Watertown Red & Black: 2017 News
Watertown Red and Black showcases former rival at quarterback in first practice
WATERTOWN — The Watertown Red and Black’s first practice Saturday featured familiar faces, the cornerstones of the semipro football team’s recent success. But it was a former nemesis at quarterback that made the biggest impression on offensive players and coaches.
Harry Rascoe — the former Plattsburgh quarterback with a strong track record of success against Watertown — took the field as a member of the Red and Black for the first time when the team opened practice for the upcoming season at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Rascoe, who said he recently moved close to Rochester, is expected to travel to Watertown for at least one practice each week and will compete for the starting spot with Billy Grant, another accomplished passer who joined the team this offseason.
“Watertown has been the best in the league organizational-wise, team-wise, coaching-wise, for years,” Rascoe said. “So I took it as an opportunity to come play for the Red and Black.”
Rascoe was named the first-team EFL All-Star quarterback for three straight years from 2012-14, and was the league’s Co-Offensive Most Valuable Player in 2014 when he led the North Stars to victory over the Red and Black in the EFL title game.
Rascoe has historically been a thorn in Watertown’s side, contributing to the team’s 10-game losing streak at Plattsburgh, which started in 2007. Last year, Rascoe’s season high for completions (22) and yards (321) came in a home victory over the Red and Black.
“It’s really weird actually, but it’s all good,” Rascoe said. “There’s a lot of good competition here and good practice breeds success. I’m really excited, we have a lot of good players around me, I don’t see why we can’t make a run to the championship or even to Florida (for the national championships).”
Grant also made his practice debut under center. Grant, who played at Blinn College in Texas with former NFL MVP Cam Newton in 2009, started the 2015 preseason with Watertown but work obligations forced him to leave the team before the first game.
“Rascoe has been a tremendous player in this EFL and he knows this league,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said. “He gives us an added weapon at that position, and we have Billy Grant back who has experience playing in college. Once he gets back into the flow of things — he’s been out of it for a couple of years, but I think he’s going to do a great job, too. So overall at quarterback, this may be the best tandem we’ve had, maybe ever.”
Both Rascoe and Grant looked sharp, delivering the ball accurately, and each connected deep down the field with returning All-Star wide receivers Chris Furr and Keegan Queior.
“From what I saw today, I like what we have right now,” Furr said. “For them to be here with these good quarterbacks we have now, Rascoe and Billy, it’s just amazing. So now all the deep routes are there and it’s perfect, spot on.”
The Red and Black practiced for a little more than two hours without pads. Several offensive veterans were present, with all-time leading rusher Joe Brennan and guard Avery Barney joining Furr and Queior.
The defense also featured a strong core of returning veterans. Returning captain Tristan Jones called out schemes from the linebacker spot, versatile back-end defender Robert Russell looked strong in coverage and against the run, and defensive end Jarred Dukes popped off the edge in his first practice since a knee injury prematurely ended his 2016 season.
The energetic Dukes also increased the intensity level during the team’s intrasquad scrimmage, at one point eliciting a fiery response from his teammates on the opposite side.
“There was a lot of competitiveness, offenses and defenses going at it, and it’s the first practice of the year, so I can bet it’s only going to get more intense, more fun,” Rascoe said. “The EFL is a good league and we need to have good practices if we want to win it all.”
The Red and Black, which finished 7-5 and reached the EFL semifinals last year, will open the season on July 8 with a road game at Glens Falls.
Thursday, May 18
Semipro football: Red & Black’s Ford to be inducted into AFA Hall of Fame
Scott Ford of Brownville will be inducted into the American Football Association’s Semipro/Minor League Hall of Fame on June 23 at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Ford played as a kicker for six seasons with the Watertown Red and Black and is the franchise’s all-time leader in field goals made and extra points made.
Ford owned and operated Kicker’s Lounge, a sports bar in Watertown, for several years after his retirement from the Red and Black in 2004.
Before playing semipro football, Ford played professional hockey in Germany and coached the Syracuse University club hockey team.
Ford is one of 14 players and 19 members overall in this year’s 37th annual Hall of Fame class.
The Red and Black will be represented by at least one inductee for the seventh straight year.
Former player and current offensive coordinator Jerry Levine was inducted last year, along with former player Jamee Call. Doug Black (2015), Pat Killorin (2014), Earnest Wash (2013), Al Countryman (2012) and Lynn Patrick (2011) were also recently inducted.
Tuesday, June 13
Watertown Red and Black switches leagues due to uncertainty of EFL
For the first time in more than 40 years, the Watertown Red and Black semipro football team is joining a new league for the upcoming season.
The Red and Black will not play in the Empire Football League this year due to uncertainty over the number of teams participating, as confirmed by coach George Ashcraft on Wednesday.
Watertown will instead compete in the World Football Federation, a league based on the east coast that features more than 20 regional teams and stretches as far as South Carolina.
The Syracuse, Glens Falls and Sussex franchises that have competed against Watertown in the EFL in recent years also made the jump to join the WFF this week after word spread that the Seaway Valley Venom was down to about 12 players, thus putting the Venom’s season in serious doubt and along with it, the EFL schedule in flux.
In addition to Seaway Valley and the four defecting teams, Plattsburgh was the only other team scheduled to compete in the EFL this summer. The league season was set to begin July 8.
“We moved forward because we can’t wait another two or three weeks,” Ashcraft said of his team’s decision. “We would have been left with three or even two teams, and I only did what was logical. We’re going to continue to play football.”
Ashcraft said that the Red and Black’s scheduled home and away games against Sussex, Glens Falls, and Syracuse would remain unchanged, including Watertown’s July 8 season opener at Glens Falls.
Watertown has already added an additional pair of games against the CNY Wildcats, a WFF franchise that formerly competed as the Mohawk Valley Titans in the EFL.
Ashcraft, entering his 27th season as a Red and Black coach, said he was expecting to hear from WFF officials by week’s end regarding the other two games to complete the team’s 10-game schedule.
“The distance is basically the same and it’s not going to be a big deal for us,” Ashcraft said. “We’re going to make it work where we have a 10-game schedule, and I’m telling you, this team, we have 50-plus football players and we’re practicing. We’re going to be OK and we look forward to playing a game.”
Ashcraft said the Red and Black organization explored the possibility of joining the Northeastern Football Alliance, which contains the Carthage Revolution and several other teams in and around the state, but ultimately balked because they wouldn’t be eligible for that league’s postseason.
“No matter where it takes you or what you got to do, that’s the one commitment you always have as a coach and that’s what the ultimate goal always is, to be in that championship and win it,” Ashcraft said.
The Red and Black has been a cornerstone of the EFL since 1975, joining the league six years after its inception. Watertown won the EFL title in 1980 and 2009, and has played in several other championship games, most recently losing to Syracuse in 2015.
The EFL fell into a similar position around this time in 2014 when the Syracuse Shock and Vermont Ice Storm ceased operations for the season in early June and the league’s other four teams were left playing a reduced six-game schedule against each other. Ashcraft said that management from each team agreed at that time that the league would take a year of absence if a similar situation were to play out.
Ashcraft said he was unsure of the EFL’s plan for the upcoming season and could not confirm whether the league plans to take a year off until he spoke with longtime commissioner Dave Burch.
Tuesday, June 13
Semipro football: Watertown Red & Black switches leagues again, will play in NFA, play Saturday
For the second time in as many days, the Watertown Red and Black semipro football team is switching leagues and will now open the season Saturday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Red and Black coach George Ashcraft confirmed Thursday that the nation’s oldest semipro team is joining the Northeastern Football Alliance for the 2017 season and was voted in as a charter member.
NFA commissioner J.R. Bennion said he first spoke with Ashcraft on Wednesday and polled league owners later that night, quickly gaining majority approval to pass the motion if Watertown opted to join.
The move comes a day after Ashcraft had announced that the team was taking a leave of absence from the Empire Football League — where it has competed since 1975, winning titles in 1980 and 2009 — due to uncertainty over the number of teams participating, and initially stating plans to join the World Football Federation.
Ashcraft said he began to have second thoughts about the WFF due to scheduling conflicts, discussed all the options further with team owner Billy Caprara late Wednesday night, and contacted Bennion on Thursday morning to finalize the move and officially join the NFA.
Watertown is assuming the place of the Tri-City Spartans, who recently dropped out of the league, in the NFA’s East Division and will host the Rochester-based Charlotte Colonials at 7 p.m. Saturday to open the season.
The Red and Black was originally scheduled to play its first game on July 8 this year and typically doesn’t begin its regular season until early July.
“That’s why we had to move so fast,” Ashcraft said of the last-minute maneuvering, which moves the team’s opener up four weeks. “We thought this could be one of the options, and we had to make some judgment calls in tough situations to do what’s best for us.”
The Red and Black had planned to join the WFF along with three teams that Ashcraft thought would be leaving the EFL — Syracuse, Sussex, and Glens Falls — allowing the team to keep most of its schedule intact.
Ashcraft said he started to re-consider the WFF when trying to fill the remainder of his schedule against teams in Baltimore and South Carolina in the far-stretching semipro organization.
Watertown will compete in a division against Troy, Broome County, Five Lakes and Auburn, and while they’re joining the same league as the Carthage Revolution, there are no scheduled games between the two area teams from different divisions.
The Red and Black will open the season with back-to-back home games Saturday and June 17, and complete its 10-game regular-season schedule by hosting perennial NFA power Troy on Aug. 26.
“We have at least six different teams that we’ve never really played so it’s really neat from that standpoint,” Ashcraft said. “We told the guys Tuesday that there could be a possibility that we’re playing Saturday and they got pumped. They can’t wait.”
Ashcraft said the organization’s decision came down to the NFA containing teams in closer proximity and that it was a “better fit.”
Bennion said the Red and Black is eligible for the postseason, which Ashcraft initially stated as a concern, and said the team is covered as far as liability insurance for its home field and would be treated the same as all other league teams.
“We’re glad they’re joining,” Bennion said. “They have a long history and we think they are a great addition. I hope this isn’t just a stop-gap for them. We’d hope they would stay and maybe it brings more teams to make this league even better and add more quality.”
EFL commissioner Dave Burch said that his organization had no information to share regarding its 2017 plans as of Thursday, and he was planning to meet with other league owners to discuss the upcoming season.
Ashcraft said earlier this week that there was concern over the Seaway Valley Venom’s ability to field a full team after personnel movement left that squad with about 12 players. Venom owner Elijah Winfrey told the Times Thursday that his team has no plans to cease operations and is preparing to play two scheduled games against Glens Falls on Aug. 5 and Sept. 16.
The Syracuse Strong posted a press release on its team website Wednesday declaring its plans to leave the EFL and join the WFF. The Plattsburgh North Stars reportedly requested a one-year leave of absence from the EFL in late May, according to unconfirmed social media posts. Attempts to reach Plattsburgh general manager Scott Aguglia on Thursday were not successful.
The only other teams scheduled to compete in the EFL this season were Glens Falls and Sussex, and neither franchise has released a statement regarding its 2017 plans.
Tuesday, June 13
Semipro football: Red and Black, Revolution start seasons tonight in Northeastern Football Alliance
The Watertown Red and Black and Carthage Revolution semipro football teams will open their respective regular seasons by hosting home games tonight.
The Red and Black, which finalized its move to the Northeastern Football Alliance for the upcoming season on Thursday, will host the Charlotte Colonials at 7 p.m. in an NFA interdivision matchup at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Watertown was originally slated to open the season on July 8 before coach George Ashcraft announced the organization’s leave of absence from the Empire Football League earlier this week.
The Revolution will host the Ithaca Warriors at 6 p.m. at Carthage High School, as originally scheduled, to kick off its NFA “AA” Division slate.
Tuesday, June 13
Semipro football: Watertown Red and Black makes big first impression in new league
WATERTOWN — Playing in a new league for the first time as well as with a new quarterback, the Watertown Red and Black responded with a resounding season-opening victory on Saturday night.
Quarterback Harry Roscoe threw for four touchdowns and also ran for a score as the Red and Black cruised to a 55-14 triumph over the Charlotte Colonials in making its debut in the Northeastern Football Alliance a successful one at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“They were our biggest rivalry and usually they were our toughest game when I was with Plattsburgh,” Roscoe said of the Red and Black. “We won a couple of championships against them in Plattsburgh — but it’s definitely great to be on the other side of the field.”
The win concluded a wild week for the Red and Black, which chose to join the NFA with the approval of the league — thus pushing up the team’s season opener by nearly a month.
Watertown coach George Ashcraft received the official news on Thursday morning — and just two days later — his team opened up its season.
“I thought the first half was spot on — everybody played well and we worked well together,” Ashcraft said. “We know what we have to work on, but tonight was good. I enjoyed it and we played everybody. We’re a month earlier than we anticipated, so I’ll definitely take a win like this.”
The Red and Black — the oldest semipro football team in the country — had played in the Empire Football League since 1975.
“It was definitely a roller coaster of a week,” Watertown running back Joe Brennan said. “On Tuesday, coach said there was a chance that we were going to have a game — so all of us mentally had that in mind. But we didn’t exactly know what was going to happen towards the end of the week. ... It ended up being a great Thursday practice and we’ve got to continue to work hard and continue to put up big points.”
Watertown, as the newest member of the NFA, got off to a good start thanks to Roscoe, who previously played in the EFL with Plattsburgh.
In the first half, Roscoe threw for three of his touchdowns and ran for a score as the Red and Black built a 42-0 lead by halftime.
“Harry looked great out here,” Brennan said. “He’s a veteran quarterback coming from the EFL and he’s torn us up for years. It’s awesome to have a guy with his talent playing for us this year, he’s a big threat out there.”
Wide receiver Chris Furr hauled in two touchdown catches in the first half for Watertown.
The Red and Black also received a balanced effort on the ground as Brennan rushed for 86 yards on 11 carries and scored a touchdown and also grabbed a TD reception.
T.J. Williams totaled 62 yards on 10 carries for the Red and Black, including a touchdown, and Curtis Dukes made his return to the team with 57 yards on eight rushes and also hauled in a TD pass in the second half.
“It feels good to get out here early and put up a good game with a victory,” said Brennan, who is the Watertown franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. “We’ve just got to be better at finishing the game.”
After Watertown’s defense opened the scoring by recording a safety in the first quarter, the team followed by scoring on its next five drives.
After Williams scored the first TD of the night on a two-yard rush, Furr hauled in a 30-yard strike from Roscoe for a 15-0 Red and Black lead.
The onslaught continued in the second quarter, as Furr scored on a five-yard pass from Roscoe, Brennan followed with a 24-yard scoring reception, and Roscoe scored on a one-yard keeper to build a 35-0 lead with 4:50 left in the first half.
Watertown’s defense then struck quickly as Demetrius Robinson returned a fumble 25 yards for a score for a 42-0 halftime edge.
“Our start was good, we’re still working on trying to get everything in place,” Roscoe said. “But as a whole, it was a great effort tonight.”
Ashcraft wasn’t as pleased with his team’s effort in the second half after it allowed two touchdowns in the second half — including an 80-yard kickoff for a touchdown by Tyshawn Williams and an 85-yard run for a score from Mike James.
“But when we went out there in the third quarter, we relaxed and stuff started happening,” Ashcraft said. “We can’t do that next week, the (Monroe County) Sting is the real deal and it could be an eye-opener for some of these guys who thought they did great tonight. Unless they have a good week of practice and they play four full quarters.”
The Red and Black won two championships in the EFL — in 1980 and 2009. The team finished 7-5 last year after reaching the league semifinals.
Now Ashcraft and his players have championship aspirations in the NFA as it competes in the circuit’s East Division.
“Thursday at 10:38 in the morning is when I got the phone call saying that we were in this league and I got my schedule,” Ashcraft said. “Which is cool, I’m not complaining, I think we’re going to enjoy this. I think it’s going to be a good ride, we’ve got our 10-game schedule and we’re playing football — and that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
The Red and Black will host the Monroe County Sting at 7 p.m. next Saturday at the Fairgrounds.
