤 #SCtop10 https://t.co/gE9kA4cz1e

Albany Empire @Albany_Empire

This guy LIVES in the end zone! What is that, four now for @Q_Sims18??? ALB - 35 PHI - 21 22 seconds remain in the 2nd Q Rise of The Empire! #UnfinishedBusiness https://t.co/yaXa6kySfI

His individual efforts keyed a 35-21 halftime lead before Mykel Benson pushed the advantage to three scores with the only touchdown of the third quarter on a screen pass. Albany's defense deserved plenty of credit for shutting down Philadelphia's attack throughout the quarter and providing a glimpse of what was to come in the closing minutes.

The Soul were still within striking distance late in the fourth quarter thanks to an acrobatic touchdown catch from Lonnie Outlaw, but Albany's special teams answered with an Adrian Trevino field goal before the defense stuffed Philadelphia on four straight plays in front of the goal line.

Even in the Arena Football League, it takes more than just offense to win, and that stand preserved the 18-point lead and all but ended the game for the new champions.