WATERTOWN — Much has transpired since the Watertown Red and Black’s last encounter with the Syracuse Smash.
Since the previous meeting, in which the Smash prevailed five weeks ago, the Red and Black hasn’t lost a game.
Since then, Watertown has won three consecutive games, all by shutout, to vault into first place in the Empire Football League.
Now the two teams will meet tonight in a showdown for the EFL regular-season title in which the top seed in the playoffs is at stake. Game time is at 7 p.m. at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“A big day, a huge day,” Watertown wide receiver Keegan Queior said. “It’s a playoff game, we don’t plan on losing any more, so we’ve got to play well against them in our crib. So, I’m excited, man, it’s the biggest game of the year for us.”
If The Red and Black (4-1) wins, it will secure the top seed outright. But if the Smash (3-2) prevails, it would own the tiebreaker between the two teams having won the previous meeting.
“This is a big game for us,” Watertown offensive coach Jerry Levine said. “They’ve got some great athletes down in Syracuse, so we’re looking forward to it. It’s a big challenge.”
“I’m excited, that was our only loss of the year when we played them,” Queior said. “I’m excited to play them, they’ve got a good team, but I think we’ve got a better team.”
Strong defensive play has led the way in Watertown’s success this season.
Since the last clash between the two teams, the Red and Black hasn’t allowed a point as it has blanked the opposition for 12-plus quarters.
“It’s amazing right now what these guys are doing,” Red and Black defensive coach Nate Bryant said. “I’ve got a defense full of talented, knowledgeable players and it’s making my job so much easier.”
This shutout streak includes a pair of road wins at Glens Falls and Plattsburgh and most recently, a 24-0 victory over Glens Falls last Saturday at the Fairgrounds.
“The bottom line is we can’t make any turnovers, we’ve got to create the turnovers,” Watertown head coach George Ashcraft said. “We’ve got to make them pay like defenses do, like we have been doing.”
“This is probably one of the best defenses I’ve seen in this organization in a long time, absolutely,” Bryant said.
In all, the Red and Black has outscored the opposition, 47-0, over this three-game stretch.
“The stats and the scoreboard show it, these guys are producing,” Bryant said. “They’re really helping out our offense, in a sense. It’s a lot easier to go on the field as an offense when the other team doesn’t have any points.”
Quarterback Kalon Jeter led Watertown’s offense last week by scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns. The second score was set up when a scrambling Jeter hooked up with Queior on a 67-yard pass, and Jeter followed with a three-yard scoring run for a 14-0 lead in the team’s opening drive of the second half.
Displaying his versatility, Jeter rushed for 80 yards on 10 carries and also passed for 110 yards on the night.
Showing balance as a team, Watertown comes into the game leading the league in points scored (97) as well as fewest points allowed (35).
The Smash won the last meeting between the two teams, 28-16, on Aug. 14 in Syracuse.
“We just can’t give up that big 50-yard bomb play,” Ashcraft said. “And I think we’re that much better than we were five or six weeks ago when we played them.”
“We didn’t play very well down there the first time,” Levine said of the Syracuse game. “We were in the game and then they ran that 100 yard interception return back at the end of the half. We clawed back in it, but as a team, we had all kinds of breakdowns.”
Since the last meeting, Syracuse has fared 2-1, including a 28-0 victory against Plattsburgh last Saturday.
The Smash stands second in the league in points scored (84) as well as fewest points given up (48), trailing only Watertown in both categories.
Red and Black players such as Queior know the team will have to play better against Syracuse this time around.
“We got a couple big plays (last Saturday), but I hope we go out there and start out early,” Queior said. “That’s the main thing, we’ve got to start out early, because I don’t want to get behind and try and play from behind, that’s when we get desperate.”
Ashcraft added about Syracuse: “They’re good team and they’ve got a lot of speed. But I think we’re the better team, it just about proving it. Talk is cheap, we’ve got to go out and do it.”
Following a league-wide bye next week, the EFL playoffs begin on Oct. 2, with the title game to be played the next weekend.
The Red and Black has already secured home field for the semifinal round and would like nothing better than host the championship game.
“This is like a playoff game for us,” Levine said. “If we can win home field it would be great and we’re pretty good on this field. It’s critical.”
Ashcraft concluded: “With this game, we know if we win it, we’ll have home-field advantage. If we lose it, they will, plain and simple. So we know what’s on the line.”