Tuesday, June 20
Red & Black to have big task Saturday hosting two-time defending NFA champion
The Watertown Red and Black’s introduction to the Northeastern Football Alliance last week was as impressive as it was abrupt.
Following a whirlwind week that ended with a 55-17 victory over the Charlotte Colonials in its season opener — played a month earlier than originally scheduled with only a two-day notice — the nation’s oldest semipro football team is off and running in its new league with a major test on tap for Saturday.
The Red and Black will host the back-to-back defending NFA champion Monroe County Sting at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, looking to make an immediate impact after switching leagues quickly last week to end a 42-year stint in the Empire Football League.
“They are the defending champions and we want to come into this game and kind of set a mark for ourselves to the league that although we’re a new team, we’re not a pushover,” said Tristan Jones, a fourth-year middle linebacker and defensive captain. “So if we come in and compete and win this game, hopefully we’ll get that in everybody’s minds.”
The Red and Black announced plans to leave the EFL last Tuesday and was officially approved to join the NFA Thursday morning. Players and coaches then had one practice, later that night, to prepare for the opener. The Red and Black started practicing in late April, but wasn’t slated to begin its EFL schedule until July 8.
Returning veterans said they believe the team would have benefited from the extra time in preseason camp as players adjust to a new system, but that the overwhelming sentiment regarding the fast start to the season was excitement.
“I think guys were chomping at the bit already as it was, so I think that it was good timing, we were all ready to play,” said running back Joe Brennan, the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns who is back for his 10th season. “When we found out last week, there wasn’t anybody that seemed disappointed in that. We’re here to play football and that’s the chance we’re having.”
Saturday’s game will serve as the season opener for Monroe County, which finished 11-1 last year to win its second straight NFA championship.
The Sting played one year in the EFL, winning the championship in 2012 and splitting two regular-season games against Watertown, including a 20-14 victory over the Red and Black at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“It’s going to be a battle and it could dictate a lot,” said returning wide receiver Keegan Queior, who played with several Sting players on the Rochester Kings of the Can-Am Professional Indoor Football League during the offseason. “I know it’s early in the season but at the same time, this is probably one of the better teams we’re going to see all season. It’s going to tell us a lot about our team.”
The Red and Black, which finished 7-5 and reached the EFL semifinals last year, will look for its reloaded offense to put on another strong performance following its 55-point outburst in the opener.
The potentially high-octane unit is led by new quarterback Harry Rascoe — a semipro veteran who starred for Plattsburgh and routinely gave the Red and Black fits as an opposing rival player — who threw three touchdowns and ran for another in his debut last Saturday.
Brennan will be joined at running back by the returning Curtis Dukes, who recorded a pair of EFL All-Star seasons for the Red and Black before spending last summer playing for the Revolution, and another former rusher back in the fold, T.J. Williams.
Queior and Chris Furr are back to form a play-making tandem at wide receiver while veteran Avery Barney is back to anchor a re-stocked offensive line.
Jones will lead the defense at linebacker alongside the returning Conner Brown, an Indian River product who led the 2015 team in tackles before taking last season off.
The Red and Black defense also contains a strong front featuring defensive ends Jarred Dukes and Michael Dingwerth, and former EFL Defensive Player of the Year, Alex Tibbles, who recently returned from playing professionally in Germany.
“I got high expectations, me personally, I feel like we can do a lot with this team,” Queior said. “But at the end of the day, we have to execute in all three phases of the game.”
Tuesday, June 20
Penalty flag frenzy shortens Watertown Red and Black’s victory over Sting
Frustration with officials boiled over in the fourth quarter for the Monroe County Sting, forcing a premature ending to a dominant defensive performance by the Watertown Red and Black semipro football team.
RaKwan Allen hauled in two interceptions and the Red and Black defense limited the Sting to less than 100 yards of offense during an 18-0 Northeastern Football Alliance interdivision victory Saturday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
The Red and Black improved to 2-0 to start its first season in the NFA, knocking off the two-time defending champion Sting (0-1).
“We made a good statement,” said Red and Black quarterback Harry Rascoe, who completed 7 of 14 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns. “We were well-prepared, and you know Monroe is one the best in the whole Northeast and they compete nationwide. They’re a good team. So for us to come in and blank them, beat them by 18 and handily beat them is a big deal for our organization.”
The game was officially called with 10 minutes and 25 seconds remaining on the clock when Sting owner Wayne Brockman pulled his players off the field after a series of unsportsmanlike penalties assessed to the Sting sideline.
One referee threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct on the Sting at the end of a Watertown rushing play, inciting a fiery reaction from the Monroe County sideline. Six more flags were thrown during the sequence, and coaches and management from both teams met at midfield with officials before telling their teams to line up for postgame handshakes.
Brockman said after the game that the officials were antagonizing his team throughout the game and operating under the rules used by the Empire Football League, which the Red and Black played in for 40 years before switching leagues earlier this month.
“I pulled my team off the field because I couldn’t take that anymore,” said Brockman, who has been involved with the Sting for more than 20 years and said it was the first time he’s ever taken that action.
“The Red and Black beat us,” he added. “I take nothing away from the Red and Black. I respect their history and I welcome them to the NFA. They played a great game and they beat us. But that was a very poorly officiated game.”
Allen hauled in two interceptions — the first came in the end zone late in the first half to help Watertown maintain a 6-0 lead and the other ended Monroe County’s opening possession of the second half.
Demetrius Robinson came up with a pick midway through the third quarter and ran it back to the 3-yard line, setting up T.J. Williams for a short touchdown run on the next play to put Watertown up 12-0.
“We had three interceptions that were huge and every one of them was run back to set us up in good position,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “Our defense was awesome, just great tonight. ... This was a huge win, it’s the biggest win we’ve had in a long time and it solidified everything I’ve been saying about what we got.”
Watertown limited Monroe County to 97 yards of total offense, held them to a 1-for-6 conversion rate on third downs, and forced three turnovers on downs to go with the three interceptions.
“The defense played great all night,” Robinson said. “Our goal was to shut them out and that’s what we came out and did.”
Rascoe threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Keegan Queior to open the scoring with six minutes left in the second quarter, and later tossed a 24-yard score to Tristen Richards, who juggled a tipped ball before hauling it in and taking it to the house.
The Red and Black will play at the Auburn Commanders next Saturday and is on bye the following week.
Wednesday, June 28
Former nemesis Rascoe fits in quickly as starting quarterback with Red and Black
Harry Rascoe engineered semipro football championship victories over the Watertown Red and Black in 2010 and 2014, and as a result, always felt the hostility from the crowds at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
The idea of playing for those fans — potentially allowing his 6 year-old son, Alex, and 3 year-old daughter, Adeline, to socialize with members of the rabid “Dawg Pound,” — was a scary proposition for the former Plattsburgh North Stars franchise player.
Now two games into his first season as quarterback for the Red and Black (2-0 overall) — which continues with a 5 p.m. Northeastern Football Alliance East Division game today at the Auburn Commanders (1-1) — Rascoe said he has seen a different side of Watertown’s passionate fan base.
“I think this is the best football decision that I could have made for me and my family, to be honest with you.” Rascoe said.
“I’m 30 years old so I got a couple more years of good football left in me. My kids are just getting old enough to know what’s going on, so I think it’s great to bring them into the Watertown environment. As nervous as I was to play with the ‘Dawg Pound’ and the Watertown fans, they have made me and my kids feel like family.”
Rascoe has thrown six touchdowns to five different receivers, leading the Red and Black to a pair of victories to open the season, including an 18-0 victory over two-time defending NFA champion Monroe County last Saturday.
Rascoe said he was first contacted by the Red and Black last year when he decided not to return to the North Stars after five full seasons due to opposing views with the new coaching staff.
Rascoe said he couldn’t commit to commuting from Plattsburgh last year, but after moving to Rochester last October, he spoke to Red and Black coach George Ashcraft, attended a few winter practices and decided to play.
“He’s been a great fit and seems to have really enjoyed his time here so far,” Ashcraft said. “Seeing guys like him come here and do well make you feel good about doing this for so many years.”
Rascoe commutes at least once a week for practice from Rochester, where he moved to enroll in the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Studies program at Genesee Community College.
Rascoe said he tries to work with the veteran’s assistance programs around Rochester and his goal is to graduate next spring and counsel military veterans struggling with issues related to post traumatic distress disorder or substance abuse.
“It’s ultimately about football (in Watertown), but it’s bigger than that, with the Army (connection), the military respect that they give out, just everything,” Rascoe said. “It’s a great environment, great football town, and I’m excited to see where this year is going to go.”
Rascoe — an all-state second-team running back for Plattsburgh Seton Catholic High School as a senior in 2004 — debuted for his hometown semipro team in 2010 after serving six years in the Marines, where he also played club football.
He started at running back to help Plattsburgh to a 13-10 victory over Watertown in the 2010 Empire Football League final, and switched to quarterback for four full seasons, culminating with a 6-0 victory over the Red and Black in the 2014 EFL title game.
Rascoe played a large role in extending Watertown’s 10-game losing streak at Plattsburgh, which started in 2007.
Despite the potential for bitter memories, Rascoe said he felt welcomed almost immediately.
Fourth-year wide receiver Chris Furr, who caught a pair of touchdowns in the season opener, said on the first day of practice that he felt an “instant connection,” with his new quarterback and that “it didn’t feel weird at all.”
Offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said that he allows Rascoe to call plays at the line of scrimmage, as he did in Plattsburgh, and his veteran presence has taken pressure off the coaching staff.
Rascoe signed a contract with the Straubing Spiders of the German Football League in 2015, pursuing a pro career overseas with Red and Black defensive lineman Alex Tibbles , but opted against playing for family reasons and to pursue his college degree.
Wednesday, June 28
Red and Black remains unbeaten with first road win of season
AUBURN — Quarterback Harry Rascoe went 20-for-26 and threw for 256 yards and four touchdown passes as the Watertown Red and Black continued its perfect start to the season with a 34-20 victory over the Auburn Commanders in an Northeastern Football Alliance game Saturday at Seward Elementary School.
Rascoe tossed a pair of TD passes to Curtis Dukes (31 and 33 yards) and two to Keegan Quieor (eight and 40 yards) as Watertown (3-0) got a big score at the end of the half on Dukes’ 31-yard TD run.
“That touchdown at the end of the half was big for momentum going into the second half,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said.
Watertown rolled out to a 21-0 lead after Harley LaDuke picked off Auburn quarterback Madison Wolfganger and returned it 40 yards. The defense was missing four starters, according to head coach George Ashcraft.
“We know our defense is good and that’s the kind of depth we have,” Ashcraft said.
Quieor finished with 93 yards on eight catches, while Dukes caught five passes for 86 yard and ran seven times for 35 yards. Joe Brennan carried the ball 14 times for 80 yards.
“We were moving the ball up-and-down the field in the first half,” Levine said.
LaDuke, RaKwan Allen and Mark Benjamin each intercepted passes, and Demetrius Robinson recovered a fumble for the Red and Black.
Auburn fell to 1-2.
Watertown has a bye week before hosting the Broome County Stallions at 7 p.m. July 8 at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. Auburn plays at Troy on July 8.
Monday, July 10
Years of experience tell Red & Black’s Lounsbury there’s no place like home
Dan Lounsbury has traveled far and wide, and regardless of his location, the lifelong football coach tells people: “You can take the boy out of the north country but you can’t take the north country out of the boy.”
Following a 40-year coaching career that has included nearly 20 stops at various levels of football, Lounsbury has proven his old adage true, returning to the area where he grew up to guide the Watertown Red and Black semipro football team.
Lounsbury — a 1965 General Brown graduate and former Red and Black quarterback and coach — is in the midst of his second full season back with Watertown (3-0 overall) and has taken on the position of assistant head coach under longtime head coach George Ashcraft.
Lounsbury will help lead the Red and Black into tonight’s 7 p.m. Northeastern Football Alliance East Division game against the Broome County Stallions (1-1) at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“I’ve lived all over the country,” said Lounsbury, who coaches the defense as part of his multi-faceted role with the team. “You see things that happen in other places and then you realize how good you really got it here. What happens is a lot of people don’t realize how good it is here. ... I’ve got family all over the country, and this is a great place. I’m very happy about being here.”
Lounsbury played quarterback for the University of Arkansas following his high school career for the Lions, and then returned home to play under center for the Red and Black from 1970-75.
He ranks third in franchise history for pass completions (354), attempts (621) and is fourth in career passing yardage (3,361). Lounsbury played for two undefeated teams, leading Watertown to a 9-0 record in 1971 and an 8-0 mark in 1974.
He then coached the Red and Black for part of the 1981 season before leaving to accept the offensive coordinator position at Southeastern Oklahoma State, one of his many college coaching jobs.
Prior to a practice last week, Lounsbury recited each of his coaching positions in succession as other coaches and players listened — impressed with the lengthy list.
Lounsbury has headed programs in high school, all levels of college football, the short-lived United States Football League, the Canadian Football League, and the World League of American Football.
“There are millions of stories you live through the years,” Lounsbury said. “Winning games and seeing kids go on and do good (is enjoyable). I had seven kids go on to play quarterback in the CFL or NFL. I still stay in contact with guys who I recruited. I enjoy meeting people, talking to people and finding out where they’re from.”
Lounsbury’s coaching positions in chronological order, according to him, reads like this: South Jefferson High School; Bishop Grimes; South Park High School in Beaumont, Texas; Sam Houston State University; Howard Payne; East Texas State; Watertown Red and Black; Southeastern Oklahoma State; New York-New Jersey Generals; University of Texas; Purdue University; New York-New Jersey Knights; Toronto Argonauts; University of Houston; University of Kentucky; Texas Christian University; Tulsa University; Cortland State University; Watertown Red and Black.
Lounsbury now lives in his Sackets Harbor cottage, which he has owned since 1979. He is married with three kids, 11 grand-kids and one great grandchild.
Lounsbury said he rejoined the Red and Black coaching staff last season in part to test and develop coaching theories related to teaching players who have limited experience or knowledge of the game.
“We’re trying to teach them fundamentals and help them be the best player they can be,” Lounsbury said. “When I played, practices were all scrimmages. The way football has changed is now you try to talk to people about what they’re going to do then you walk them through it, then you jog them through it, then you run them through it, and then they can play. That’s the teaching progression.”
Ashcraft, a teammate of Lounsbury’s for several seasons on the Red and Black, said Lounsbury has made a dramatic impact on the flow and structure of practices since he arrived last season. Offensive coordinator Jerry Levine, 10th-year running back Joe Brennan, and other team veterans have spoken highly of Lounsbury’s methods.
“We’re always accomplishing something and it takes away the chance for boredom,” Ashcraft said. “Now the players come in, they achieve, and they go home. It works beautifully and he has really taught me a lot.”
Monday, July 10
Watertown Red and Black pours on points for victory after slow start
Facing Broome County in a Northeastern Football Alliance East Conference matchup, the Watertown Red and Black overcame a lethargic start and posted a season-high in points en route to a 59-20 bludgeoning of the Stallions on Saturday night at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Four touchdown passes from quarterback Harry Rascoe and three rushing touchdowns from veteran running back Joe Brennan played huge roles in the win, which marks Watertown’s first 4-0 start since 2014 and fourth overall since 2009. In the previous three seasons they achieved the feat, the Red and Black — then playing in the Empire Football League — went on to play in the championship game.
The Stallions (2-2) dominated the first quarter, stifling Watertown’s high-powered attack while dishing out some jabs of their own, as two touchdown passes by quarterback David Blakney Jr. gave them a quick 13-0 edge.
However, the Red and Black responded with authority in the second quarter.
“Not having a game last week, we just came in kind of flat,” Rascoe said. “We’ve got a target on our backs, teams are going to give us the best shot they’ve got.”
The Red and Black started its comeback with an uptempo drive directly after Broome County’s second score. Starting at its own 40-yard line, Watertown worked down to the BC 19 in eight plays and capped the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Rascoe to receiver Keegan Quieor — who finished with six catches for 97 yards — with 13:47 remaining in the first half. Then, they turned a bobbled snap on the extra-point attempt into a successful two-point conversion, cutting the deficit down to six.
