WATERTOWN — Both the Watertown Red and Black and Glens Falls Greenjackets have quite the history in semipro football.
Not only will the two teams meet yet again for a championship, they are the two oldest semipro football teams in the country, with the Red and Black holding the distinction of fielding the first-ever squad.
The two storied franchises will square off once again when Watertown hosts Glens Falls in the Empire Football League championship game at 7 tonight at George Ashcraft Field at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“Being the two oldest (teams), I couldn’t be happier playing them for the championship,” Watertown coach George Ashcraft said. “It’s really pretty cool if you think about it, they’ve been around for around 80 years and this is our 127th year representing this city. It’s going to be fun.”
Tonight’s game is a rematch of last year’s EFL title game, which was won by the Red and Black, 37-8, on Oct. 9 in Watertown.
“I really believe that Glens Falls has improved, that’s for sure,” Ashcraft said. “But we have to play the game and we have to play it well in order to be successful.”
Ashcraft said he has nothing but respect for Glens Falls, especially the way its players conduct themselves on and off the field.
“They’re good people,” Ashcraft said of the Greenjackets. “They’re probably one of the cleanest teams as far as actually playing the game. They play the game hard and they’re well-coached, I’m looking forward to it.”
“Last year’s final, it was OK and I’m not taking anything away from Glens Falls, because everybody played their hearts out,” Watertown veteran wide receiver Chris Furr said. “I’ve got a few friends on their team and we talk every now and then. They’re a good team with great heart, so I wouldn’t expect anything less from them.”
Watertown, which is 12-0 this season, including 11-0 in the EFL, is looking to not only repeat as league champion, but to finish the season undefeated for the first time in franchise history since it first started playing in the modern era of the EFL in 1969.
“The opportunity is there,” Furr said. “We worked as a team, we worked hard, the offense has worked hard, the defense has worked hard. So this opportunity right here is to win a championship for the second time in two seasons. It’s amazing, but we’re not taking this for granted. We don’t take any team lightly.”
The Red and Black swept the two-game season series with the Greenjackets, first winning on the road in their season opener, 19-14, on July 9 in Schuylerville, which was the closest margin of victory for Watertown in league play this year.
Watertown then defeated Glens Falls, 35-7, on Aug. 13 at the Fairgrounds en route to securing the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
“The first game of the year, we didn’t have our legs under us by any means,” Ashcraft said. “And the last time we played them, it was a 35-7 score and I think we got most of everybody in the game that night, which was good.”
The Red and Black went on to cruise to victory in its semifinal by dispatching fourth-seeded Auburn, 61-6, last Saturday night at the Fairgrounds.
“I think we had our best game of the season running the ball,” Watertown offensive coach Jerry Levine said of the semifinal win. “I think we’re showing good balance as a team.”
Watertown quarterback Jason Williams threw for three touchdown passes and rushed for another score — all in the first half — to help propel his team to the win. One of those scoring passes was to Furr, with the other two to wide receiver Dequace Jackson.
Third-seeded Glens Falls (7-4) reached the championship game with a 20-2 semifinal victory over second-seeded Broome County last Saturday.
“We have a familiar opponent and that’s a positive,” Red and Black defensive coach Aaron Rivers said. “We’ve played them twice already and we kind of know what we’re going to see, there will be a few wrinkles, but we know who their main guys are and how their quarterbacks like to play.”
The Greenjackets were led by running back Quentin Austin, who rushed for 124 yards and three touchdowns against Broome County. Glens Falls’ defense didn’t allow any points on the night as Broome County recorded a safety in the fourth quarter.
“The (Tom) Hammond kid is a more athletic guy who looks to run out of the pocket and (Michael Lewis), he’s more of a pocket passer with a quick release,” Rivers said of the Yellowjackets’ quarterback duo. “And they have a good running back, and two to three very quality receivers. So we have to be ready for them.”
Williams leads the EFL this season in passing yards (1,254) and touchdowns (16) and also ranks fifth in the league in rushing with 258 yards, to go along with a pair of scores.
“He’s done amazing,” Furr said of Williams. “A second-year quarterback, he’s done an amazing job. The numbers that he has, the reads that he catches, his throws, everything, he’s done amazing this year. He’s just being himself.”
Rarday Burrell (24 carries for 185 yards) and Eric Washington (30-146, four touchdowns) provide the Red and Black backfield with depth.
Watertown possesses the most potent receiving corps in the league, led by Furr, who tops the league in yards (377 on 14 catches) and touchdowns (nine). The versatile Kalon Jeter, who guided the Red and Black to the league title last year mostly as a quarterback, stands second in the circuit in receiving yards (343 on 14 catches) and is tied for second in the league in touchdowns (four).
“I believe this year the offense is more balanced,” Furr said. “As I’ve said before and in previous season, I believe we have the best receiving corps in the league, so our offense is balanced.”
Defensively, Watertown has yielded only 39 points in seven league games this year, posting shutouts in three of them. The Red and Black has also been awarded four forfeit wins.
“That’s what we’re just looking for is one more consistent game from the defensive side of the ball,” Rivers said. “And limit them the best we can and just play our style — which is fast and physical.”
Derrek Dalton and Jeremy Machia enter tonight tied for the league lead in tackles (58 each) and Machia has totaled 4 1/2 sacks this season.
Also for the Red and Black, Joaquin Salmon leads the EFL in interceptions this year with five, while Johnathan Williams is tied for second with four, including returning an interception for a touchdown in each of the team’s past two wins. Watertown’s Connor Brown and Jaylon Dugan have each generated three and two picks this season, respectively.
“We’ve done it all year, this is the first time the Red and Black’s had the opportunity to go undefeated and win the championship in the same year, it’s a huge thing,” Watertown defender Dylan Bice said.
Last year’s championship was the Red & Black’s third all-time, to go along with crowns won in 1980 and 2009.
“This is a great opportunity, to have a chance to two-peat,” Ashcraft said. “This will be my 10th championship (game) and we’ve won two. They don’t come easy and we played in a lot of close (title) games. You have to enjoy this when these opportunities come around.”
The Greenjackets franchise has won six EFL titles, including four as Glens Falls, according to the league website.
“I think we’re ready, I know we’re ready,” Ashcraft added.
“We played our tails off to get here and obviously we made it here, so we’re going to do that again come Saturday,” Furr concluded.
Go Red and Black!
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