WATERTOWN — Coming off a tough loss on the road, Keenan Randle and his Watertown Red and Black teammates know they can be better as a team.
Though the Red and Black (1-1) isn’t off to the strongest start by its standards, the team possesses one of the league’s most potent rushing attacks.
Three Watertown players are collectively ranked 1-2-3 in rushing in the Empire Football League — Justin Stevenson, Randle and Kalon Jeter.
Stevenson and Jeter are both quarterbacks for the Red and Black and Randle is in his first season as a running back.
Watertown, coming off a 28-14 loss at Syracuse last Saturday, will look to rebound when it plays at undefeated Glens Falls (2-0) at 7 tonight at East Field.
“It was a tough game,” Randle, a power runner who also possesses quickness, said at Tuesday’s practice.
“If anything we can take out of it, it would be to just stick with the game plan, it would be to really exercise exactly what was practiced.”
Through two games, Stevenson leads the league in rushing with 150 yards on nine carries and Randle isn’t too far behind with 144 yards on 28 carries. Jeter ranks third in the circuit with 139 rushing yards on 14 carries.
“It has definitely been quite the experience,” Randle said. “It’s been forever since I’ve been able to play running back, so being able to play for the Red and Black, it’s a breath of fresh air.”
Randle is encouraged by Watertown’s look on offense so far.
“Most definitely, we have the speed on the outside, we have the power down the middle,” he said. “We have strong O-linemen, we have a very balanced and well put together team.”
Randle is in his second season with the Red and Black as he played defense in 2019, mainly outside linebacker.
“I love it, it’s a whole new feeling from playing on defense,” said Randle, listed at 5-foot-10 and 240 pounds. “I played on defense here a year before last, due to COVID we didn’t get a chance to play last season, but most definitely it’s a breath of fresh air.”
Randle scored his first touchdown of the season, on a two-yard run in the fourth quarter at Syracuse.
“The last time I played running back was in high school, in 2016, it’s been forever,” said Randle, a Fort Drum soldier. “I grew up in Horn Lake, Miss., it’s a little town right there at the tip of Mississippi right there before you get to the Memphis area. So I had a lot of competition and a lot of big guys to run up against, so when it comes down to running the ball and not having fear, it’s just one of the things that I have.”
“Keenan had a great game against Syracuse,” Watertown offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said. “We got him quite a few carries, no negative plays, regardless if he gets hit at the line, he’s always going with his strength and his physicality, he’s going to gain yardage.”
Levine continued: “He had a nice touchdown run, he marched us down the field a few times. We used a couple times while on play action, we just didn’t connect with our plan off the play action. We’ve just got to keep giving him the ball, he’s a good runner.
“We’re going to change up the system a little bit, maybe, go to a fullback with him or go with two backs in the backfield for a little more pass protection and he did a great job on that, too, he had a great game.”
Randle’s touchdown came after the game was out of reach for the Red and Black, which committed two costly turnovers. With Watertown driving late in the first half deep in Syracuse territory, a Smash defender intercepted the ball and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 Smash lead at halftime.
“We just made too many mistakes,” Watertown coach George Ashcraft said. “We had turnovers in the red zone and they’re backbreakers, because we’re getting ready to score and we don’t. We had two of them and we had two or three breakdowns in defensive coverage that makes the other team’s wide receivers look like they’ve done a great job, but if you turn left and they go right, it’s an easy six points.”
Defensively, the Red and Black yielded several big passing plays, including touchdown passes of 40, 50 and 60 yards by Syracuse.
Ashcraft and the coaching staff continues to be impressed by Randle’s play.
“We moved the ball and we’ve got a true running back in Keenan Randle,” Ashcraft said. “He proved that he can be what we knew he could be. He’s a horse and he never had a negative yardage carry. I barked something to him on the second or third carry because he kind of sugar-stepped sideways and he still picked up a yard or two. I knew if he hit that hole immediately, he would of had green grass for at least eight to 10. And I said that to him and he just turned and said ‘no problem coach,’ and he did it after that.
“He did just what you wanted him to do when you asked it, he did it and he proved himself. He’s the real deal.”
The setback came a week after Watertown rolled to a 34-7 season-opening victory at home over Plattsburgh at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“The team psyche right now, I would say dealing with the win the first week we played, dealing with that win, people did get a little lax,” Randle said. “Now I feel as though they’ve been humbled and we didn’t lose to Syracuse because they were a better team, because they were not. We lost to Syracuse because we knew we beat ourselves.”
“Unfortunately we struggled again in the passing game,” Levine said. “When have guys open, we’re just not getting the ball there right now and that’s what we have to work on. If that comes together, we’re going to be tough, because we can run the ball.”
While Watertown has started the season strong on the ground, Glens Falls does much of its damage through the air, led by quarterback Bryant Ward, who has thrown for 383 yards through two games and four touchdowns.
Tonight’s game is the second of a three-game stretch on the road for the Red and Black, which will play at Plattsburgh next Saturday.
“We just didn’t play well and I won’t make any excuses for that, we didn’t play 60 minutes of football,” Ashcraft said. “We know that we can be better and we know that we’re a better team.”
After a league-wide bye week over Labor Day weekend, Watertown will host Glens Falls on Sept. 11 and host Syracuse on Sept. 18 to complete the regular season.
“So I feel like off that kind of loss, the offense and defense of the Red and Black all together, they will be definitely be more aware and definitely be more disciplined for the next game to come,” Randle added.