“We got off to a sluggish start,” said offensive coordinator Jerry Levine. “The big thing with us is that we have a lot of veteran players at key positions, so there was no panic. We know we’re capable of scoring every time we have the ball, (we) just needed a little momentum.”
The Red and Black went ahead permanently about nine minutes later, as Rascoe connected with Chris Furr (three catches for 37 yards) on an 8-yard score to make the score 15-13. After the defense forced a three-and-out and the Stallions committed a facemask penalty on the punt return, Watertown needed to go only 21 yards. Rascoe connected on a 13-yard pass to Furr, and Brennan (nine carries for 29 yards) punched it into the end zone to make it 22-13, which held true going into halftime.
“The offense stayed composed and the defense figured out what they were doing, and we came back and answered quick,” Rascoe said.
Watertown continued its torrid pace in the second half, with the defense getting in on the party. On the second play of the second half, Pat Gibbons (nine tackles) penetrated the backfield, sacked Blakney Jr. and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Jarred Dukes. Rascoe finished a 7-yard drive off three plays later on a 2-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Tristen Richards. In total, Watertown forced six turnovers while committing none.
“The defense came alive, made some big plays,” Levine said. “They got us the ball in key spots down by the goal line and we cashed in. Both sides did their jobs tonight.”
The following drive for the Stallions yielded a nearly identical sequence, as Dan Omeara and Jarred Dukes combined to sack Blakney Jr. and recover the ensuing fumble at the 7-yard line. Rascoe threw his final touchdown pass of the evening shortly after, a 7-yard toss to Joe Martinez (three catches for 42 yards) to make the score 35-13. Rascoe completed 16 of 22 passes for 192 yards and no turnovers.
Brennan’s second touchdown run and a 42-yard interception return by RaKwan Allen brought the total up to 49 unanswered points for Watertown, which Broome County interrupted in the fourth quarter with a 15-yard touchdown pass from James Chantry.
Brennan busted off a 24-yard run into the end zone a couple of minutes later to conclude his big night, and kicker Louglain Toland wrapped up the scoring frenzy with a 33-yard field goal to make it 59-20.
The Red and Black will now travel to play the undefeated Troy Fighting Irish next Saturday, and the former is not taking its road trip lightly.
“Next week is our biggest test,” Rascoe said. “We’ve got to have a good week of practice, make sure everyone travels to Troy, and have a battle of the undefeateds.”
Tuesday, July 18
Watertown Red and Black takes advantage of Allen’s versatility
RaKwan Allen described his high school football position as “athlete.”
The 21-year-old speedster has carried that versatility into his semipro career with Watertown — emerging as a ball-hawking safety in his second season for the undefeated Red and Black — and is hoping to fill any role available for a college team this fall in his native state of Florida.
Allen will look to extend his streak of games with an interception to four at 7 tonight when the Red and Black (4-0 overall) faces its most challenging task to date in the Northeastern Football Alliance, traveling to Lansingburgh High School to face the Troy Fighting Irish (3-0) for first place in the East Division.
Allen, who was born in Tallahassee, Fla., and moved to the area after being stationed at Fort Drum by the Army in 2014, joined the Red and Black at the start of last year.
He played running back, wide receiver, and kickoff returner, and then moved to cornerback late in the season. Allen said he let the coaching staff know during offseason workouts that he was committed to playing defensive back this year.
“It’s been great for me and team-wise, I think we’re better off with me as a safety, too,” Allen said.
“I knew I would get more playing time and the defense was losing players so that’s why I decided to join. ... I was ready because I had been practicing and I played some (defensive back) in high school. I’m always working on my technique outside of practice, too, so I was ready.”
Allen has tallied three interceptions and 11 pass deflections through four games this year, with one pick in each of his last three, including a pick-six in last Saturday’s 59-20 victory over the Broome County Stallions at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“When the ball is in his area he can run with anybody because he has that kind of speed,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “He came in as just being a speedster. He wanted to return kicks and play some tailback, and he got better as the year progressed. But this year he came back with a vengeance to prove something.”
Allen said he was always a fan of football but didn’t begin playing until his sophomore year of high school. He said his “first love,” was baseball and he grew up playing basketball before deciding to try out for the football team at Wakulla High School in Crawfordville, Fla. He also ran track and participated in weight-lifting at his high school.
“(Football) came natural to me because I love the game and I like to have fun,” Allen said.
Allen said he is looking at two colleges in his home state — Webber College of the NAIA Sun Conference and Division I FCS Florida A&M University — in hopes of playing football when he completes his military obligations in October.
“I always wanted to play college football but I didn’t have the (scholarship) or the money,” Allen said. “So I chose to join the Army.”
Allen led the Red and Black in rushing twice last year while filling in for injured starter Joe Brennan, and scored one rushing touchdown, one receiving touchdown, and returned a kick 75 yards that stopped just short of the end zone.
Allen said last week’s 42-yard interception return for a touchdown is among his favorite moments since joining the Red and Black at the urging of his workmate and fellow starting defensive back, Princeton Nealy.
“It was a blast,” Allen said. “I tracked the ball the whole way and as soon as I caught it, I knew it was a touchdown. I felt like ‘Prime Time,’ Deion Sanders.”
Watertown defensive coordinator Dan Lounsbury said that in addition to Allen’s excellent ball skills, he has become a strong blitz option, has learned how to bait quarterbacks into making a bad throw, and is instrumental in helping the defense make changes at the line of scrimmage.
“He keeps the defense straight as far as, we don’t just line up and play the same coverage on every snap, it depends on the formation, we will check the coverage, and he can do all that stuff already,” Lounsbury said.
Tuesday, July 18
Troy rallies to hand Watertown Red and Black first defeat
Despite one of the best passing performances in team history and an 18-point lead entering the fourth quarter, the Watertown Red and Black fell to the Troy Fighting Irish, 42-40 in a Northern Football Alliance game Saturday night at Lansingburgh High School.
Troy outscored Watertown 26-6 in the final quarter, intercepting a pass on the Red and Black’s final drive to seal the victory.
Watertown quarterback Harry Rascoe completed 31 of 42 passes for 396 yards and five touchdowns, three of which went to Keegan Quieor. The veteran receiver finished with 10 catches for 96 yards in addition to his three scores. Chris Furr contributed five catches for 121 yards and a score, and Joe Martinez caught seven balls for 80 yards — including multiple fourth-down and two-point conversions.
Troy (4-0) opened up the fourth by striking for a 57-yard touchdown pass and then following that up with scoring runs of 2 and 6 yards to gain a 36-34 advantage with time running down. Rascoe and Co. orchestrated a swift scoring drive to retake the lead on an 18-yard touchdown pass to Quieor with about two minutes remaining.
“The guys showed a lot of character,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said. “Despite losing the lead, we drove down for a quick a score, but it turns out we just scored too fast.”
Two plays later, Troy answered with a 67-yard touchdown pass straight down the middle of the field for the 42-40 advantage.
The Red and Black (4-1) once again went to work, but its lack of a true kicker proved critical.
Watertown, which missed four extra-point attempts, pushed to the Troy 25, but didn’t go for the field goal as starting kicker Loughlain Toland missed the game with a family matter.
Attempting to move the ball, Rascoe threw an interception to end Watertown’s bid.
Watertown has a bye this week, and it will return home to play Auburn on July 29
Tuesday, July 18
Top Secret Fyles: Red & Black quarterback Rascoe in control of aerial game
From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:
There were times in past seasons the Watertown Red & Black football team would gladly settle for “Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust” or “Ground and Pound,” emphasizing power straight-ahead running while controlling the clock.
With quarterback Harry Rascoe on board, the offense now is more up-tempo, more dynamic — reminiscent of the NFL’s Chargers and Dolphins of the 1980s.
Rascoe, who previously played for Plattsburgh for five full seasons in the Empire Football League and led the North Stars to two titles over the Red & Black before the circuit suspended operations in late May, has been a tremendous leader for head coach George Ashcraft’s team in the Northeastern Football Alliance.
With Harry in charge, Rascoe has thrown 19 touchdown passes in five games, pacing the Red & Black (4-1) to a second-place standing in the East Division.
In Saturday’s 42-40 loss at Troy, Rascoe enjoyed his greatest statistical game with the Red & Black. The 30-year-old with a strong arm and keen throwing ability completed 31-of-42 passes for 396 yards and five TDs.
In each of the Red & Black’s past three games, Rascoe has thrown at least four TD passes and has averaged 281.3 yards passing per outing.
Watertown is a half-game behind Troy (4-0) in the East, and hosts Auburn on July 29 at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Rascoe, a father of two children, moved from Plattsburgh to Rochester last October, commutes to Watertown at least one day per week for practice and plays weekend games.
Rascoe was an all-state second-team running back for Plattsburgh Seton Catholic High School as a senior in 2004 and served six years with the Marines before beginning his semipro career in 2010.
Rascoe was named the EFL’s First Team quarterback for three years from 2012-14, and was the league’s Co-Offensive Most Valuable Player in 2014 when he led the North Stars to a 6-0 victory over the Red & Black in the EFL title game.
Monday, June 27
Monday, June 27
Watertown Red and Black eager to get season off to early start
Following the most energetic offseason in the careers of those playing for the Watertown Red and Black, the team will take the field for the first time this year when it kicks off the preseason to its 120th year of semipro football. The Red and Black, coming off an 8-4 season that ended with a loss to Syracuse in the Empire Football League championship game, will host the Upstate Predators at 7 tonight at the Alex T. Duff Fairgrounds. “We’re crazy excited to get out there,” said Tristan Jones, a returning middle linebacker expected to anchor the defense in his third season. “To see somebody else in pads, have our fan-base there with that game atmosphere, everyone’s adrenaline is definitely going to be up.” Tonight’s exhibition game will cap off a thrilling four-plus months for the nation’s oldest semipro team. George Ashcraft, the team’s head coach of 26 years, announced on Feb. 20 that the organization was sold to brothers Billy and Charlie Caprara, who own numerous F.X. Caprara car dealerships in the area. The franchise has been busy participating in public events ever since. In addition to the team’s annual spring events like the city’s Heart Walk, they were involved with the Armed Forces Day Parade, Salvation Army picnic, a meet-and-greet event at Savory Downtown, and also held its first Red and Black Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 10 years. “I couldn’t think of something better that could have come along for us,” Ashcraft said of the ownership change. Tonight’s game is the first of three straight preseason tilts at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, which is more exhibition work than most of this year’s roster has ever experienced. Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said the full preseason schedule is especially important this season with a younger roster than normal. “We have a lot of new players and that’s the fun but challenging part,” Levine said. “We’re very young this year. We’re very athletic but it’s young guys, so these three weeks are huge to get them adjusted and get them ready for (the season opener in) July.” One of the young players who will see his first action tonight is General Brown senior Evan Will, who made the Times All-North first team last fall after accounting for 1,765 total yards (1,173 passing, 592 rushing) and 30 touchdowns (16 pass, 14 rush). The fast and shifty Will, whom Levine said has stood out through the first six weeks of practice, will form a quarterback tandem with the tall, strong-armed Ryan Semor. Semor, a Fort Drum soldier, quarterbacked the team to the EFL title game in 2014 and missed last season because of military obligations. Joe Brennan will return to his role as the team’s workhorse back this season, after forming a tandem with former Indian River and Penn State player Curtis Dukes for the last two years. Dukes will play for the Carthage Revolution this year. Levine said Brennan will see limited preseason work in an effort to keep him fresh, while allowing other backs, notable former Watertown High standout Anton Gadson, to compete for a role behind their veteran bell-cow. Chris Furr and Keegan Queior return to lead a speedy stable of wide receivers, while veteran center Avery Barney will anchor the offensive line. In addition to Jones returning in the middle, Tony Ivey is back to produce for the defense at nose tackle, while former Indian River standout Connor Brown will look to build on a rookie season in which he led the team in tackles. “We got guys coming in and learning a new system, a new style compared to what they saw in high school, and guys are getting used to each other,” Jones said. “The next three weeks are going to help with that. We’ll get guys thinking more, seeing different situations and getting their timing down.
Semipro football: Will powers Red & Black to preseason victory
Evan Will made a strong debut in his first start with a touchdown run, pass and reception as the Watertown Red & Black routed the Upstate Predators based out of Western New York, 43-8, Saturday night at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. Will, who will graduate from General Brown in two weeks, went 8-of-15 for 130 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Will found Keegan Queior for a 59-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter after Queior found Will from four yards out on a trick play. The General Brown signal- caller started the scoring with a four-yard TD run. “It was a great start to his Red & Black career,” assistant coach Jerry Levine said. Anton Gadson scored a pair of rushing touchdowns from four and five yards out, while Connor Brown recorded four tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack as part of four turnovers forced by Watertown. “The defense was ruthless and we were fast on both sides of the ball,” head coach George Ashcraft said. Upstate scored on a safety and 100-yard return of a missed field goal in the fourth quarter. Watertown will host the Connecticut Ravens in an exhibition game Saturday at the Fairgrounds. The Red & Black start the Empire Football League regular season hosting the Glens Falls Green Jackets on July 9.
Semipro football: Red and Black whitewashes Wolverines in preseason game
Ryan Semor went 4-for-4 for 81 yards and two touchdown passes as the Red and Black routed the Cataract City Wolverines 41-0 Saturday night in a preseason game at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. Semor found Chris Furr for a 59-yard scoring pass in the first quarter and then hit Keegan Queior with a 14-yard score as the Red and Black won its second straight preseason game. Rakawan Allen scored on a 54-yard run and totaled 100 yards on just two carries. Andre Witter added a blocked punt recovery in the end zone. The fourth quarter was not played due to lack of players after injuries to Cataract City, which is based in Niagara Falls. Watertown will wrap up the preseason with a game Saturday at the Fairgrounds against the Henrietta Spartans.
Semipro football: Red & Black to host preseason finale tonight
The Watertown Red and Black semipro football team will wrap up its preseason with a game against the Henrietta Spartans at 7 tonight at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. The Red and Black has rolled to two blowout victories thus far in the preseason with a 43-8 win over the Upstate Predators on June 4, and a 41-0 shutout of the Cataract City Wolverines last Saturday. After tonight’s exhibition, the Red and Black is idle until its Empire Football League regular-season opener against the Glens Falls Greenjackets at 7 p.m. July 9 at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. Watertown finished with an 8-4 record and lost in the EFL title game for the second straight season. Semipro football:
Red & Black defeats Spartans in preseason finale, 34-20
The Watertown Red and Black wrapped up its longest preseason in more than a decade Saturday night and left little doubt that the team is poised and ready for its regular season to kick off in three weeks. The Red and Black rode a dominant first-half performance from its defense and special teams units to capture a 34-20 victory over the Henrietta Spartans in front of about 150 fans at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. Watertown finished its exhibition season with a 3-0 record, outscoring its opponents by a combined 118-28. The nation’s oldest semipro football team will host Glens Falls on July 9 in its Empire Football League regular-season opener. “Going into July, we’re going to be so much farther ahead than where we’ve been the last few years,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “So when certain things happen, I think we’re going to be able to get through it better. We’ve seen a lot of different stuff from these three teams that have come in here.” Keegan Queior returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown about six minutes into the game to put the Red and Black up 6-0, invigorating the club after its first two drives resulted in an interception and a three-and-out. “I just tried to bring something, a little energy,” Queior said. “I saw that we weren’t really doing anything on offense so I just tried to bring a little spark to the team.” The defense took over from there. On Henrietta’s next possession, Red and Black defensive end Jarod Dukes recovered a fumble after a high snap and rolled into the end zone to give the Red and Black a 14-0 lead following the extra point. Mike Hibbard led a swarm of defenders to block a punt midway through the second quarter, setting Watertown up at the five-yard line for an easy touchdown run by former Watertown High standout Anton Gadson. Connor Brown, a second-year linebacker and 2015 Indian River graduate, scored on two safeties by sacking Henrietta quarterback Jon Sharp in the end zone, and the defense forced four turnovers overall. The Red and Black held the Spartans scoreless in the first half and entered halftime with a 23-0 lead. “We know that (defense) will be a big strength for us,” Brown said. “Coach Ashcraft said this was going to be one of the top-five defenses that he’s coached throughout all his years here, and we feel like our defense did what we had to do tonight.” Gadson, who has served as the lead back while veteran Joe Brennan was held out of the preseason, was injured at the end of a six-yard run up the middle. He was holding his arm as he walked off the field and left in an ambulance. RaKwan Allen took over the backfield after Gadson’s injury and finished with team highs of 16 carries for 69 yards. He scored on a 24-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to give the Red and Black a 29-0 advantage. Evan Will, a General Brown senior who will graduate on Friday, started at quarterback and completed 4-of-8 passes for 30 yards, adding four rushes for 28 yards. Veteran quarterback Ryan Semor, who was limited with a shoulder injury, completed 3-of-10 passes for 30 yards. “This was good for us because we rolled pretty easy through those first two games, and we found out tonight that we got a lot of work to do still,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said. “It exposed us a little bit and showed us some areas that we have to clean up heading into the regular season.” Linebacker Tristan Jones finished with a team-high seven tackles, Brown recorded six tackles, and each player registered a sack.
