Saturday, September 24, 2005

Watertown welcomes old nemesis Scranton

by Matt Cordova, Times Sports Writer
First published: Saturday, September 24, 2005

One of the most successful franchises in the history of the Empire Football League visits the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds tonight to take on the Watertown Red and Black.

Since their inception in 1982, the Scranton Eagles have claimed 10 EFL championships, the most recent one being in 1999. Twenty-five years have passed since the Red and Black last earned the right to be called league champion.

Those facts, though, are irrelevant side notes, as far as the teams are concerned. The reality of tonight's game actually breaks down quite simply. The Red and Black has locked up the No. 3 seed in the EFL playoffs that begin Saturday. For the Eagles, well, this game will be their last. Scranton, currently one game behind the Montreal Titans in the standings, have no shot at the sixth-and-final playoff berth. The Titans receive a forfeit victory this week and will finish the season 6-4. Even with a win, the Eagles (4-5) would end the regular season at 5-5.

Red and Black head coach George Ashcraft knows that the Eagles would like nothing more than to give Watertown (7-4, 7-2) a few lumps heading into the postseason. Ashcraft said he has a strong feeling that his team's leaders won't allow for a letdown following last week's emotional 44-14 beating of the Lake City Stars.

"The veterans already know what Scranton is capable of," Ashcraft said. "They are a quality ball team. We're not taking them lightly by any means."

Scranton, an EFL member since '82, dominated the Red and Black for practically an entire generation. Prior to Watertown's 31-0 win over Scranton in 1996, the Eagles had bettered the Red and Black 19 times in a row.

But, history is history, and more than getting even for past defeats, Ashcraft wants to keep alive the charge that has led his team to five consecutive wins.

"We don't want any kind of letdown going into the playoffs," he said, "and any time you beat a team with such a great history it feels good."

The Eagles are coming off a big win, too, after beating St. Lawrence Valley last week 37-14. Running back Bill Sandly is the third-leading rusher in the league, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

Though his statistics have been mediocre this year - he is seventh in total passing yards and has completed half of his pass attempts while tossing just five interceptions - Ashcraft said the defense will take extra care to keep track of Eagles veteran quarterback John Kennedy. Kennedy was instrumental in Scranton's 19-game win streak over Watertown, according to Ashcraft.

"This guy is an awesome quarterback," he said. "He makes things happen. We won't rest easy until after the game."

Wash leads league's receivers

Veteran Watertown wide receiver Earnest Wash is again among the leading receivers in the EFL. Wash is the league leader in touchdowns scored with eight, after catching two in last week's victory.

Tied for the league lead in receptions with 36, Wash is second in receiving yards with 513.

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