Defense reigns in R&B victory

WATERTOWN — Facing their toughest opponent to date for the second time in three weeks, credit Charlie Hogg and his Watertown Red and Black teammates, who responded with another hard-fought and bone-jarring effort against the Syracuse Smash.

Hogg and Watertown’s defense once again shut down Syracuse for much of the game, and quarterback Kalon Jeter threw for one touchdown and ran for two others on the way to grinding out a 28-8 victory Saturday in an EFL semifinal at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

Hogg, a first-year defensive end, forced a key fumble in the fourth quarter to keep the Smash at bay.

“This feels amazing,” said Hogg, a Georgia native. “This is my first time playing football since high school and I’m in the military, so I won’t be here next week playing in the championship game. We did go out with a bang, for me at least.”

“It’s definitely a blessing,” said Red and Black linebacker Curtis Dukes, one of the team’s captains on defense. “We just spent a lot of time watching film and studying them and that’s what helped us out, especially going to practice, we just prepared for this.”

Watertown advances to the EFL championship game and will host the Glens Falls Greenjackets at 7 p.m. next Saturday at the Fairgrounds. Glens Falls beat Plattsburgh in the other semifinal, 12-0.

“The defense was fired up, everybody was flying to the ball,” Dukes said. “We all knew our assignments and everybody just did their job.”

Before the game, Watertown honored longtime football coach and former Red and Black player Steve Fisher, who passed away Monday after a battle from cancer; as well as 14-year-old Carthage student Tyler Christman, who died on Sept. 21 after suffering a severe brain injury during a junior varsity football game.

“It’s amazing honestly and it was big win for the area after going through so much in recent weeks,” Jeter said. “We were able to hopefully lift some of that weight and bring a few smiles back.”

“Syracuse, like I’ve always said, they’ve got a lot of speed and they play a full 60 minutes, you can’t give them an inch,” Watertown coach George Ashcraft said. “The defense played really solid again and the offense is getting better every week. I’m really proud of these guys.”

Jeter sparked Watertown to a 14-2 lead through the first half as veteran wide receiver Chris Furr hauled in 21-yard touchdown reception on the team’s first possession.

Syracuse’s only points before halftime came on a safety after Watertown misplayed a punt in its own end zone later in the opening quarter.

In the second quarter, the Red and Black drove 85 yards in six plays to strike again — aided by a pass interference penalty in the end zone. Jeter scored on a one-yard scamper one play later with 1:17 left in the first half.

“It was just a great effort by the team on both sides of the ball,” Ashcraft said.

Watertown went on to score on its first drive of the second half, marching 68 yards in 10 plays, finished off by a five-yard scoring run by Jeter on a keeper up the middle for a 21-2 lead.

Syracuse responded with a touchdown on its next drive on a 15-yard scoring reception by Jarryd Souffront on a pass from quarterback Joseph Pierce Jr. That drew the Smash within 21-8 after the conversion pass failed with 10:02 remaining in the fourth quarter.

After the Smash successfully recovered an onsides kick, Hogg and the Red and Black defense responded on the next play as Hogg sacked Pierce Jr. and knocked the ball away with Connor Brown recovering the fumble with 9:19 left.

“The defense that we have is overpowering, it’s amazing,” Hogg said. “All season we’ve been unstoppable.”

Watertown made Syracuse pay for the turnover as running back Keenan Randle followed with a five-yard touchdown of his own with 2:54 left in the game for a 28-8 advantage.

Jeter carried the ball for 50 yards on 12 carries to pace the Red and Black on the ground, and Randle finished with 48 yards on nine carries.

“It was a tough game especially to play them back to back, but we were able to conquer again,” Jeter said. “This moment is nice to enjoy before heading into the championship”

Furr totaled seven receptions for 78 yards to lead Watertown’s receiving corps. Also, Justin Stevenson came in at quarterback in the second half and provided the Red and Black with a boost, completing 9 of 14 passes for 92 yards.

The Red and Black finished off the victory, extending its winning streak to five games, after defeating Syracuse, 33-14, two weeks ago to secure the top seed in the EFL playoffs.

“It feels great,” Furr said. “I knew we could get there, we just had to execute like we did two weeks ago against Syracuse and we came out and did that, and actually we did better than we did two weeks ago. So I’m excited and happy about it.”

The Red and Black now advance to play in its first league title game since 2015.

“It’s definitely a good feeling, everyone knew Syracuse was going to be a good team,” Dukes said. “So we definitely didn’t take them lightly.”

Hogg, a Fort Drum soldier, won’t be able to play next week because of his military obligations, but he’ll certainly remember his first season with Watertown.

“I love everyone of these guys, we’ve accomplished a lot out here,” added Hogg, who vowed to return to play for the Red and Black next season. “It’s a brotherhood, it really is.”

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