WATERTOWN — The Watertown Red and Black hasn’t played a home game in more than a month, but it has excelled on the road in recent weeks.
Watertown enters tonight’s game against the Glens Falls Greenjackets as the top team in the Empire Football League.
The Red and Black, which has won its past two games, both by shutouts and both away from the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, will look to build on that momentum when it hosts the Greenjackets at 7 p.m.
“Very much so,” Watertown coach George Ashcraft said of looking forward to his team finally playing at home. “Those three road trips, we got through those well, so we’ll be fine.”
Watertown (3-1) stands alone in first place in the league and sits a game ahead of both Glens Falls and Syracuse, both 2-2, in the standings.
Also leading the circuit in points scored (73) as well as in fewest points allowed with 35, the Red and Black has ridden its defense to its recent success.
“You can credit the whole team for those wins, we’ve done pretty well on the road,” Watertown defensive end Jeremy Machia said. “Especially the defense getting the shutout in both games, it’s tough to do that, especially away games, but we got it done.”
Watertown shut down Glens Falls, 9-0, on Aug. 21 in Glens Falls, then won, 14-0, at Plattsburgh on Aug. 28.
“The defense played very stellar, the special teams did their jobs,” Ashcraft said. “Offensively, like me and like (offensive) coach (Jerry Levine) talk about all the time, if we didn’t drop the ball a few times, we would be putting more touchdowns on the board. The dropped balls are what’s killing us offensively.”
Defensive end Dawayne Balcom led the way for the Red and Black against Plattsburgh, recording two interceptions, including returning one 45 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to help seal the victory.
“He had a real good game for us,” Ashcraft said of Balcom. “He’s played well for us.”
Balcom leads the league in interceptions with three, and teammate Tevin O’Steen is tied for second in the circuit in the category with the Greenjackets’ Jeff Dorvee with two each. O’Steen also has scored a score on an interception return.
Connor Brown, Derrek Dalton and Machia rank first through third in the league in solo tackles.
“Basically, like everybody knows their assignments, like we all play as one unit,” Machia said of Watertown’s defense. “Because we’re all like cogs in an engine and everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to do.”
Conversely, the Red and Black’s offense has scored just enough to contribute in the past two wins.
“We’re getting better, we just have to keep making progress,” Levine said. “Hopefully we’re going to open it up more on offense and we’re home, which will be nice.”
The offense has scored only one touchdown in each of these games, including a 10-yard scoring run by quarterback Kalon Jeter at Plattsburgh.
“But we’re getting over it, we’re a work in progress,” Ashcraft said. “But we’ll be fine, I’m happy with what we have going on, I’m happy with the attitude on this team.”
“We’re doing (well), we’ve got our confidence up,” Red and Black first-year wide receiver Tequace Jackson said. “We’re starting to get our chemistry back together, we’re starting to open up our passing game and our defense is really playing well.”
Tonight’s game is the first of two straight at home to close out the regular season for Watertown, which will host Syracuse at 7 p.m. next Saturday at the Fairgrounds. Tonight also serves as the Red and Black’s military appreciation night.
“It’s just real nice, real nice to be able to play in front of our fans finally,” said Jackson, a Fort Drum soldier who is from Birmingham, Ala. “We’ve been having a lot of away games, so it’s nice to finally be home.”
The Red and Black can actually clinch the regular-season title in the league today with a win and a Syracuse loss to Plattsburgh.
“We should suit up 45 to 50 (players) this week and keep rolling, hopefully,” Ashcraft said.