Tuesday, July 12
Semipro football: Red and Black boasts Lion’s share
WATERTOWN — Evan Will, Dylan Bice, Jacob Beckwith and Drew Heise turned in their blue and gold jerseys for the Red and Black.
All four recent General Brown graduates will make their regular-season debut Saturday when the Watertown Red and Black opens its 120th year of semipro football with a 7 p.m. game against Glens Falls at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
The group will follow in the footsteps of their former high school coaches and lifelong mentors — Lions legend Steve Fisher and Doug Black — who both starred for the Red and Black in their respective playing days.
Watertown went 3-0 in the preseason and is coming off an 8-4 campaign that ended with a loss to Syracuse in the Empire Football League championship game.
“I think all the guys’ love for football pretty much was the key in our decision to play,” Bice said.
“Coach Fisher and Coach Black have had a big impact on our lives in general,” he added. “They’ve been there for us since we were about knee-high on them. We talked to them and they said that if you don’t know what you want to do in life, this is a great place to start. To come here and play football, you’re still local and your families can still watch you play. We’ll still always get to carry that General Brown football name.”
Will is in the mix for the starting quarterback job, and will be used in a variety of other roles alongside returning veteran signal-caller Ryan Semor regardless of who takes the first snap. Will tallied 1,765 total offensive yards as a senior under center for the Lions last fall (1,173 passing and 592 rushing). He threw 16 touchdown passes, scored 14 rushing touchdowns, and returned an interception and a punt for scores.
Bice is expected to contribute at linebacker, could see some time in the backfield, and will make his most immediate impact as the team’s kicker. Bice scored 13 rushing touchdowns and averaged 6.6 yards per carry last fall, while leading the Lions defense with 58 tackles and four sacks. He also converted 33 of 35 extra points as a senior, and booted a 36-yard field goal during the Red and Black’s final preseason game.
Beckwith has played his way into a starting role at offensive tackle, and Heise will help to provide depth on both lines.
Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said that throughout preseason practices, the foursome has displayed characteristics that illustrate the influence of Fisher and Black’s tutelage.
“Those guys have all done a great job and it doesn’t feel like they’re rookies, because they get onto the field and they understand it, and that’s from being coached well,” Levine said. “They have great discipline, that’s another Steve Fisher trait, and they’re willing to learn and willing to sacrifice anything to help the team, and that’s an attitude you don’t find from young kids all the time.”
Each of the four teenagers volunteer as firefighters serving Brownville, and Will, Bice and Heise each plan to study fire safety and prevention in college. That decision, Will and Bice said, limited their options to pursue playing college football and helped lead them to the Red and Black.
“None of us were going to college to play football or any sport, so we thought we might as well come out here and have fun and play,” Will said.
Will said that each member of the foursome quickly learned during the Red and Black’s 3-0 exhibition schedule that they’re no longer lining up against fellow high school players.
“The defenses at this level, some of the guys are huge and these linebackers are coming at you full-force, and they all want to wreck you,” Will said.
Bice added: “It’s definitely bigger and faster. There is a lot more competition and skill-position wise, there are a lot of faster guys so you really have to step up your attitude, your pursuit angles and the way you attack.”
Fisher, who coached the Lions from 1966 to 2009 and again in 2013 and 2014, was inducted into the American Football Association Semipro/Minor League Hall of Fame in 2008 for his contributions to the Red and Black as a player and coach.
Black — who holds Red and Black records with 1,253 completions, 17,989 passing yards, and 197 passing touchdowns — received Hall of Fame honors last summer, just five days before he officially replaced Fisher as General Brown head football coach.
Watertown Red and Black 2016 outlook
Watertown went 8-4 last year, reaching the playoffs for the seventh straight season and finishing with a loss in the Empire Football League championship game for the second year in a row. The defending champion Syracuse Strong return to the EFL, along with perennial contenders like the Plattsburgh North Stars, Sussex Stags and Glens Falls. The Seaway Valley Venom and Mohawk Valley Titans are new additions to the seven-team league. The Red and Black won all three of its preseason games behind relentless defensive performances.
Ryan Semor has returned from a one-year absence due to military obligations, and will handle the quarterback duties along with recent General Brown graduate Evan Will. The tall, strong-armed Semor threw 11 touchdowns in 2014 and led the Red and Black to the EFL title game. The duo is expected to share time early in the season and Will could be used in a variety of other roles. ... Incumbent starter Joe Brennan, the team’s second all-time leading rusher, will miss roughly half of the season due to a calf injury. That leaves 2013 Watertown High School graduate Anton Gadson to lead a running back committee in the interim, hoping to replace the production that Brennan and the departed Curtis Dukes provided a season ago when they combined for more than 1,500 rushing yards. Gadson is entering his second semipro season and first since he played a limited role behind Brennan in 2013. RaKwan Allen, Demetrius Robinson and Dylan Bice will also get carries. ... Chris Furr returns as the top receiving target. He led Watertown with 20 receptions, 637 yards and six touchdowns last year. Keegan Queior, the team’s top kick/punt returner who scored on a return in the preseason, will start opposite Furr in his second season. ... Sandy Creek alum Avery Barney will anchor the offensive line from the center position. Jacob Beckwith and Jordan Chambers are the favorites to start at tackle, and veteran defensive tackle Tony Ivey will start on the offense and work on both sides of the ball this year.
The linebacker duo of Tristan Jones and Connor Brown, both of whom eclipsed 100 tackles last year, headline a defense that allowed just 7.3 points per game during the preseason. ... Jones is in his third year with the team and tallied 102 takedowns, including a team-high 45 solo tackles, last year. Brown, who graduated from Indian River last summer after helping the Warriors capture the first-ever state championship for a north country high school football team in November 2014, will enter his second year after leading the squad with 119 tackles as a rookie last year. ... Ivey, who ranked third on the team with 44 tackles last year, will still rotate in up front, and talented newcomer Jarred Dukes is expected to wreak havoc at defensive end. Tyler Sloley, also a member of Indian River’s 2014 state championship team, is coming off a strong preseason and is a player to watch in the defensive backfield.
Semipro football: Red and Black starts season tonight at home
WATERTOWN — The Watertown Red and Black will open its regular season by hosting the Glens Falls Greenjackets in an Empire Football League game at 7 tonight at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
The Red and Black is entering its 120th year of semipro football. The team has reached the EFL title game in each of the past two seasons and is coming off an 8-4 campaign. The Greenjackets finished 4-5 last year and suffered a 34-13 EFL playoff loss to the Red and Black.
Watertown went 3-0 in the preseason while Glens Falls won its only exhibition game.
? The Carthage Revolution will host the Ithaca Warriors in an Northeastern Football Alliance East Division game at 7 tonight at Carthage High School.
The Revolution (1-2) is coming off an 8-6 loss to the Broome County Stallions on June 25, while Warriors (1-3) claimed their first win of the season, 30-12 over Glove Cities, on the same night.
Semipro football: Red and Black defense makes auspicious debut
WATERTOWN — Players and coaches for the Watertown Red and Black expressed confidence in their defense entering Saturday night’s Empire Football League season opener.
Less than five minutes into the game and their regular season, it was easy to see why.
The Watertown defense intercepted Glens Falls quarterback Denny Willhelm’s first two pass attempts of the game — the second by Robert Russell was returned 30 yards for a touchdown — and the Red and Black claimed a 20-6 victory over the Greenjackets behind a commanding defensive performance at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“We want to get to the quarterback, and we want to make them look twice at receivers, and we want to make them move their feet a little bit, and that definitely happened tonight,” said Red and Black linebacker Tristan Jones, who finished with a team-high 11 tackles and two sacks. “If we can keep that going all year, we’ll be great.”
Princeton Nealy came up with the first interception for the Red and Black. On the next Glens Falls possession, a host of Watertown defenders busted through the line to get to Willhelm, who was hit hard and dropped the ball right into the hands of the pursuing Russell. He ran 30 yards to the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.
“Our defensive line had really good penetration and it was really on them,” said Russell, who also recorded eight tackles. “They smashed the quarterback, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was awesome.”
Elijah Collins recovered a fumble in the first half and picked off a pass in the third quarter for Watertown, which held the Greenjackets to 144 yards of total offense.
The Red and Black forced four turnovers, registered three sacks, and forced the Greenjackets to punt away eight possessions. In the first quarter, Glens Falls recorded just two offensive yards on 16 plays and failed to pick up a first down.
“We try to set that mentality, every practice and every week, and it carried over into the game,” Jones said.
The Red and Black maintained its 7-0 lead before finally creating some seperation in the fourth quarter.
Recent General Brown graduate Evan Will, who entered the game at quarterback in place of Ryan Semor on the team’s second possession of the third quarter, threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Michael Cook early in the fourth to give the Red and Black a 13-0 lead. Cook caught the ball and spun out of a tackle around the 25-yard line before taking it to the house.
“I turned around and saw two defenders and I just lowered my shoulders like I was always taught, and did a quick spin move and headed to the end zone,” Cook said. “I want this feeling all the time so from this point forward I’m just going to work hard and try to motivate my team and get more feelings like that.”
Anton Gadson ran in an 18-yard touchdown later in the quarter to give Watertown a comfortable 20-0 lead. The Red and Black’s offense struggled until about midway through the third quarter. After missing a long field goal attempt on its first series, Watertown was forced to punt after a three-and-out on its next five possessions heading into halftime.
“The defense played an excellent game and kept the offense in it,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “We moved the ball at certain times pretty well on offense, but overall, our offense has to pick it up.”
Gadson picked up 67 yards on 19 carries, Keegan Queior caught four passes for a team-high 65 yards, and Will completed 7 of 11 attempts for 109 yards to go with 30 yards on four carries.
The Red and Black will play at Syracuse in a rematch of last year’s EFL title game, which was won by the Strong, at 7 p.m. next Saturday.
Saturday, July 23
Red and Black plays at Syracuse in EFL title game rematch
Before returning home to his cake or going to the emergency room for a fractured foot on his 26th birthday last October, Chris Furr began anticipating his next opportunity to play the Syracuse Strong. Furr, like many of his Watertown Red and Black teammates and coaches, said he started eagerly awaiting the rematch just moments after the Red and Black’s 14-6 loss to the Strong in last year’s Empire Football League championship game. That anxiousness ends tonight for the Red and Black — especially for its top wide receiver, Furr — who caught a 65-yard touchdown to help Watertown to a 6-0 halftime lead in that game, but later fractured his foot and suffered the loss on his birthday. “I’m not saying I’m looking for revenge,” Furr said, “but at the same time, I’m trying to come out and at least get this win and get that redemption that I feel like we deserve.” The Red and Black (1-0) is coming off a 20-6 victory over Glens Falls in its season debut last Saturday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, while tonight’s game serves as the season opener for the Strong. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Meachem Park in Syracuse. “Playing them in week two is big for us,” Furr said. “If we win (tonight), throughout the whole season, we’ll know that we’re capable of beating them and if we end up seeing them in the championship again, we’ll know that we’re capable of beating them in the championship.” Tonight’s game will feature a pair of the EFL’s most fearsome defenses. The Strong rode a smothering pass rush to the championship in its inaugural season last year, limiting opposing teams to just seven points per game and posting three shutouts. Syracuse went 2-1 with a pair of shutouts in the preseason, allowing only eight points overall. “I think we go in there with the top two defenses again and that just brings out something extra, a little more adrenaline,” Red and Black defensive coordinator Brian Gessner said. “We want to show them that we are the better team, the better defense and the better offense.” Watertown’s defense gave up 11.2 points per game last season to rank as the second stingiest in the EFL, and is coming off an impressive performance in the season opener. The Red and Black defense finished with three sacks and forced four turnovers, including a pick-six by Robert Russell in the first quarter, and held Glens Falls to 144 yards of total offense. During its 3-0 preseason, Watertown limited opponents to 7.3 points per game. “I think that both defenses are going to be up to the challenge to see if they can’t pitch a shutout,” Red and Black head coach George Ashcraft said. “It’s going to be up to the offenses and the special teams to do something special in this game.” Watertown and Syracuse split their two regular-season matchups last year, with each team scoring a road victory. “I think that with everybody knowing what a chore this is going to be, it’s going to have them ready,” Ashcraft added. “I think this team is truly ready to go down there and try to redeem what happened last October.” The Red and Black returns to the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds for back-to-back home games on July 23 and July 30 against the Sussex Stags and the Seaway Valley Venom, respectively.
Strong overpowers Red & Black, 34-3
A bad start doomed the Watertown Red and Black as it was routed, 34-3, by the defending Empire Football League champion Syracuse Strong in the Strong’s season opener on Saturday night at Meacham Park. Syracuse (1-0) got out of the gate quickly as Quon Green returned a punt 60 yards within the 1 minute, 30 seconds elapsed after forcing a three-and-out on the opening drive by Watertown (1-1). The Shock then scored 27 of its 34 points in the first half to put up an insurmountable lead. “We got beat pretty badly,” Red and Black head coach George Ashcraft said. “They just dominated us from the start,” Red and Black assistant coach Jerry Levine said. “We got off to a bad start and it snowballed from there.” Marty Clanton threw a pair of touchdown passes, including an 11-yard strike to Tyler Gage for Syracuse. The Strong added a third-quarter touchdown before the Red and Black finally scored on a 20-yard field goal by Dylan Bice. Watertown quarterback and former General Brown standout Evan Will went 10-for-30 for 102 yards and two interceptions. Levine was pleased with Will’s toughness. “He hung in there and we had a couple of really good drives at the end,” Levine said. Princeton Nealy intercepted a pass and Tristan Jones recorded nine tackles to highlight the Red and Black’s defensive effort. Syracuse defeated Watertown, 14-6, in the 2015 EFL title game. Watertown will host the Sussex (N.J.) Stags at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds at 7 p.m. Saturday. SYRACUSE — A bad start doomed the Watertown Red and Black as it was routed, 34-3, by the defending Empire Football League champion Syracuse Strong in the Strong’s season opener on Saturday night at Meacham Park. Syracuse (1-0) got out of the gate quickly as Quon Green returned a punt 60 yards within the 1 minute, 30 seconds elapsed after forcing a three-and-out on the opening drive by Watertown (1-1). The Shock then scored 27 of its 34 points in the first half to put up an insurmountable lead. “We got beat pretty badly,” Red and Black head coach George Ashcraft said. “They just dominated us from the start,” Red and Black assistant coach Jerry Levine said. “We got off to a bad start and it snowballed from there.” Marty Clanton threw a pair of touchdown passes, including an 11-yard strike to Tyler Gage for Syracuse. The Strong added a third-quarter touchdown before the Red and Black finally scored on a 20-yard field goal by Dylan Bice. Watertown quarterback and former General Brown standout Evan Will went 10-for-30 for 102 yards and two interceptions. Levine was pleased with Will’s toughness. “He hung in there and we had a couple of really good drives at the end,” Levine said. Princeton Nealy intercepted a pass and Tristan Jones recorded nine tackles to highlight the Red and Black’s defensive effort. Syracuse defeated Watertown, 14-6, in the 2015 EFL title game. Watertown will host the Sussex (N.J.) Stags at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds at 7 p.m. Saturday.
