WATERTOWN — The Watertown Red and Black opened the Empire Football League championship in emphatic fashion and never looked back.
Kalon Jeter hauled in a 57-yard touchdown pass from Jason Williams on the game’s very first play from scrimmage to spark Watertown to a 37-8 triumph over the Glens Falls Greenjackets on Saturday night at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“It was really big because we had to start off and we had to start off early,” Jeter said. “We were able to get out in front quick and I think that set the zone for the rest of the game.”
Spurred on by the big play, the Red and Black went on to make other big plays through the course of the night on both sides of the ball to claim the league title.
“We knew this was coming,” Watertown linebacker Connor Brown said. “From the beginning of the season after that Syracuse loss, we just progressed and progressed and progressed and that’s what championship teams do. ... Because we all had one goal and that was to win this championship the right way and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”
This marks the third league championship for the Red and Black (7-1), the oldest semipro football team in the country, and its first since 2009.
“It’s an amazing feeling, knowing that we did what we did to get here and we still did what we did to win it,” Watertown veteran wide receiver Chris Furr said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
After Red and Black prevailed in a penalty-filled game for both teams which totaled nearly three-and-a-half hours, Watertown players stormed the team’s dog pound area in the Fairgrounds’ east end zone to celebrate with their fans.
“It feels amazing, this team just came together at the right time,” Watertown defensive lineman Joshua Lear said. “And we just bond, we’re like brothers, all of us feel like brothers and we just worked together and got what we deserved, a championship.”
As Watertown’s quarterback throughout the season, Jeter was named as the EFL’s Most Valuable Player, which was announced after the game.
“It feels great, to be playing at not my normal position and to be able to still excel,” said Jeter, who also threw a touchdown pass to Connor Brown in the second half. “Initially it was a rough start for me and I had to work my way through it. It was rough fighting, but I just continued to play my game and be the athlete I know I can be.”
Jeter went back to his roots in the championship game as he lined up as a wide receiver at times, and hauled in 92 yards on three catches to pace the Red and Black in this category.
Watertown’s defense, which the team has ridden throughout the season, forced nine turnovers on the night to keep Glens Falls (3-5) at bay.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Watertown coach George Ashcraft said of the outcome. “Everybody played their (butts) off, when you look at 60 minutes of football and the final score’s 37-8, a lot of penalties were flying, a lot of emotion. But we just persevered we just kept playing and that’s the sign of a good team.”
“Our defense, we’ve got the best defense in the league and it showed every single game,” Jeter said. “I can’t thank them enough for getting us the ball and helping the offense out, they make it easy.”
Later in the first quarter, Glens Falls quarterback Michael Lewis was sacked by Watertown’s Dylan Bice and Lear recovered the fumble and returned the ball 15 yards for a touchdown for a 14-0 lead with 6:59 remaining in the frame. Bice and Lear are General Brown grads.
The Greenjackets then capitalized on a Red and Black miscue as Jake Gregory returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown and after a conversion run drew within 14-8 with 11:44 left in the quarter.
But Watertown struck again late in the half as Chris Furr hauled in a 32-yard pass from Williams in the right corner of the end zone with 31 seconds left in the second quarter to lead 21-8.
“It feels like the past few games with me and KJ, it’s like either he’s going to score or I’m going to score,” Furr said of Jeter. “You never know, but he deserved MVP, he played amazing. He came from playing overseas and did what he had to do here and he became the quarterback that we needed.”
Williams completed four of 15 passes for 129 yards and two scores while at quarterback on Saturday and Jamal Finkley rushed for a team-high 73 yards on 12 carries.
After the Red and Black added a 30-yard field goal by Eric Beyler in the third quarter, the turnover frenzy continued as veteran wideout and defender Keegan Queior returned an interception 40 yards to the Glens Falls 4-yard line in the fourth quarter. Three plays later, Jeter found Brown on a 2-yard scoring pass and Watertown led 31-8 with 6:39 remaining in regulation.
Yet Brown wasn’t finished as he intercepted a pass and returned the ball 40 yards for a touchdown to put the finishing touches on the Red and Black’s triumph.
“Our defense rose to the occasion once again, this feels amazing,” Brown said.
Watertown, which has now won six consecutive games to close out the season, reached the title game with a 28-8 victory over the Syracuse last Saturday at the Fairgrounds.
The Red and Black also won all three meetings against the Greenjackets this year, including recording two shutouts during the regular season.
This was the third title game appearance with Watertown for Furr, who joined the team back in 2013.
“My birthday is tomorrow, so this is a great birthday present for me and it’s even better and a great one for this team,” Furr said. “This is big one for me, besides my son, it’s the best birthday gift I could ever get.”
Watertown previously reached the EFL final in 2014 and 2015, which Queior’s first season with the team. Queior finished with two interceptions on the night.
“This is so satisfying, it’s a great feeling,” Queior said.
Brown, an Indian River grad, also totaled two interceptions on the night and Lear, who won a championship while playing with the Carthage Revolution, finished with a pair of fumble recoveries. Finkley also won a title with the Revolution.
“It’s just great to be a part of a team like this,” Lear said of the Red and Black.
After winning its first league championship in 1980, the Red and Black franchise had to wait for its next title and other 12 for it’s third crown, making the experience all the more sweeter for this Watertown team.
“Pretty sweet,” Brown said. “This is the sweetest victory, this community needed this with (coach Steve) Fisher passing away and Tyler (Christman) passing away, those were big, big impacts, the community needed us.”