Saturday, September 10, 2005

Red and Black, Trailblazers set for clash

by Max DelSignore, Times Sports Writer
First published: Saturday, September 10, 2005

Two teams, two agendas.

The Watertown Red and Black and the St. Lawrence Valley Trailblazers are aware of the hype surrounding the Route 11 rivalry. But both squads are concentrating on different tasks in the Empire Football league matchup today at Sandstoner Park.

The Red and Black (5-4 overall, 5-2 EFL) is battling for home-field advantage in the playoffs. The team is tied for third with the Lake City (Plattsburgh) Stars in the league standings. But the Trailblazers (3-6, 2-5 EFL) are playing for pride, hoping to corral their first win against their proximate foe. St. Lawrence Valley would need to win its last three games and get some help to make the playoffs. For the Trailblazers, it's a good time to play the spoiler.

"You'd like to see that turn in the rivalry," Trailblazers coach Mike Britton said. "The guys are preparing for it as if it were a playoff battle. But no game is easy, and I'm sure Watertown realizes that, too."

"I don't look at it as a rivalry," Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. "I see it as our closest opponent to home. We're good friends. But a game at hand is still a game, and you play to win. For a few hours, you put everything on the back burner and just play the game."

Watertown has outscored the Trailblazers 272-58 in three seasons, but the Red and Black players know what to expect once they step between the white lines.

"They've become more competitive and a better team in the past couple years," Watertown quarterback Doug Black said. "We just have to keep doing what we're doing. We have to keep moving the ball downfield and put points on the board."

However, there is no bad blood between these teams. In fact, there's plenty of respect that's handed out.

"We've got to be careful against players like Doug Black, Al Countryman and Earnie Wash," Britton said. "Those guys are all-league every year. Eventually all three of them will be in the Hall of Fame, whether it's Watertown or national in the American Football Association."

"We can't let their offense pick us apart," Trailblazers linebacker Cheyenne Dashnaw said. "(Doug) is a really good quarterback. Most quarterbacks in this league, you can read them. With Doug, he reads off his receivers. He's very experienced."

"We're not taking St. Lawrence Valley lightly by any means," Ashcraft said. "I think Coach Britton will put together some things that will work for him against us. He does a great job up there."

Of those still on Watertown's roster, close to 20 players played for Britton at one time when he was the offensive coordinator for the Red and Black.

"It's great playing against our former coach," Black said. "It's different seeing him on the other sideline. We had a great offense with him for years."

Linebacker John Check played for Britton as a varsity football player at Immaculate Heart Central.

"You always want to produce against your former coach," Check said.

St. Lawrence Valley's offense showed signs of life against the Stars two weeks ago. Fullback Rob Scott believes the offense needs to produce in order for the Trailblazers to be victorious.

"Hopefully, we can get the offense going this week," Scott said. "We haven't had it a lot this year. For them, you know they're going to blitz. They've got a lot of strong players on the defensive side of the ball."

Check said the defense is planning accordingly against a strategic Britton.

"Defensively, we've been working with the defensive backfield," Check said. "We brought in some guys that are helping at that position when we could've used it earlier in the year. But Mike Britton can make you look foolish out there."

Rivalry aside, both teams are optimistic about taking care of business.

"I don't think there are any feelings from last year that will carry over," Ashcraft said. "We have to be prepared. We've got a good mix of veterans and new people. As of right now, I'm as pleased with this team at this part of the season as I have with any other team I've had in my 15 years of coaching."

"We don't plan on changing our game plan at all," Britton said. "Our guys will come to play football."

"I just want to win," Scott said. "It'd be nice for Coach Britton, but we want to win one at a time."

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