With Ivey leading the way, Red & Black hopes to make sweet music tonight
Watertown Red and Black fans witness how much Tony Ivey enjoys playing semipro football every home game when they see the big No. 77 jamming to the music on the sidelines. Ivey’s coaches and teammates see his fondness for the game when he shows up committed to work hard at every practice, sacrificing personal preference to play any position he’s asked. Ivey said that he is just grateful to play in front of a dedicated fan-base at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, as he will tonight when the Red and Black (1-1 overall) hosts the Sussex Stags (2-0). Kickoff for the matchup between a pair of Empire Football League contenders is scheduled for 7 p.m. “To have fans come out to our games and to hear them cheer and yell for No. 77 to go start dancing and stuff, it lights a fire under you,” said Ivey, a versatile two-way lineman who stands at 6-foot-1 and weighs nearly 400 pounds. “You get moving and it’s a lot more fun than you might expect. I love when we get a little dance music on and I love going up to the kids and high-fiving and signing autographs. There’s really no other feeling like it.” Ivey said he was born in Watertown and his family moved to Atlanta when he was an infant. He grew up and lived in Georgia until playing college football at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa. Ivey was recruited to play defensive tackle for the Chargers of the NAIA, but was eventually shifted to guard, and finished his career as the team’s center. He then played a few semipro seasons while living near Atlanta, he said, in front of crowds that rarely topped 15 people. Ivey said he was more than willing to follow that pattern and play various roles for the Red and Black when he moved back to the area and started playing for the team five years ago. “I’ve got enough beef for the entire team,” Ivey said. “I’m rotating in at guard, tackle, and nose tackle. I’m a little bit of a do-it-all guy and I like it that way. I consider myself a fat swiss army knife.” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said that he has long been impressed with the agility and energy with which Ivey operates through the trenches on either side of the ball, and views his versatility as a priceless asset to the coaching staff. “That’s the kind of guy Tony is,” Ashcraft said. “He’ll move over to fill a different spot, doesn’t matter where, and he won’t give you any crap about it. He’ll just say ‘yeah,’ because he’s here to play. He’s here to win.” Ivey received honorable mention on the EFL All-Star team as an offensive lineman in 2012 and 2013 then missed the 2014 season with a torn Achilles tendon, an injury he suffered at the end of the previous year. He returned last season and finished third on the team with 44 tackles, garnering second team EFL all-defense honors, and started being worked into the offensive line rotation to help the team reach its second straight EFL title game. “I told them: ‘Look I just want to get back on the field,’” Ivey said. “I didn’t have a solidified starting spot anymore. At that point, I went wherever they could put me.” Ivey said that pursuing a championship for the Red and Black in recent years, including home games in front of hundreds of fans, has been among the most enjoyable experiences of his football career. “This is everything that you want,” Ivey said. “You really have to soak up as much football as you can in this area, because you only get it for a short period of time. You have to have fun with it while you can.”
Friday, July 29
No Stag party this time around for Red & Black
As the Watertown Red and Black and Sussex Stags players huddled together for a postgame prayer, George Ashcraft approached the group to commend Ben Cramer on a fine performance. Ashcraft yelled to the group that Cramer, the 20-year-old Sussex running back, was perhaps the best rookie rusher that Ashcraft has ever seen in his 26 years as Red and Black head coach. Cramer ran for 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 24 carries, and Sussex added several big plays through the air and on special teams to capture a 42-30 comeback victory over the Red and Black Saturday night at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. The Stags improved to 3-0 to remain atop the Empire Football League standings, while the Red and Black (1-2 overall) suffered its second straight loss. “We very easily could have folded up,” Cramer said. “These guys were pounding us in the beginning and we said: ‘Screw that.’ We came back and started pounding back a lot harder than they were pounding us and it worked in our favor.” Cramer scored on an eight-yard run with 17 seconds left in the second quarter to cut the Red and Black’s lead to 28-22 entering halftime. His second touchdown came from 11 yards out early in the fourth quarter to put Sussex up 42-28, capping a run of 26 unanswered points. Cramer, who graduated from Newton High School in 2014 as a standout in football and baseball, broke off six runs of 10 yards or more, with a long of 45. He had two additional lengthy runs, both topping 30 yards, called back because of holding penalties. “I’ll put my 26 years of being a head coach on it, that kid is one of the finest football players I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Ashcraft said of Cramer. “This kid is the real deal. If he hangs around you better hold onto your hat because he’s almost unstoppable.” The Stags’ running game kept the Red and Black offense — which had been gaining momentum throughout the first half — off the field for much of the second half, especially in the third quarter. The Red and Black was outscored 13-0 in the third and ran just four offensive plays in the period. The first was a lost fumble inside the Sussex 10-yard line, followed by a botched snap that went for minus-nine yards, a reception that lost two yards, and an incomplete pass. Watertown was held to 35 yards of total offense over the final two quarters. “We went out there for four plays in the third quarter and couldn’t get a first down, and it’s hard to get into rhythm like that,” Red and Black quarterback Evan Will said. Sussex quarterback Joe Eslin made several big plays in the second half, the biggest of which was an 82-yard touchdown pass to Kasson Thomas on third-and-15 late in the third quarter to give the Stags a 35-28 lead. “I think we made a great statement,” Cramer said. “Watertown came out real tough and kind of got us in the mouth a little bit, and we came fighting back and showed how tough we were.” Will ran in a seven-yard touchdown on Watertown’s first possession and later found Chris Furr for touchdowns of five and 25 yards in the first half. Keegan Queior scored on an 86-yard kickoff return with five minutes left in the second quarter to put Watertown up 28-16, matching its largest lead of the game. “I felt like we did slack up a little bit when we had that lead coming out of halftime,” Furr said. “So I think that got to us and when we came back out, we thought we could just do it again and the game turned on us.” Will completed 15-of-28 passes for 109 yards and an interception, while Furr caught seven passes for 47 yards and Queior finished with five receptions for 52 yards. The Red and Black was held to just 34 team rushing yards on 13 carries.
Monday, August 1
Red and Black’s Sawyer waits to run again
Ky Sawyer has served as an inspiration for the Watertown Red and Black since his lower left leg was amputated following a motorcycle accident last year.
And the former defensive lineman hopes that his motivational tale is just getting started.
Sawyer — who has remained a fixture with the team since suffering the accident, this year as a defensive assistant coach — said he hopes to eventually suit up and resume his role along the defensive line for the nation’s oldest semipro football team.
Sawyer will be on the sidelines coaching his former teammates tonight when the Red and Black (1-2 overall) hosts the Seaway Valley Venom (0-2) in an Empire Football League matchup. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“I still get cold chills pretty much every play that I watch because I want to be out there,” said Sawyer, a Black River native and 2008 Carthage Central School graduate. “I’m too competitive to just sit around. I’ve been playing football since I was about 5 years old for the Carthage Bears, and I’ve never gone a season without playing until this happened.”
Sawyer, who has adorned his prosthetic leg with a Red and Black helmet decal, played three seasons for the team beginning in 2012. He lined up mostly at defensive end during his first two years, and in 2014, he shifted to nose tackle and finished with 20 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Sawyer earned EFL All-Star honorable mention that season, and was poised to return to the team for 2015 and build off his breakout season.
But on June 29 that year, just a few weeks before the EFL season opener, Sawyer was riding his motorcycle through the intersection of Factory and High streets in Watertown when he was struck by a sport utility vehicle.
Sawyer said he was run over after being struck by the vehicle. He was treated for leg injuries on the scene and flown to Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, where he eventually underwent surgery to amputate part of his lower-left leg.
Less than a month after the accident, Sawyer was on the sidelines for Red and Black home games, cheering on his teammates in a wheelchair. The accident also occurred about two weeks before the birth of Sawyer’s first child, a daughter named Lachlyn.
“What he’s overcome is miraculous but the way he’s handled it has really been amazing,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said. “You never see him down, you never see him holding any animosity towards anything. Since it’s happened, it’s been all: ‘I’m going to get better and I’m going to show people I can do this.’ I think his attitude is what’s really carried him through this.”
Sawyer frequently attended games and practices last year, and decided to join the coaching staff this past winter when he attended the team’s offseason training camps.
“This is kind of like my family here, so I couldn’t just spend my time not doing something with the team,” Sawyer said. “It’s definitely a huge transition (becoming a coach). It’s weird telling my old teammates what to do, it’s kind of fun, but it’s hard watching everyone else play when you want to be out there.”
Last August, a few months before receiving his first prosthetic leg, Sawyer was back in the weight room with former teammate Alex Tibbles, who was coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL.
Tibbles slimmed down dramatically while training with Sawyer and credited his teammate with helping him land a pro contract with the Budapest Cowbells of the Central European Football League this past winter.
“He really got me back into the gym and is the reason I’m in good shape now,” Tibbles said in February. “I felt like a turd. If a guy is in the weight room with one leg, working out in a wheelchair, what was my excuse?”
Sawyer said he still has a hole in his injured leg, and his time wearing the prosthetic is limited each day while the often unpredictable healing process continues.
When his leg is healthy enough, Sawyer said, he hopes to begin working with a more durable prosthetic that is often called a “running leg,” and begin training to play football again.
“What he’s done so far is phenomenal,” Red and Black head coach George Ashcraft said. “He’s in great shape and he’s still a big, strong man. When he gets things straightened out with his leg and that heals, don’t tell me that anything less than the sky is the limit, because he’ll show you.”
Watertown Red and Black overwhelms Seaway Valley, 89-0, to get back on track
Demetrius Robinson chased the ball carrier into the end zone on the game’s opening kickoff, and when the ball quickly popped loose and rolled to him, Robinson simply bent down and scooped it up to give the Watertown Red and Black a touchdown 16 seconds into Saturday night’s Empire Football League game.
The momentum stayed entirely with the Red and Black the rest of the way as the team rolled to an 89-0 shutout of the Seaway Valley Venom at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Watertown improved to 2-2 overall after suffering back-to-back losses to undefeated Syracuse (3-0) and Sussex (3-0) in its previous two games. The Red and Black will travel to rival Plattsburgh (1-3) next Saturday, aiming for its first victory on the North Stars’ home field since 2007.
“I think we showed tonight that we can be one of the best teams in this league,” said Robinson, who also scored on touchdown runs of one and 10 yards. “We just came in with the killer instinct and a killer mind-set to do what we had to do.”
Ten different Red and Black players recorded a touchdown, and the team scored on 11 of its 12 offensive possessions, adding a pair of special teams touchdowns.
“We had to win and get back to .500,” said Red and Black linebacker Tristan Jones, who ran in a three-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. “I’m just glad we came out with that mentality. We had to get it done tonight.”
The Red and Black built a 35-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and held a 63-0 halftime advantage. The victory was especially satisfying after consecutive losses in which Watertown was outscored 76-33.
“We’re better than what we played the previous two weeks and I’ve said that right along,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “I don’t know if these guys really believed it until now. That’s what it takes is a game like this. Now you go into next week, and the week after, and you just keep playing and try to keep it going.”
Red and Black quarterback Evan Will threw an 18-yard touchdown to Keegan Queior, a 31-yard score to Tristen Richards, and a nine-yard touchdown pass to Chris Furr. Will added an eight-yard touchdown run, and Queior also scored on a 55-yard punt return.
Anton Gadson scored on a 27-yard touchdown run, Michael Cook ran in a score from 23 yards out, while Warren Spies and Joe Martinez each added a short touchdown run.
“We got a lot of guys in the end zone and everyone’s happy and that what tonight was about, lifting the team morale a little bit and getting these guys feeling good about their selves again,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said. “We were hungry after we felt like we let one get away last week. Overall I thought we got great effort by everybody and it was a fun game for the guys.”
The Venom, which dropped to 0-3 in its first EFL season and second year of existence, suited about 20 players for its first road game.
Seaway Valley coach Elijah Winfrey requested to play the second half with a normal clock as opposed to running time, and the Venom picked up 70 yards on the game’s final play before Joel Castro was tackled just short of the end zone.
“I’m proud of the way they didn’t quit, that’s been a big mantra of ours,” Winfrey said. “When we took over this team, we had five people at the meeting. Last year’s team was getting blown out by 80 points every game. I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress from last season and so we have to learn from these experiences and keep building.”
After next Saturday’s game at Plattsburgh, the Red and Black will return home to host the Mohawk Valley Titans on Aug. 13, which will be followed by the team’s bye week.
Monday, August 8
Red and Black looks to end nearly decade of misery in Plattsburgh
The majority of Watertown Red and Black players expected to suit up tonight have yet to experience the long and often miserable bus ride home from Plattsburgh.
But for the few veteran players who have, ending the near decade-long losing streak on the home field of the team’s longtime Empire Football League rival is the main objective when the Red and Black (2-2 overall) and North Stars (1-3) kick off at 7 p.m. at Penfield Park.
No active players were on the roster in 2007, the last time the Red and Black won a road game at Plattsburgh, a stretch of nine losses that includes three playoff tilts and two EFL finals matchups in 2010 and 2014.
“Every time we get ready to go play Plattsburgh up there, we go back to the championship we lost there (in 2014),” said wide receiver Chris Furr, a fourth-year veteran who is 0-4 in his career at Plattsburgh.
“I know we haven’t won in Plattsburgh since ’07 and we’re trying to go up there and end that, no question, and get that win up there,” he added. “No matter what happens, calls or anything like that, we’re just trying to leave with that win.”
The North Stars have raced out to a fast start in their three most recent home victories over the Red and Black.
Last season, Plattsburgh quarterback Harry Rascoe threw a 63-yard touchdown to Brandon St. John on the second play of the game.
In the previous matchup — the 2014 EFL championship game — Jamil McCray ran in a 14-yard touchdown on the first drive for the North Stars, which held on for a 6-0 victory.
In the 2014 regular season finale at Plattsburgh, a victory that gave the North Stars home-field advantage over the Red and Black for that season’s playoffs, JeVaughn Pinnock returned the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown.
“It’s ultimately just the way we played in those games,” said Watertown’s third-year linebacker and defensive captain, Tristan Jones. “I felt like we gave them the game in those last few losses up there. So if we can come out strong from the start and stick to what we’re good at and keep running the ball down their throat and do our defensive responsibilities, we will be perfectly fine.”
The North Stars are winless in two home games this year, including a 20-7 loss to Glens Falls last Saturday.
Plattsburgh has also suffered losses to the Sussex Stags and Syracuse Strong, the same teams responsible for Watertown’s two defeats.
The Red and Black is coming off an 89-0 home victory over the Seaway Valley Venom, which Plattsburgh beat in its season opener for its only victory of the year.
“We need to keep that confidence that we had against the Venom,” Jones said. “If we can keep that, and we can keep everybody’s morale high, and bring that killer mentality that we had for that Venom team, we’ll be fine. It may not be an 89-point game, but we should be able to put some points on the board.”
The Red and Black leads the all-time series against the North Stars, 16-15, and has posted a 5-1 record in games played between the two squads at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds since 2007, including Watertown’s last EFL championship victory in 2009.
“What’s nice about the trip this year is that about 80 percent of this team is new, so to a lot of these guys, Plattsburgh is just another game,” Ashcraft said. “I think we’ve got a very good team and we’ll take 40 or 45 people, and if they play the game they’re capable of playing, we should happy on the bus ride home.”
The Red and Black returns home to host the Mohawk Valley Titans next Saturday.
Overtime kickoff return extends Red & Black’s Plattsburgh misery
The Watertown Red and Black suffered yet another heart-wrenching loss at Plattsburgh on Saturday night.
