Saturday, September 17, 2005

Time is now for RB

Watertown seeks elite status today
by Matt Cordova, Times Sports Writer
First published: Saturday, September 17, 2005

During tonight's Empire Football League game against the Lake City Stars, the Watertown Red and Black will find out if they truly are one of the EFL's best.

Basking in the glory of a four-game win streak, the Red and Black appears to be, once again, among the elite teams in the league.

Three of those victories, however, have come against St. Lawrence, Valley, Broome County and Montreal - each of which is below Watertown in the standings. With two forfeit wins, Watertown's only other victory was in its opener against Ottawa.

The teams that lost to the Red and Black have a combined record that is 13-20. The league's top three teams - Albany, Orange County and Lake City - have already dealt Watertown convincing losses this season.

So, in addition to having the chance of taking a huge stride toward hosting at least one home playoff game, the Red and Black has a golden opportunity to legitimize its recent success.

"We all knew this game was coming down the stretch," veteran Al Countryman said. "That's not a knock to any other teams but each game was a building block to this."

Tonight's game will most likely determine third place in the league as Albany and Orange County have all but locked up first and second places, respectively.

"We pretty much got our butts handed to us last time (by Lake City)," Countryman said. "We'll give it our best shot and hopefully get a better outcome this time."

Head coach George Ashcraft also believes that his team can put the memory a rocky start to the season in the past with a win tonight.

"We're one of the best teams in this league, barring turnovers and if we play a full 60 minutes," Ashcraft said. "We've played together enough now that we've gotten over that hump."

The Stars were on the better end of a 27-12 exhibition between the two teams on July 23. The game didn't count but it was eye-opening. The Stars exposed a then weak Watertown secondary, scoring touchdowns on three long pass plays.

For the most part, Watertown had taken care of its pass defense issues, until veteran Jon Fisher suffered a broken leg in a victory over Broome County. The injury will likely keep Fisher on the sidelines for the rest of the season and the question marks surrounding the secondary have returned. New personnel, new schemes and improvement in overall performance have helped to ease the blow of losing Fisher.

"If the secondary can prevent the big play, the linebackers and D-line should be able to take care of things," Countryman said.

And if it seems like it's been an eternity since the Red and Black hosted a game at the Fairgrounds, it's only been 35 days. After forfeits, byes and plenty of road games, the team is anxious to play on its home field, and in front of a usually enthusiastic home crowd.

"There's nothing like playing in front of our fans. It definitely gives us a home-field advantage," Countryman said.

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