Saturday, July 30, 2005

Red and Black defense receiving stiff test

by Matt Cordova, Times Sports Writer
First published: Saturday, July 30, 2005

By now, the Albany Metro Mallers must be excited about their trip to Watertown today.

The undefeated, unscored upon Mallers boast the Empire Football League's most potent offense, while the Red and Black have displayed susceptibility to the big play.

Albany and Watertown finished in the top four last season. By the end of tonight's game, each may have a good idea where it stands among the EFL's best in 2005.

"We have to play our "A" game," Watertown head coach George Ashcraft said. "Albany is loaded with a team full of athletes''

"Albany runs a wide-open offense. We need to make sure the whole defense is on the same sheet of music," Watertown defensive coach Dave Connell added. "As long as that happens, we'll be effective."

The Red and Black (3-2 overall, 3-0 EFL) have played two exhibition games. While it is important to test players and strategies under game-like conditions, Watertown has discovered that its pass defense is not quite at the level it should be.

Watertown allowed touchdown passes of 51 and 25 yards in a June 18 loss to the Central New York (Syracuse) Express and yielded scoring strikes of 24, 35 and 61 yards last week against the Lake City Stars.

Some starters were missing and it is still early in the season for Watertown. But, Albany has likely taken notice.

The Metro Mallers (5-0) have outscored their opponents 132-0. Watertown fully expects its secondary to be under attack early and often from Albany quarterback Scott Lawson. In three games, Lawson has completed 64 percent of his passes while connecting for 10 touchdowns and just one interception.

"They are definitely going to know Lake City scored their points through the air," safety Al Countryman said. "If we can get pressure on the quarterback, it will help us tremendously."

Countryman, who played safety during his first five seasons with the team, this week volunteered to move to the secondary and provide some much needed experience to the struggling pass defense. If anything, the tough, hard-hitting Red and Black veteran will make Albany's receivers pay a hefty price for a reception.

"I think Countryman can play a big role," Ashcraft said. "If you catch the ball you had better clench your teeth because he can really make you realize you are in a tackle football game."

The Red and Black are hoping Countryman doesn't have to dish out too many punishing blows. Coaches lectured on how important it would be to give the Albany receivers a good shove as soon as they break the line of scrimmage. The objective is to try and mess up the timing of the Metro Mallers offense and force it to rely on other means to be effective.

Even though three Albany running backs average over seven yards per carry, Watertown seems determined not to be beaten through the air, yet again.

"They have relied on the pass," Countryman said. "We want to make them beat us with the running game instead."

Despite its early struggles, Watertown isn't ready to scrap its defensive playbook and rush into panic mode. The feeling around the team is that everything will take care of itself.

"The system is there. We just need people to be at practice, get on the same page and we'll be OK," Connell said.

Countryman agreed. "I think it is just a lack of working together. We really haven't had the chance to gel as a unit yet," he said.

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