Tevin Connors returned the opening kickoff of overtime 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown, lifting the North Stars to a 33-27 overtime victory over the Red and Black in a matchup between longtime Empire Football League rivals at Penfield Park.
Watertown, which fell to 2-3 overall this season, suffered its 10th straight loss at Plattsburgh and hasn’t won on the North Stars’ home field since 2007. That streak includes the 2010 and 2014 EFL title games, and three playoff games overall.
Plattsburgh rallied from a 27-14 third-quarter deficit to force overtime on Saturday.
Harry Rascoe, a veteran quarterback who made his first appearance for the North Stars this season, ran in a six-yard touchdown late in the quarter to trim Watertown’s lead to 27-21 following the extra point.
Plattsburgh fullback Elijah Parks then punched it in from four yards out in the fourth quarter, and after a failed extra point, the game was tied at 27 points apiece, as it remained through the end of regulation. Connors then put a quick end to the extra period with his 80-yard return.
RaKwan Allen and Evan Will each scored a on a short touchdown run in the first half for Watertown, which trailed 14-12 at halftime.
The Red and Black came out firing to start the third quarter. Jordan Clentmack returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown, and following Allen’s 2-point conversion run, Watertown took a 20-14 lead.
Will then found Keegan Queior for a 56-yard touchdown pass later in the quarter to put the Red and Black up, 27-14. Queior, a primary option in the passing game and the team’s return ace, left the game soon after with a knee injury and did not return.
“That was a big blow when he went down,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said. “He was having a monster game.”
Rascoe threw two touchdowns to Tre Bucci, of 82 and seven yards, in the second quarter as Plattsburgh opened up a 14-6 lead.
Will completed 12 of 25 passes for 156 yards for the Red and Black, and Queior led the team in receiving with six catches for 103 yards.
Anton Gadson tallied 60 yards on 12 rushing attempts, and Allen carried the ball 14 times for 46 yards.
The Red and Black will host the Mohawk Valley Titans (1-3) at 7 p.m. next Saturday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds and will be on bye the following week.
Plattsburgh evened up the all-time series between the longtime EFL rivals at 16 victories apiece.
Watertown has posted a 5-1 record against the North Stars in games played at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds over the duration of its winless draught at Plattsburgh. The teams are not scheduled to face off again during the regular season.
Red and Black Hall of Fame aims for annual inductions
As the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrined its latest class Saturday night, John Morgia and Tom LaDuke continued working on plans to honor local semipro football legends.
Morgia and LaDuke operate the Watertown Red and Black Hall of Fame, which is a separate organization from the Red and Black football team, with assistance from other members of their committee consisting of past inductees.
Morgia and LaDuke’s ties to Red and Black football date back nearly 50 years and they helped establish the Hall of Fame in 1988 as a way to honor the elite players, coaches, and other contributors to the nation’s oldest semipro football team that was founded in 1896.
Morgia, who holds the title of president for the Watertown Red and Black Hall of Fame, said that Steve Fisher, Michael DeTraglia, and Jim Powers were among the committee members who played large roles in helping launch the corporation nearly 30 years ago.
“We started taking a look and thought, there’s a lot of great talent here that we need to recognize somehow, in some way,” Morgia said.
This past May, the Watertown Red and Black Hall of Fame inducted its first class since 2006 with a ceremony at Savory Downtown in Watertown.
About 70 people attended the event and 10 new inductees were honored, bringing the tally to 94 members. The night was highlighted by guest speaker Bob Casullo, who has decades of coaching experience in major college football and the NFL, and coached in a pair of Super Bowls.
“The young guys that came in this year, it was exceptional for them to be inducted,” LaDuke said. “We didn’t really know how they would react, being away from the Hall of Fame for a long time before re-organizing and setting this up again this year, but these guys were excited to be a part of this.”
Since that ceremony, Morgia, LaDuke, historian Michael Britton and other committee members have met regularly to update bylaws, dissect nominations, and make other preparations for next year’s enshrinement.
Morgia said that the group hopes to induct a new class annually, and desires to eventually display artifacts they’ve collected over the years at a permanent site in Watertown.
Nominations are submitted to the committee by current Hall of Fame members. Individuals must be at least five years removed from the team to be considered for induction — other than a few deviations due to extenuating circumstances — one of the many criteria that the organization modeled after the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s bylaws.
“I would love to see it happen every year because there are enough players out there that were very successful in their careers that should be in,” Morgia said. “You have a list of players that goes on and on.”
Morgia never played for the Red and Black but headed the efforts to revive the semipro team in 1969 after a 10-year dormant period. He served as team president and later shifted to the board of directors, tallying more than two decades with the club’s front office.
LaDuke joined the Red and Black as a player/coach when the team was reformed in 1969, and later served as head coach and a board member.
LaDuke, along with Jim Powers, coached the team to one of its most successful seasons in 1980, capturing the Empire Football League championship and the No. 2 national ranking by Pro Football Weekly.
Morgia and LaDuke said that the brotherhood formed with fellow coaches and players during that time has helped ignite their passion to honor all of the elite players, coaches and contributors that have passed through the organization. They also hope to play a role in educating the public on the history behind the team and its importance as a community tradition.
“The thing is that we were a family,” Morgia said. “I know that gets said a lot, but we were. The guys hung out together, and their wives and their girlfriends supported us all big-time. That’s just the way it was, a very close-knit group of individuals.”
Many longtime members of the Watertown Red and Black Hall of Fame gather at noon each Wednesday at the Clubhouse Diner to share old stories and chat about their love for the game.
“I think the sport of football is the medium that we use, but the lasting friendships we have with the people that we played Red and Black with, it’s tremendous,” LaDuke said.
Tuesday, August 16
Craft brings experience at Army to first Red & Black game tonight
The Watertown Red and Black will recognize past players and coaches during halftime of tonight’s game as part of its annual alumni celebration.
But it’s the debut of a new linebacker that has several players and coaches buzzing for today’s 7 p.m. Empire Football League matchup against the Mohawk Valley Titans (1-3 overall) at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
James “Buddy” Craft, who played four years for the Army West Point Sprint Collegiate Football team, will take the field for the first time tonight after joining the nation’s oldest semipro football team earlier this week.
The Red and Black, coming off a 33-27 overtime loss at Plattsburgh, has lost three of its last four games and enters with a 2-3 overall record.
“You go from one minute being retired, so to speak, and then you get to strap it on again, it’s going to be a blast,” said Craft, a 24 year-old from Matthews, N.C.
“I’m excited to get it going and get to know some of these guys,” he added. “It’s great to be around a like-minded community of dudes that love to play football and are taking time out of their days and their busy jobs to go do this stuff.”
Craft works with first-year safety Jordan Clentimack and the two quickly bonded over their love for football. Clentimack said he talked to Craft about joining the Red and Black on several occasions and when the subject came up again this past Tuesday, Craft said he talked to his wife and with her blessing, decided to attend Tuesday’s practice.
“We were kind of joking about it and he asked when the next practice was, I said tonight, and he was like: ‘OK. Let’s do it,’” said Clentimack, who returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown in last Saturday’s loss.
“He has great quickness and I was very (impressed) with what he could do on the football field. It was pretty awesome.”
Craft played four seasons for the sprint football team at West Point, which is a college football division that features players at 172 pounds or less and consists of eight teams. Craft manned the middle and outside linebacker positions during his career and was a senior captain for the 2014 team.
Last year, following Craft’s departure, Army West Point won the Collegiate Sprint Football League championship.
“It was tough because I don’t weigh 172 pounds naturally anymore, so I basically had to cut weight and watch myself, like I did when I wrestled in high school,” Craft said of his collegiate experience. “So it was tough when you’re basically eating rabbit food for months on end and trying to still stay in good football shape, but that said, it was a great experience, a lot of my closest friends played for that team, and I wouldn’t trade it.”
Craft, who said he now weighs about 204 pounds and stands at 5-foot-9, was also a three-year captain on the football team at Charlotte Christian High School, which is the alma mater of the NBA’s reigning two-time Most Valuable Player, Stephen Curry.
Craft’s father was a football coach and Red and Black defensive coordinator Brian Gessner said that Craft’s knowledge of the game and ability to read offenses and call out assignments on the fly stood out during his first practice with the team on Tuesday.
“Communication is something I’ve been trying to instill in the guys,” Gessner said. “They need to talk to each other, and hopefully with him calling certain things out, that will start to rub off on everybody.”
Craft’s addition to the team is especially critical with several of Watertown’s major defensive play-makers going down with injuries during the first half of the season. Defensive end Jared Dukes, safety Michael Hibbard, and linebacker Connor Brown, all of whom were starters entering the season, are likely to miss the remainder of the year.
“I’m not the most talented guy by any stretch of the imagination but I take a lot of pride in preparation for games and breaking down film as best I can,” Craft said. “Eventually I’d like to work closely with the coaches on developing our scheme and seeing how we can beat these other teams, then putting that into practice on the field at linebacker.”
Queior returns from injury to highlight Red and Black rout
Keegan Queior was carried off the field and taken to a hospital during last week’s game with a potential knee injury.
The elusive wide receiver/kick returner was back on the field Saturday night, showing his Watertown Red and Black teammates how fortunate they are that the incident was just a scare.
Queior caught a five-yard touchdown pass on Watertown’s opening drive, and later scored on a 55-yard punt return to help the Red and Black roll through the Mohawk Valley Titans, 47-6, in an Empire Football League matchup at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Watertown improved to 3-3 overall entering its bye week and will next play on Aug. 27 at Glens Falls.
“There were no breaks or anything like that, just a dislocated knee, so I wanted to come out and try to work it out tonight,” Queior said. “We definitely wanted to get ahead early and get a jump on them quick, other than that we were just able to execute.”
Queior caught five passes for 98 yards and did much of his damage on Watertown’s opening possession. He hauled in three receptions for 68 yards on the drive, including a 55-yard gain on a short pass across the middle. On the next play, he caught a five-yard slant from quarterback Evan Will in the end zone.
“If you had told me last Saturday night that he would be out here scoring touchdowns, returning punts, breaking tackles, I would have laughed because when he was carried off the field (last week), I honestly thought he was done for the year,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said. “He was here limping on Tuesday, a little bit less on Thursday, and tonight he showed up and was ready to go. He’s an electric player and he has a lot of heart.”
Jordan Clentimack returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown, scoring on a pick-six for the second consecutive game. Last Saturday, the first-year safety ran an interception back 85 yards for a touchdown in a 33-27 overtime loss at Plattsburgh.
“I saw he was looking deep and he overthrew the receiver and it came right to me, and there was nothing but grass in front of me,” said Clentimack, whose interception gave Watertown a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“I love to score touchdowns and do whatever I can do to help the team, that’s what I’m happy about,” he added.
RaKwan Allen caught a short swing pass and took it 49 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter, putting Watertown up 34-6 entering halftime. Allen led Watertown with 14 carries for 70 yards.
James “Buddy,” Craft, a former linebacker for the Army West Point Sprint Collegiate Football team, making his team debut, scooped up the ball after a botched snap to the Mohawk Valley punter and ran it back 25 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Will completed 10 of 17 passes for 209 yards and threw for a pair of touchdowns. He also scored on a quarterback sneak from one yard out to give the Red and Black a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
Dylan Bice connected on two field goals — from 21 and 32 yards out — and converted five of six extra point attempts for the Red and Black.
“I truly believe that if we avoid a few mistakes in two of those losses, this could be a different thing right now,” Watertown coach George Ashcraft said. “Those two losses (to Sussex and Plattsburgh) we were up by two touchdowns in the second half of both games, and we were in control of everything. But because of all the youth that we do have, I mean, there needs to be more urgency. We have to play with that. When you get up by two (scores), you have to want to get up by four. That’s something that’s within the players, they have to want it and if they do, we’re going to finish very well.”
Alex Heath returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter for the Titans (1-4).
Sunday, August 28
Watertown Red and Black wary of dwindling practice numbers
George Ashcraft redecorated his coaching office at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds this past week to add a collection of trophies the Watertown Red and Black has earned over the past few decades.
Ashcraft and his staff hoped the mementos would show players what dedicated squads throughout the organization’s history have been able to accomplish, and also serve as a reminder to the goal that this year’s team started working toward almost six months ago.
With practice attendance dwindling ahead of tonight’s Empire Football League game against Glens Falls, a critical matchup with heavy playoff implications, coaches and fully committed veterans can only hope the message is received.
The Greenjackets (3-3 overall) will host the Red and Black (3-3) at 7 tonight at East Field in Glens Falls.
“Practice is where everything gets put in place for Saturday and you can’t just show up and say you’re going to change everything,” Ashcraft said. “It doesn’t work that way. The teams that practice, it shows, and that’s a fact at every level of football.”
The Red and Black beat the Greenjackets, 20-6, in the season opener for both teams July 9 at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds behind a dominant defensive effort.
Watertown’s defense forced four turnovers, finished with three sacks, and surrendered just 144 yards of total offense. In the first quarter of that game, Glens Falls mustered just two yards on 16 plays.
“Showing up to practice and giving 110 percent, that’s pretty much how we can get back to that,” Watertown outside linebacker Tyler Sloley said.
The Red and Black suited about 50 players for the season opener and more than 60 players are listed on the roster, though some have been lost to injury or work commitments.
Tuesday and Thursday practices this week were attended by about 25 players each and Ashcraft said the team would be “lucky,” to bring 30 active players to tonight’s game.
“We had everybody coming to practice more and everybody had the same goal (before the season opener),” Sloley said. “There was no one super hero or anything on the team, no, everybody came through as a collective group and we came out and executed.”
The winner of tonight’s game will move into sole possession of third place in the EFL standings entering the league-wide Labor Day bye.
Watertown will return to host first-place Syracuse (6-0) and travel to second-place Sussex (5-1) in consecutive weeks as it hopes to at least earn a home game in the first round of the six-team playoffs that begin on Oct. 8.
“It’s kind of about consistency for us,” said Anton Gadson, a Watertown High School graduate and one of three running backs sharing the workload this season. “I know as far as the players, we’re coming in with a chip on our shoulder, getting that win (last game) but also having a few losses before that. But we have to stay positive as well because we know Glens Falls has actually improved since we last played them.”
The Red and Black is coming off a 47-6 victory over the Seaway Valley Venom in its last game on Aug. 13, a night on which roughly 50 players were suited and active.
“You want to suit everyone who is a part of this as often as you possibly can,” Ashcraft said. “I want to win down at Glens Falls, and I would hope that anyone who wants to say they’re a part of this wants to go down there and win, too.”
Will leads Watertown Red and Black to wild, one-point victory
Evan Will ran for two touchdowns in the second half, and rushed for a pair of first downs in the closing minutes to help the Watertown Red and Black run out the clock and secure a 35-34 victory over the Glens Falls Greenjackets on Saturday at East Field.
The Red and Black defense forced a turnover on downs with one minute and 55 seconds left, and Watertown never relinquished possession to improve to 4-3 in the Empire Football League.
“We’re very proud of this team,” Watertown coach George Ashcraft said. “Everyone pulled together and made this thing work tonight. They played their (tails) off.”
Will ran for a five-yard score midway through the third quarter — a touchdown that was set up by a long punt return from Keegan Queior — and Dylan Bice made one of his five extra points to put the Red and Black up 28-27.
Following a Tristan Jones interception late in the third quarter, Will then added an 11-yard rushing score to give Watertown a 35-27 lead.
Glens Falls (3-4 overall) responded on its next drive when Paul Hanna scored on a three-yard run, but rather than attempt a game-tying two-point conversion with 13 minutes remaining, the Greenjackets opted to kick the extra point to trim Watertown’s lead to 35-34.
Will also threw two touchdown passes in the first half. He connected with Queior on a 20-yard score on Watertown’s opening drive, and hit Chris Furr for a 44-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left before the half.
Will, who graduated from General Brown in June, completed 13 of 24 passes for 160 yards, while adding 45 yards on 11 carries.
“Evan Will played a phenomenal game tonight,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said. “He made some big plays throwing and running and played well all-around.”
