WATERTOWN — For the first time in 30 years George Ashcraft’s voice won’t be booming from the Watertown Red and Black sideline during tonight’s playoff game versus Mohawk Valley.
The veteran head coach was hospitalized last weekend for an undisclosed medical condition and was away from the team during the week, and his absence will continue through this weekend. Jerry Levine will serve as head coach while Ashcraft recovers.
“I think this is going to be a highly motivated team because of George is the face, heart and soul of the Red and Black, and obviously one of my closest friends so this is a tough time seeing him have to go through this,” Levine said. “But he’s a warrior, he wanted to come (and) he was going to try to come to the game, but your health comes first. So I think this team is going to rally around the fact that their coach is not here, and they want to do something special in his honor.”
Ashcraft, who has been home since Monday, was humbled by the support he has gotten.
“Oh my god, I had all kinds of visitors last weekend when I was in the hospital,” Ashcraft said. “It’s been very nice, very humbling to have so many people reach out and care. It’s nice, there are a lot of true family friendships.”
As he rests at home, the Red and Black will try to keep its winning streak and season alive. Having not lost a game since July 27, the Red and Black’s seven-game win streak has earned them home-field advantage in the semifinals of the Empire Football League playoffs at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. Game time is at 7 p.m.
The opponent is a familiar one, the Nighthawks were in Watertown two weeks ago for the Red and Black’s regular- season finale, where Watertown won, 27-20.
The Nighthawks do pose a threat on both sides of the ball: offensively they lead the league in touchdowns with 35 on offense and four on defense, and they a league-high 27 sacks.
“This is a very dangerous team, I have seen Mohawk really grow as a team and once they got the quarterback, he’s come into his own and has made them a very credible offensive team,” Levine said. “It seems like from the first time we played them to the second time, the receivers have gained some confidence and they were shorthanded.”
The Red and Black saw how dangerous the Nighthawks’ offense can be a couple of weeks ago, Shawk Johnson threw for 159 yards and two touchdowns while J’Von Evans rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns. And Mohawk Valley was able to have this offensive success without Ron Pierce, who is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with 10.
The winner of this game will play either top-seed Tri-City or No. 4 Plattsburgh in next week’s title game. But Mohawk Valley may be the most dangerous team of all of them.
“I do [feel that way], but I don’t want to look ahead, I want to stick to who we’re playing at game time,” Red and Black wide receiver Chris Furr said.
A major emphasis heading into tonight’s game will be discipline and cutting down on unnecessary personal fouls.
“That’s one of the things George asked me to stress was we can’t have penalties,” Levine said. “We’re supposedly supposed to have neutral officials, they’re here to call a playoff game, they’re not going to want to listen to anything. They’re neutral officials, they don’t care who wins the game, they want good football play.”