WATERTOWN — Because of factors beyond their control Watertown Red and Black players haven’t played in a football game for nearly a month.
Now with finally a game in sight and the playoffs on the horizon, the Red and Black hopes to return with a vengeance tonight.
Also with first place on the line in the Empire Football League, Watertown will host the Broome County Stallions at 7 p.m. today on the team’s First Responder Night at George Ashcraft Field at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“I’ve had two-week layoffs before, but never four,” Watertown coach George Ashcraft said. “You can’t make a big deal out of it, if you make a big deal out of it, it will be a big deal and I don’t want that. It’s life. It’s like going on a week’s vacation and you get three extra ones, you try to enjoy it.”
The Red and Black enters tonight with a 10-0 record, including 9-0 in the league, while the second-place Stallions sit at 8-1.
The winner of tonight’s game will secure the top seed in the EFL playoffs, which will begin next week with a pair of semifinal games.
“Definitely,” Ashcraft said of the game being a preparation for the playoffs. “We should be healthy and that’s the only way to look at it. Because my belief is, if all goes well, we’ll play Broome County this week, next week we’ll play Auburn and the week after that we’ll play Broome again.”
Watertown’s last game was a 41-6 home victory over the Auburn Pride back on Aug. 20. The team was supposed to play at Plattsburgh on Aug. 27, but the game was canceled after the North Stars’ franchise folded for the season.
The Red and Black already had the next two weeks off, including a league-wide bye over Labor Day weekend. Also, the team’s originally scheduled game against Syracuse on Sept. 10 was canceled after the Smash had its season suspended in July following an incident during a game in Syracuse on July 16.
These events combined to provide Watertown with an unusual three-week bye, but the team continued to gather on its traditional practice days of Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“Honestly, it’s all about how you make of it is the biggest thing,” Red and Black defender Dylan Bice said. “We can either sit here and we can lay on our tails and think we’re the best and kind of prepare for the next game. But we have a lot of guys, we’ve been meeting every Tuesday and Thursday and we’ve still been practicing, a lot of guys are showing up.
“The offense is showing up heavily and usually at Thursday practice, you see a lot of the defensive guys.”
This extended time off also allowed Red and Black players to rest up and in some cases, heal up.
Watertown has plenty of motivation to win tonight, as along with clinching home field, the team is closing in on an unbeaten regular season.
“It’s not hard getting back to it,” Watertown quarterback Jason Williams said. “We’ve just got to go out on the field and do what we’ve been doing this season and win games, especially our last regular-season game.”
The Red and Black, which is 10-0 overall, including a 21-20 nonleague win at Ithaca on July 30, actually has six actual wins on the field in the league this season, with three forfeit wins.
In the last meeting with Broome County, Watertown traveled to the Southern Tier and defeated the Stallions, 31-0 on July 30.
“Especially, we have an opportunity to go undefeated during our regular season,” Bice said. “It’s a huge goal, it was a goal at the start of our season and it’s a goal going forward. We’re playing Broome County and they’re a solid, solid team and they’ve obviously made it well known that they’re the second best in the league.”
The Red and Black went into the game knowing that Broome County possessed a potent running game, but emerged with a shutout triumph.
“We have to be ready — they’re a good team, they have a good offense,” Ashcraft said of Broome County. “They’ve got a good offense, defensively they’ve got a couple people that can make your life miserable if you allow them to.”
In its six league games on the field this season, Watertown has yielded only 27 points and has recorded three shutouts.
“Defensively, we do have the best linebacker crew in this league, there’s no doubt about it,” Ashcraft said. “We’ve got people up front, Josh Lear is the most underrated defensive lineman in the league. At 5-foot-7 and 225 pounds, he doesn’t look like he can do anything, but he’s very good.”
Ashcraft remains excited about his team’s defense, even coming off the lengthy layoff.
“Defensively, we had a lot of beat up people who are healthy now, so I’m looking forward to Saturday,” he said.
Conversely, the Red and Black’s offense, which is led by Williams, has scored 229 points over these six games.
“We’ve had offensive players here at practice all three weeks,” Watertown offensive coach Jerry Levine said. “And we’ve had different guys here different nights throwing and the line’s been working well.”
Williams has passed for 1,193 yards and 16 touchdowns over the span. He also paces the team on the ground with 247 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“I think this is as good as any offense we’ve ever had, plain and simple,” Ashcraft said. “Probably better in a lot of ways.”
Williams also has a deep and talented receiving corps to work with, led by veteran wide receiver Chris Furr, who has totaled 369 yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns on only eight catches. Kalon Jeter (337 yards on 13 catches, four touchdowns), Keegan Queior (211 yards on 12 catches, one touchdown) and Dequace Jackson (184 yards on 14 catches, one touchdown) provide even more depth.
“I think my season’s been going well,” Williams said. “And we have really talented wide receivers that make easy targets, they make my job way easier.”
Rarday Burrell (178 rushing yards, three touchdowns) and Eric Washington (143 yards, four TDs) provide support in the running game, while Jamal Finkley (111 yards, one TD) has been sidelined for the rest of the season because of injury.
“I think we have more depth than any other team, we’re eight deep at wide receiver and I can say that honestly,” Levine said. “And the running game has picked up, we just haven’t been overly consistent running the ball. I think going forward, that’s something we’ve got to try and do a little bit more.”
Auburn plays Glens Falls tonight, with the winner securing the No. 3 seed in the playoffs.
“This is going to be a game where it’s better to give than receive,” Ashcraft said of facing Broome County again. “We have to give it right to them. We want to finish this proper and I really mean that ... I want us to finish 10-0 and then take if from there.”
Watertown has even loftier goals in mind long term as they are seeking to win a second straight league championship and can become the first team in franchise history to do so.
“It’s a massive opportunity,” Bice said. “It’s something the Red and Black normally doesn’t get a chance to do.”