Queior provided another big punt return in the second quarter, setting his team up at the Glens Falls 10-yard line, and Anton Gadson followed with a touchdown run on the first play of the possession.
Queior also had a 55-yard punt return touchdown called off for a block in the back in the fourth quarter.
“We overcame some adversity tonight, which is a good sign for this team,” Levine said. “This was a big, big win for us.”
Furr caught four passes for a team-high 87 yards, and Queior finished with 42 yards on six receptions.
James “Buddy” Craft finished with a team-high 11 tackles to go with a sack, while Jones and Warren Spies each provided seven tackles.
All EFL teams receive a bye next Saturday for the Labor Day holiday. The Red and Black will return to the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds to host the undefeated Syracuse Strong (6-0) at 7 p.m. Sept. 10.
Tuesday, September 13
Red & Black to host undefeated Strong on military night
Before attempting to knock off the nationally ranked No. 1 team tonight, the Watertown Red and Black will recognize the military members in attendance that serve and protect, helping to make such games possible.
As has been the case for much of the past 25 years, the honorees will include about half of the Red and Black players.
Watertown will recognize players and coaches who serve by name in a pregame ceremony, and allow free admission to any military members with an ID for tonight’s Empire Football League matchup against the undefeated Syracuse Strong (6-0 overall) at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
The pregame festivities will begin around 6:45 p.m., with kickoff to follow.
“They’re always dedicated,” said Red & Black head coach George Ashcraft said of the many Fort Drum soldiers who have joined the nation’s oldest semipro football team in his coaching tenure.
“They’re here as much as they can be. Their job is a 24/7 thing in the military and sometimes they have to leave for a week or six weeks. You miss them when they’re gone, you’re happy when they come back and a lot of times, one of the first things they’ll do when they get back is come to practice.”
Military night has been an annual tradition for the organization for more than a decade, and this year’s event falls on the eve of the 15-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorists attacks.
In addition to recognizing soldiers and other players who have served, the event has become a celebration of the team’s long-standing connection with the military base at Fort Drum.
“It’s very different but there’s a similarity there as far as the brotherhood, and the family idea behind it all,” said first-year safety Jordan Clentimack, a soldier stationed at Fort Drum.
“When you’re at work it’s the guys you go to war with in actual combat, then you get out here with these guys and you get ready for those games on Saturday, where you have to count on each other to win.”
Ashcraft said that after taking the team’s head coaching position in 1991, he started recruiting players at a gym on base that he frequented.
He said that each year during his tenure, the roster has been close to an even 50-50 split between civilians and soldiers, and that trend has continued this season.
More than half of the team’s regular starters serve in the military, and the team will also welcome back quarterback Ryan Semor, who has been away for about six weeks due to military obligations.
James Craft, a linebacker who joined the team midseason, played for the Army West Point Sprint Collegiate Team.
This year’s squad also features a player who is on leave serving for the Canadian Army and is expected back by the end of the regular season.
“There’s a mutual respect,” said third-year linebacker Tristan Jones, a Fort Drum soldier and one of the team’s defensive captains in his third year at linebacker. “(Ashcraft) gives us something to keep our minds off the monotony of the military at times and he also respects us.”
Before every home game, team captains lead the Red and Black players onto the field with flags waving at the front of four lines — American, Canadian, U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division Climb to Glory Flag, and the POW/MIA Flag.
The Red and Black incorporated the latter two symbols about a decade ago, Ashcraft said, at the request of two players. The Red and Black was featured in a September 2010 edition of Army Times in an article titled “More than semi-tough,” highlighting military personnel who played semipro football.
Tonight’s game against the Strong represents a unique challenge for the Red and Black (4-3).
Syracuse was ranked No. 1 in this week’s Amateur Football Power Rankings in the “Eastern Blue,” region. Ashcraft said that the last time the Red and Black played a nationally ranked No. 1 team was in 1995 when his club knocked off the Plattsburgh North Stars.
Syracuse beat Watertown, 34-6, earlier this season July 16 and claimed a 14-6 win over the Red and Black in last year’s EFL championship game.
“We can’t play with fear,” Jones said. “We have to play hard, fast and smart. If we stick to those three things, this game is going to be a battle.”
Syracuse remains undefeated, downs Watertown at Fairgrounds
Despite playing through powerful winds, Saturday night’s Empire Football League game at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds was played without interruption from the looming hazardous weather.
And unfortunately for the Watertown Red and Black, the team was unable to combine all the required elements to create the kind of perfect storm necessary to knock off the undefeated and nationally ranked No. 1 Syracuse Strong.
Marty Clanton threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes, and Jordan Howard highlighted a stout defensive performance with a momentum-shifting interception return to lift the Strong to a 30-14 victory over the Red and Black.
Syracuse, which had the previous three weeks off due to byes, improved to 7-0 overall at its perch atop the EFL standings and entered the week as the top-ranked team in the Eastern Blue region in the Amateur Football Power Rankings.
“This was a chance for us to shake some of the cobwebs off, get some of this stuff loose and get going.” Howard said. “Overall we did all right. We didn’t play up to our potential, but we got a good win in against Watertown.”
Syracuse led 17-7 from midway through the second quarter until a minute into the fourth, when Clanton found Shaquan Kirby in the corner of the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown that put the Strong up, 24-7.
The Red and Black responded with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Semor to Joe Martinez, but Clanton went back to work and found Joshua Thomas from eight yards out to cap off a 70-yard drive and take a 30-14 lead with about three minutes left.
“They’re a beatable team and we showed that by being within a score for a lot of the game, and to lose by two scores, it shows that it was attainable,” Red and Black offensive lineman Tony Ivey said.
“It definitely comes down to practice and not showing up,” he added. “We missed on things that we’re supposed to key on that we should know on offense, defense and special teams. We‘ve still got a couple games left and we’re still in the playoff hunt but we need to buckle down.”
After falling behind 10-0 within the first eight minutes of the game, Keegan Queior sparked the Red and Black with an electrifying 82-yard kick return touchdown.
The second-year wide receiver, who registered his fourth return touchdown of the season, racked up nearly 200 combined yards in the return game and caught five passes for 80 yards, all game-highs.
The Red and Black seemed to be riding the momentum from Queior’s punt return early in the second quarter, and started a drive at the Syracuse 16 yard-line while trailing 10-7.
But Howard stepped in front of an Evan Will pass on the first play of the series and returned it 84 yards for a pick-six, giving the Strong a 17-7 lead and all the positive energy back on its sideline.
“Things were going back and forth a lot even though the score was kind of stagnant, but when that happened, that gave a little more life and more juice to the team and we picked it up from there,” Howard said.
The Syracuse defense limited the Red and Black to 140 yards of offense and 14 rushing yards on 11 attempts. The Red and Black converted on third-down once in 11 chances and the Strong defense forced three turnovers.
The Red and Black (4-4) will finish the regular season with two straight road games, at Sussex and Seaway Valley, the next two Saturdays.
“Offensively, if we don’t drop a few passes and put a few points on the board then this is a hell of game,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “They had a few big plays for huge yardage, and we get snake-bit by those things. I was proud of the way the guys played.”
Tristan Jones led the defense in tackles and registered two quarterback sacks.
Semor, who had been away for the team the past six weeks due to military obligations, got the start under center in his first game back and completed 13 of 36 passes for 128 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Monday, September 19
Red and Black’s Brennan finally ready to play, on verge of breaking rushing marks
Joe Brennan stood on the sidelines in mesh shorts and a jersey during last Saturday’s Red and Black game — extending the longest inactive streak of his career — when an errant pass sailed his way and he instinctively reached and caught the ball.
Moments later, Brennan’s doctor approached him from the stands and asked the Watertown running back when he wanted to return from the Grade 2 calf tear that has kept him out all season and delayed his pursuit of the team’s all-time rushing yardage and touchdown records.
Brennan gained full medical clearance a few days later and will make his season debut when the Watertown Red and Black (4-4 overall) play the Sussex Stags (7-1) in an Empire Football League game at 7 tonight at Newton High School in New Jersey.
“I really think that moment is going to be special because I’ve been looking forward to it all year,” said Brennan, the team’s longest-tenured player in his ninth season.
“There are a lot of guys on this team that I’ve never gotten the chance to play football with and I’m excited to just go out and have fun and enjoy it. I think this is going to be a good, tough game.”
Brennan is second on the team’s all-time rushing yardage and touchdowns list with 5,782 and 48, respectively, according to the organization’s records.
The 2006 Sandy Creek graduate is pursuing record-holder Al Countryman (6,031 and 51) in both categories. With two regular season games and at least one playoff game remaining, Brennan needs to record 250 yards and four touchdowns to end the season with both records in his grasp.
Brennan is likely to be limited in his return tonight and said he hopes to work his way into top form for the first round of the EFL Playoffs on Oct. 8.
“It’s never too late,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “We’re right before playoffs so if he can come back this week, do a little better next week and a little more the week after that, it’s only going to help our team, and that’s what Joe has always done. He’s always given 100 percent to help this team.”
Brennan said he began to feel pain in his calf around mid-May, but he tried to play in the Red and Black’s preseason opener a few weeks later, a decision he said he would later regret.
Brennan took himself out of the game after the first quarter because of discomfort and said he rested it for a few weeks before testing the injury again in practice, at which point he “heard a pop,” and decided he had to see his doctor.
A follow-up MRI exam revealed the small tear in Brennan’s calf, and he has spent the past 11 weeks making physical therapy visits and working to rehab the injury.
While sitting out for the longest stretch of his semipro football career, Brennan attended every practice and was on the sidelines for every game.
“When I was in a boot or on crutches, didn’t matter,” Brennan said. “I wanted to be here as a leader to help any way that I could. It’s been very difficult being a spectator on this team because I trained very hard to get to the season. I thought I had a great offseason and was excited to come in and do great things.”
Brennan said that he was either “too driven or too stubborn,” to consider shutting himself down for the season.
“If I would have maybe taken care of it the right way to begin with, I might have already been back by now,” Brennan said. “I always set the goal to get back during the regular season to help this team.”
Several new players — most notably Anton Gadson, Demetrius Robinson and RaKwan Allen — have flashed at various points while forming a committee in Brennan’s absence.
But with the team combining for a 14-yard rushing performance on 11 carries against a stout Syracuse defense last week, Brennan’s addition could help spark a needed rebound for the ground game.
“It’s not like we don’t have ability, but with his experience and his drive, it might be that push to the rest of the guys in that backfield to do even better,” Ashcraft said. “Sometimes a player can bring that. It’s one thing when he’s in shorts telling you how to do certain things, but now he’s in pads and he can get out there and show the other guys what he means.”
Bice helps boot Red and Black to big victory over Stags
Dylan Bice made three fourth-quarter field goals, including the game-winner from 30 yards out with 54 seconds remaining, and the Watertown Red and Black upset the Sussex Stags, 23-20, in Saturday’s Empire Football League game at Newton High School.
Bice connected from 36 yards out to tie the game with about eight minutes left, and nailed a 22-yard kick with 13 minutes remaining to cut the Sussex lead to 20-17.
The Red and Black improved to 5-4 overall and will finish the regular season with a road game at Seaway Valley next Saturday.
“We came away with points when we needed to and that’s what won this game,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “I’m very proud of this team and the coaching staff. Everything that these guys have been working toward all season finally worked and things gelled perfectly tonight.”
The Red and Black took over at its own 20-yard line following a punt with 4:21 left in the game and drove up the field to set Bice up for the game-winning kick.
Running back Joe Brennan delivered the key play of the drive with a 21-yard run around midfield, and after a penalty was assessed for a horse-collar tackle at the end of the play, Watertown took over at the Sussex 21-yard line.
“What a great win,” Watertown offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said. “We passed the ball great, got everyone involved in the offense for the first time all season, and the defense played a great, great game to limit a good team.”
Bice, who graduated from General Brown this past June, matched his season total for field goals and has made 6 of 7 attempts for the season.
Ryan Semor completed 17 of 24 passes for 246 yards and a pair of touchdowns — an 80-yard deep ball to Chris Furr and a 25-yard strike to Keegan Queior — to pace the Red and Black offense.
Brennan, who returned from a Grade 2 calf tear to make his season debut, picked up 96 yards on 22 carries and took every handoff from Semor. Brennan needs 154 yards to become the organization’s all-time leader in rushing yards.
Furr caught five passes for 128 yards and Queior finished with six receptions for 62 yards.
Warren Spies led the defense with 11 tackles, and RaKwan Allen intercepted a pass deep in Watertown territory midway through the second quarter to end a promising drive by the Stags (7-2).
Joe Eslin threw a four-yard touchdown to Nick Bochna in the third quarter, and found Orion Woodard for an 80-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter for Sussex. Evan Costello connected on field goals of 45 and 30 yards, the latter of which put Sussex up 20-14 with 45 seconds left in third quarter.
Sunday, September 25
Watertown Red & Black’s Spies works hard to be life of party
Warren Spies arrives to Watertown Red and Black games and practices later than most of his teammates, often sore from a long day of pouring concrete and working construction.
When the 33 year-old Adams Center native walks into the already-full locker room, he’s greeted with shouts of: “Here comes the party.”
Spies spends the few minutes he has to get ready making his teammates laugh and hyping them up with a level of intensity few can reach, before taking the field and mustering his remaining energy to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
Spies, a 5-foot-8 and 225-pound former fullback, will play his seventh game at nose tackle when the Red and Black (5-4) caps off its Empire Football League regular season with a 7 p.m. game today at Seaway Valley (0-8) in Massena.
“People are happy to see me and I always at least show my face here, even if I’m too tired,” Spies said. “Sometimes I’ll show up, say hi, and get in my truck and go. I think it’s important so the guys, your friends, they know you’re tired, you’ve been working hard, and you’re not just blowing them off.”
Spies first started playing for the Red and Black in 2008 for a three-year stint that included an EFL championship in his second season.
He left the team to be with his newborn baby, and said he returned during the 2014 campaign.
Spies said upon returning to the team, he realized that the fullback position was becoming less of a factor in the offense, and after talking to defensive coordinator Brian Gessner a few games into this season, he decided to make the switch.
“I had forgotten how much fun it was,” said Spies, who last played defense as a middle linebacker for South Jefferson. “I just wanted to carry the ball and block for the running backs, but I like being over here (on defense) just as much. ... I want to help out and if I can help out, it doesn’t matter which side of the ball I’m on. I like to be a part of it, a big part.”
Through six games in the middle of the defensive front, Spies ranks second on the Red and Black with 37 tackles, including a team-high 11 in last Saturday’s 23-20 victory over the second-place Sussex Stags (7-2).
“He brings a whole different light to the defense,” Gessner said. “He’s loving just going to plug that hole or going after the quarterback. He’s an intense player, an aggressive guy who gets into their backfield, and he’s really enjoying playing that position.”
Red and Black head coach George Ashcraft said that despite his “jolly personality,” Spies plays with a ferocity and has quickly proven that he can excel without the prototypical size for the position.
“He’s pretty easy to get along with but he’s very intense when it comes to playing the game,” George Ashcraft said. “His intensity level is probably the highest that we got. You don’t shut him off. He loves to hit and he’ll come after anybody.”
Spies said that the Red and Black has always provided “an outlet,” and that he’ll likely play into the foreseeable future despite some occasional aches and pains.
“We don’t make anything for being here,” Spies said. “We’re just playing for fun. Even when we lose, I have fun. I just have fun and play as hard as I can, kick (butt), that’s what I like to do.”
The Red and Black can finish no worse than fourth-place win or lose tonight — barring an unforeseen change at the EFL’s annual year-end meeting where playoff seeding becomes official — setting up a first-round home playoff game on Oct. 8.
Watertown is scheduled to play the Carthage Revolution in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. next Saturday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds while other EFL teams play their final regular-season games.
Brennan ties club mark as Watertown Red and Black routs Venom
Joe Brennan tied Al Countryman’s franchise record for career rushing touchdowns and the Watertown Red and Black routed the Seaway Valley Venom, 67-0, to end its Empire Football League regular season Saturday night at Massena High School.
