WATERTOWN — In a highly anticipated late-season showdown, Kalon Jeter and his Watertown Red and Black teammates delivered in a big way on Saturday night.
Jeter rushed for two touchdowns in the first half, and threw for another, and the Red and Black defense forced seven turnovers en route to rolling to 33-14 victory over the Syracuse Smash at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
With the triumph, Watertown secured the Empire Football League’s regular-season title and also locked up the top seed in the playoffs.
“We got off to a really good start, we were able to be explosive and that was extremely important,” said Jeter, who is in his first season as Watertown’s quarterback. “This is the only team that’s beat us all season, so to be able to take that back is really unexplainable. So it was great feeling to come take that and to take it home.”
While one streak ended for the Red and Black as it yielded its first touchdown in four games, another continued as it won its fourth consecutive game.
“I thought it was absolutely terrific on both sides of the ball,” Watertown coach George Ashcraft said. “I’ve been saying this all along, the offense is starting to gel and it looked very good tonight. And defensively, we got like seven turnovers and that’s what it’s all about.”
With the win, Watertown (5-1) also clinched home field throughout the playoffs, which begin in two weeks.
“You couldn’t ask for more effort from this team,” Watertown veteran linebacker Connor Brown said. “Coming in against a strong team like them after we lost to them earlier in the year, we played flawless, just flawless.”
Avenging a loss at Syracuse in the second week of the season, this time the Red and Black scored on its first four possessions, spearheaded by Jeter, who ran for a pair of four-yard touchdowns.
“We’ve progressed as an offense throughout the year, so now we really got the ball rolling,” Jeter said. “So we’ve just got to keep this momentum as we head into the playoffs.”
Running back Keenan Randle followed with five-yard scoring run early in the second quarter for a 20-0 Watertown advantage.
In turn, the Red and Black totaled seven takeaways, all on fumble recoveries, including four in the first half, with three leading to scores before halftime.
“Those were huge takeaways against a good offense like that, we keep them from getting the ball,” Brown said. “They have a good offense, they can spread it around and they have good athletes — and we stopped them. We had a great game plan for this week and we executed it flawlessly.”
After a field goal from Watertown’s Eric Beyler, Syracuse’s JP Choyitungiye scored on a seven-yard run with 4:49 left in the half to pull Syracuse within 23-7.
The touchdown marked the first points allowed by Watertown in 14-plus quarters, a streak that stretched back to a 28-16 loss at Syracuse on Aug. 14.
Beyler tacked on another field goal, this time from 39 yards out, and Watertown led 26-7 at halftime.
The Red and Black recovered yet another fumble, this time on Syracuse’s first possession of the second half, and two plays later wideout Dequace Jackson hauled in an 11-yard scoring pass from Jeter for a 33-7 lead with 11:04 remaining in the third quarter.
“We got a lot of takeaways that set up a lot of plays for us,” Jeter said. “And the other thing was, we able to capitalize overall on a lot of those plays. And when we did start to slow down, we tried some different things and the biggest things is prepping for the playoffs as we get ready to head that.”
Jeter paced Watertown on the ground with 60 yards on 12 carries and also completed seven of 16 passes for 116 yards through the air.
Veteran Red and Black receiver Chris Furr hauled in four passes for 61 yards and wideout Keegan Queior totaled 50 yards on three catches.
“We were very balanced on offense,” Red and Black offensive coach Jerry Levine said. “I think we really stepped up as a team tonight.”
Defensively, Watertown received fumble recoveries from Brown, Randle, Eric Mason, Jeremy Machia, Derrek Dalton, Detrevion Cherry and Daniel Jones.
After a league-wide bye week next weekend, Watertown will open the EFL playoffs by hosting either Glens Falls or Syracuse in a semifinal game on Oct. 2 at the Fairgrounds.
“That’s two weeks away, we get a bye, we get to rest some injuries, so we’ll get some guys back,” Jeter concluded. “And then we get to polish what we’ve already been working on and make something great.”
“Getting home field is real big, we just love to play at home in front of our fans,” Brown said.