Saturday, August 06, 2005

Trailblazers desperate for victory

by Max DelSignore, Times Sports Writer
First published: Saturday, August 6, 2005

It's almost the halfway point in the Empire Football League season, and the St. Lawrence Valley Trailblazers are standing at a crossroad. They know which path they want to take, it's just a matter of finding the right directions.

With a 1-3 record, and the one victory coming by forfeit, the Trailblazers need to score a legitimate win to become serious contenders for a playoff run. Their last chance may come against Broome County today.

"It's very important that we come up with a win, this week for sure," coach Mike Britton said. "A win will give us a big jump into (the playoffs)."

"This game couldn't be any more critical for us," right tackle Derek Strzalka said. "As a morale booster, as we strive to get to the playoffs, and for me personally, I think we really need this win."

Injuries have forced Britton to change the look of the team, moving some of his younger players to the opposite side of the ball. Ernie Miller played defensive back in Saturday's 20-14 loss to Montreal. He recorded 10 tackles and an interception, but also had seven carries for 37 yards. Massena's James Compeau switched to the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, catching a touchdown as a wide receiver. Even though the changes may be timely for Britton, he's keeping a watchful eye.

"(Compeau) has got great hands, great speed and good quickness, which is a plus for us," Britton said. "But we also know that he's a starter in our defensive backfield with Ernie. We just need to be careful in the way we use those guys."

Britton has been pleased with the defense's progress. But the offense still holds the key to victories.

"As time goes, we're gelling better," left tackle Kevin Strzalka said. "Our quarterback is feeling a little more comfortable. We just need to cut out some of the mental errors that we've had. Everyone still very positive though. Everyone wants to win badly."

The Trailblazers are only playing eight games this year after two teams in the EFL forfeited their seasons. While some teams are picking up nonleague opponents to fill vacant Saturdays, St. Lawrence Valley is focusing on the games in front of it.

What's significant about this? After today's game against Broome County, the Trailblazers will have two full weeks off before playing again, against the Lake City Stars on Aug. 27, essentially splitting the season in half. Britton said the time off may hurt the team's focus and training for the remainder of the season, but a victory will keep the Trailblazers in the postseason hunt.

"With two weeks off, we have a forfeit win given to us and that'll be a big help," Britton said. "That would put us at 3-3 with some key games at the end of the season coming up."

Don't expect Broome County to be a pushover, either. The Dragons lost close games to Orange County and Montreal, two teams who are likely playoff-bound. They also trounced Crystal City of the North American Football League 28-12 in a nonleague matchup Saturday to prepare for their first conference game in three weeks.

But the Trailblazers are prepared as well, already facing Orange County, Montreal and undefeated Albany. Unfortunately, the team's been outscored by those three opponents 130-14. Defensive lineman Norm Martel remembers brutal losses hurting the team in the past.

"Players used to leave because of bad losses early in the year," Martel said. "But these guys are sticking around to fight it out."

St. Lawrence Valley will face four EFL opponents after their two-week break. The stretch includes a home game against the Trailblazers' area rival, the Watertown Red and Black. However, Martel said the team can't get caught up staring at the schedule.

"For us, we just have to look at each week and not worry about next week or who's playing who," Martel said. "We have to concentrate on the big picture, which is playoffs. As long as we win, we can control our own destiny."

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