The Red and Black (6-4 overall) will finish either third or fourth in the EFL standings, depending on the results of next Saturday’s games involving other teams, and has secured a first-round home playoff game on Oct. 8 barring an unforeseen change at the league’s annual year-end meeting when playoff pairings become official.
Brennan ran for 123 yards on nine carries and scored on runs of 17, 4 and 39, in the first quarter. He is tied with Countryman for first-place on the team’s all-time list with 51 rushing scores and is 31 yards shy of passing Countryman for Watertown’s career rushing yardage record.
Keegan Queior returned two punts for touchdowns and caught a 55-yard score for the Red and Black, which has won four of its last five games.
Quarterbacks Ryan Semor and Evan Will threw two touchdown passes apiece for Watertown, which is slated to host the Carthage Revolution in a nonleague exhibition next Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds while other EFL teams complete their regular-season schedules.
Monday, October 3
Red and Black, Revolution finally meet after nine-year wait
Players from the Watertown Red and Black and Carthage Revolution have sparred on social media, members of management have squared off in State Supreme Court, and tonight the two semipro football teams will finally clash on the field.
The Red and Black and Revolution will play each other for the first time tonight in a nonleague exhibition game at Watertown High School. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Hospice of Jefferson County and Carthage Turkey Bowl Cancer Foundation. The charities were selected by each organization.
“It’s been a long time coming, this is a game that’s been talked about for nine years now and has never happened,” said Red and Black running back Joe Brennan, who is 31 yards shy of passing Al Countryman for the team’s all-time rushing record.
“There are guys that have played for the Rev on our team, and guys who played for the Red and Black on their team, a lot of people know each other, and it’s definitely going to be a fun football game.”
The Revolution ended its Northeastern Football Alliance regular season on Aug. 20 with a 4-6 record. The Red and Black (6-4) is playing during a scheduled bye week at the end of its regular season and will host a first-round Empire Football League playoff game on Oct. 8 at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“There’s going to be that electricity in the air and the hair on our backs is going to be standing up,” said veteran Revolution quarterback Lamont Lane, a former Red and Black player. “It’s going to be an all-out brawl and may the best man win. After the game, we’re going to get together, drink and talk smack to each other or whatever. This is going to be a friendly game but it’s also going to be a very intense game.”
The potential matchup has been discussed by area football fans since Tom Shultz first formed the Revolution in 2008, which occurred after a legal battle over the Red and Black’s naming rights carried on throughout the previous year.
Shultz alleged that an agreement was in place for his company, Sports Partners Inc., to take over the Red and Black and its marketing in exchange for a coaching contract for George Ashcraft, who denied that such an agreement was ever finalized. The issue played out in court until State Supreme Court Judge Hugh A. Gilbert ruled in March 2008 that Sports Partners Inc. could not use the team name or logo for any purpose in Jefferson County.
Shultz named his franchise the Watertown Revolution soon after and the team started playing in the Northeastern Football Alliance that summer.
Each team has undergone a rebranding of sorts over the past year, helping lead to tonight’s matchup.
Billy and Charlie Caprara announced their purchase of the Red and Black in February, and Billy Caprara has played an integral role in bringing tonight’s game to fruition.
The Revolution changed its name to the Carthage Revolution last fall and added a new general manager, Penny Ellis, along with new coaches as the organization worked to establish an identity in the community.
“It’s a new group of guys so a lot of them don’t know the history,” first-year Revolution coach Leon Eldridge Jr. said. “So they’re just playing it like another game. The veterans are stoked, there has been a lot of promotion and a lot of back and forth, and we’re just ready to play football.”
Several players will be lined up against their former team tonight. Most notably, Revolution running back Curtis Dukes, who played two highly-productive seasons for the Red and Black before joining the Revolution prior to the season.
Red and Black wide receiver Chris Furr is a notable Revolution alum playing on the other side.
“Now that it’s actually happening, everyone is definitely excited,” Dukes said. “Everyone has been talking about it and looking forward to it — should be a good game, two local teams trying to play for bragging rights.”
Players on each side expressed a desire to see the exhibition become an annual event.
“Guys that have been around here for two or three years and have always heard the comments being made, they’re excited,” Ashcraft said. “It’s about time we played.”
Revolution upends Red & Black in highly anticipated exhibition
Saturday night’s semipro football game between the Watertown Red and Black and Carthage Revolution was labeled an exhibition.
But to see the tears in the eyes of the victorious Revolution players afterward, the raw emotion displayed throughout by both sides and the nearly 1,000 fans surrounding Watertown High School’s turf field, it was evident that the first-time matchup meant a great deal more to all involved.
The Revolution came away with three interceptions in the final six minutes — including a 40-yard pick-six by Rodrick Williams for the go-ahead score — to capture a 13-7 victory over the Red and Black.
“We put in good hard work and everybody came together as a team, as a unit,” Revolution running back Curtis Dukes said. “This game was very important to us and everybody over here’s just excited. I got to give it to Red and Black, they played a great game, and hopefully this is something we can do every year for a new tradition.”
Dukes, who has played on both teams, scored on an eight-yard run with six minutes and 35 seconds left, and after a missed extra point, the Revolution trailed 7-6.
On the ensuing Red and Black possession, Williams picked off an Evan Will pass and returned it 40 yards to put the Revolution up 13-6. Watertown gained possession twice more, the first ending in an interception by Mitchell Giles.
On the Red and Black’s final chance — a possession that started at the Revolution 25-yard line with 1:28 left — Robert Renwick picked off a Ryan Semor pass on the first play to seal the victory.
“There was a bunch of pressure coming into the last seconds of the game and I felt relieved,” Renwick said. “I have to give it to my teammates, my defense, and our offense for keeping us in the game.”
Moments after Renwick’s interception, Revolution players dumped two Gatorade buckets on coach Leon Eldridge Jr.
“This was a big game, make no mistake about it,” Eldridge Jr. said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Red and Black. They’re a hell of team and they came out, we all played hard. Hopefully this thing keeps going year after year. It’s very emotional. Lots of veterans have been through a lot with this rivalry.”
The Red and Black scored to take a 7-0 lead when JaVante Simmons returned a punt 78 yards to the house three minutes into the second half.
Joe Brennan became the Red and Black’s all-time leading rusher with a 10-yard run to start the second quarter. Brennan passed one of his idols Al Countryman (6,031) on the franchise’s career yardage list and was congratulated by Countryman at halftime.
“I give Carthage a lot of credit,” Brennan said. “They came out and played football tonight and we didn’t play our best football. ... Congratulations to them on winning this game, hopefully we can continue this and make it a tradition. They got the first one but we’re not done yet.”
No attendance number was announced during the game. The bleachers on both sidelines were packed and the approximately 1,000 fans were standing around all areas of the field.
All proceeds from the game were donated to Hospice of Jefferson County and Carthage Turkey Bowl Cancer Foundation.
“This win means that Watertown has two teams,” Revolution quarterback Lamont Lane said. “Even though we’re Carthage, we’re close to Watertown, now this just opens eyes and lets (the fans) know that every Saturday, they can enjoy two games. It was a battle, electric, down to the wire. This is what fans live for to cheer on their teams in a game like this.”
Watertown coach George Ashcraft credited the Revolution’s performance but expressed frustration following the loss. Ashcraft said he was denied a Revolution roster leading up to the game and believes several players were added for the exhibition.
“They played better than we did tonight because we dropped the ball, we threw interceptions and turned the ball over, and you don’t win the game that way,” Ashcraft said. “I’m not going to take anything away from the team we played against, but it sure as hell isn’t the team that played for Carthage all year.”
The Red and Black (6-4) will host a first-round Empire Football League game at 7 p.m. next Saturday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, while the Revolution ended its season in the Northeastern Football Alliance on Aug. 20.
Tuesday, October 11
Red & Black dispatches North Stars in Empire Football League playoffs
Joe Brennan intensely marched up and down the sideline for much of the third quarter as the Red and Black defense struggled to get off the field during Saturday night’s Empire Football League first-round playoff game.
When the Watertown running back took the field a few moments later, he accounted for all 81 yards on the game-clinching scoring drive capped off with a five-yard touchdown run to give the third-seeded Red and Black a 35-12 victory over the No. 6 Plattsburgh North Stars at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Watertown improved to 7-4 and will play at No. 2 Sussex (7-3) in Saturday’s semifinals. The Red and Black and the Stags split their two regular-season matchups, with the road team claiming each victory.
“I was just thinking that I want the football,” Brennan said. “As a leader of this team, I had to find a way to help motivate and I did it the only way I know how, by example. In that situation, I was pacing the sidelines and I was hungry. Plattsburgh is a good team and they’ve come back on us so many times and I didn’t want it to happen again. I really wanted to put the team on my back and make sure we finished that win.”
Brennan’s first touchdown run of the night, from four yards out on Watertown’s opening possession, broke a tie with Al Countryman for the franchise’s career rushing touchdowns record. Brennan, who also passed Countryman (6,031) for first-place on the team’s career rushing yardage list last week, has now scored 53 career rushing touchdowns in nine seasons.
Red and Black coach George Ashcraft presented Brennan with a ball at midfield to commemorate the achievement after his first-quarter touchdown.
“It’s been something I’ve been aiming for to put those all past me and just add on to the records,” said Brennan, who missed the first eight games of the season with a calf injury. “I’m not done yet. I hope to continue to play for as long as my body will let me, and I’ve always looked at this as a team accomplishment. Every player I’ve played with throughout my career has a part in this, so it’s definitely special.”
Watertown quarterback Ryan Semor engineered a strong first-half passing performance, spreading the ball around and completing at least three passes to four different receivers.
Semor — who started his fifth straight game after missing the bulk of the season because of work obligations — threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns, all in the first half.
He completed a deep ball to Chris Furr on each of Watertown’s first three scoring drives to set up short touchdowns. Furr caught a 40-yard pass on the first drive, a 29-yard strike on the second and a 38-yard bomb on the third drive, all of which set the Red and Black up with a first-and-goal situation.
Semor capped off the latter two scoring drives with a six-yard touchdown pass to Keegan Queior and an 11-yard score to Joe Martinez.
“It all starts at practice,” Semor said. “You get the timing down, you get the routes down, you just have that understanding and you’re able to click with each other when plays break down. That’s where it all starts for us.”
Michael Dingwerth scored on a 30-yard fumble return early in the second half to put Watertown up 28-12. James Craft also recovered a fumble for Watertown.
Plattsburgh, which suited about 20 players, ended its season at 3-8.
“We obviously don’t have the numbers we wanted to do with guys who couldn’t make the trip or couldn’t finish the season because of injuries,” Plattsburgh wide receiver Nick Lucia said. “So it’s tough when you get to the second half, you have guys playing both ways that you don’t really expect to.”
The home team has won 16 of the past 17 games in the series between the longtime EFL rivals.
Monday, October 17
Red and Black’s Bice, Sussex’s Cramer key to playoff game
Watertown kicker Dylan Bice and Sussex running back Ben Cramer — a pair of semipro Empire Football League rookies — played decisive roles in the Red and Black’s regular-season split with the Stags.
Third-seeded Watertown (7-4) possesses plenty of playoff experience with at least six starters vying to reach their third straight title game, but the pair of first-year players will be central figures in game plans for tonight’s semifinal against No. 2 Sussex (7-3).
Kickoff is slated for 7 tonight at Newton High School in Newton, N.J., and the winner advances to next Saturday’s EFL championship to face either No. 1 Syracuse (10-0) or No. 4 Glens Falls (7-4).
“I think everybody realizes that we are one step away,” said Bice, whose three fourth-quarter field goals led a 23-20 comeback at Sussex on Sept. 17.
“We had good practices this week so everyone just has to show up, make sure everything is set up, and go into this game with the same mentality we did last time, that we’re not going home with a loss after that five-hour travel.”
Cramer, a 20-year-old Sussex rookie, ran for 178 yards and two touchdowns to pace a 42-30 victory at Watertown earlier in the season in which the Stags rallied with 26 unanswered points.
Cramer was held to 48 rushing yards in Watertown’s Sept. 17 road victory, and Red and Black players and coaches believe their greatest chance for success lies in stopping the run.
“(Cramer) is a great player,” said Watertown’s leading tackler, linebacker Tristan Jones. “He’s young, fast, and strong. If we can control him, we believe our secondary is one of the best in the league, so we want them to think pass first.”
Bice’s heroics in the second clash — which included a game-winning 30-yard field goal with 54 seconds left and a game-tying kick midway through the fourth from 36 yards out — were set up by returning Red and Black veterans running a balanced offense.
Nine-year veteran running back Joe Brennan ran for 96 yards on 22 carries in his first game returning from a season-long calf injury, and quarterback Ryan Semor threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns in his second game of the season due to work obligations.
Brennan, Semor and Jones lead a group of players aiming for a third straight title-game appearance that includes wide receiver Chris Furr, who tallied 128 receiving yards in Watertown’s victory over Sussex and also topped 100 yards while setting up three touchdowns in last Saturday’s first-round victory over Plattsburgh.
Starting offensive linemen Avery Barney and Tony Ivey, defensive end Alex Tibbles and other key depth players also helped Watertown reach the last two EFL championship games.
“We truly feel like we do belong in the championship game,” Jones said. “As long as I’ve played, we’ve been in the championship game and this is my third year. Our team plays to get to a championship game and we really think we can make it.”
Second-year return ace and receiver Keegan Queior is another young player likely to make an impact on special teams.
Queior has returned five punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, including an 86-yard kick return in the early-season loss to Sussex.
The Red and Black is aiming for its first EFL championship since 2009 after suffering finals losses to Syracuse and Plattsburgh in each of the last two years.
“We have to go down there and do the same thing we did last time,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “Our kicking game and special teams have to be spot-on, we have to shut ‘32’ down because Cramer is all that, and our offense has to put points on the board.”
Red and Black’s comeback comes too late in EFL semifinal defeat
Ben Cramer capped off a strong performance with a 50-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes remaining for Sussex, slamming the door on a Watertown comeback bid and securing a 31-23 victory in the Empire Football League semifinals Saturday night at Newton High School.
The rookie runner’s touchdown gave the Stags a 31-17 lead after the Red and Black had rallied with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to pull to within a score.
Cramer also scored from 14 yards out in the first quarter to complement a strong defensive showing from Sussex, which forced four turnovers and held Watertown to three points until the Red and Black’s offense came to life in the final five minutes.
“We gave up two interceptions and two fumbles and you just can’t do that in a game like this and expect to win it,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “Those kinds of mistakes are always going to put you in a bad place.”
Backed up deep in its own territory and trailing 24-3 with five minutes remaining, the Red and Black started its come-from-behind effort.
Ryan Semor connected with Chris Furr for a 95-yard touchdown pass to trim the deficit to 24-10. After forcing a punt, Watertown came back to score on a 45-yard pass from Semor to Keegan Queior, on the first play after the two-minute warning.
Cramer broke loose up the middle for his game-clinching score on the ensuing possession for the Stags (8-3), who will play at top-seeded Syracuse (11-0) in the EFL championship game next Saturday.
“It was simply too little, too late,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Jerry Levine said.
Semor threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Queior with 17 seconds left to bring Watertown within eight points, but the Red and Black failed to recover an onside kick for one last chance.
Joe Eslin threw two touchdown passes to Kasson Thomas, of 10 and 48 yards, to help the Stags build a 24-3 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Semor completed 30 of 41 passes for a season-best 372 yards to go with three touchdowns and two interceptions for the Red and Black (7-5), which was denied its third straight appearance in the EFL title game.
Queior tallied 142 receiving yards on 12 catches while Furr finished with seven receptions for 155 yards.
Joe Brennan was held to 21 rushing yards on seven attempts as Watertown’s offense played from behind for the entire game after Cramer scored on the opening Stags possession.
Tristan Jones registered a team-high nine tackles for the Red and Black, and Dylan Bice made a 23-yard field goal in the first quarter.