Sunday, October 02, 2005

Red and Black defense steps forward to stuff Trailblazers in playoff opener

By Matt Cordova

Times Sportswriter

Sunday, October 02, 2005

It's not like the defense of the Watertown Red and Black hadn't carried its own weight as the team put together a series of six consecutive victories.

While the offense scored 30 or more points five times during the winning streak, quarterback Doug Black and Co. gathered up all the attention.

During the opening round of the Empire Football League playoffs on Saturday, though, it was time for the Watertown defense to bask in the spotlight of a big win. The Red and Black blanked the visiting St. Lawrence Valley Trailblazers 28-0 at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds to advance to next round of the EFL playoffs. Watertown will travel to Monroe to face the Orange County Bulldogs next Saturday night.

As early as the first play from scrimmage, it looked as if it was going to be a long night for the Trailblazers, who accepted an invitation to the playoffs after Montreal, Ottawa and Scranton declined it.

After his team accepted the opening kickoff, St. Lawrence Valley quarterback David Currier discovered that Watertown planned to blitz early and often. Watertown's Ben Pritchard crushed Currier as he let a pass fly that ended up the hands of the wrong guy -- Red and Black safety Lamont Lane.

The interception set up the offense at its own 37-yard line, but Black only needed four plays to post a score. Brian Beltz took the ball on a reverse, followed a thunderous block by Black, and weaved his way to a 43-yard touchdown run.

The Trailblazers went three and out on their next possession and were forced to punt. But the Trailblazers defense held strong and forced a fumble by Beltz on the St. Lawrence Valley 3. The momentum was short-lived for the Trailblazers as two plays later, Watertown's Wayne Dupree stopped James Compeau in the end zone for a safety and an 8-0 lead. It became clear then, that St. Lawrence Valley wouldn't have an answer for Watertown's defensive game plan.

"It's great to come right out and apply some pressure," Red and Black linebacker Mike Dumaw said, "it sets the momentum, gets everybody enthused and sets up the offense. "

Trailblazers head coach Mike Britton said that the Red and Black rush disrupted his team's strategy and that it was tough to recover from the big plays Watertown made in the first half. At times, it looked as if Watertown's defenders were simply unblockable.

"It built their momentum," Britton said. "We hurt ourselves when we had a chance to do something. That's hurt us sometimes this season."

Earnest Wash caught two more touchdowns for the Red and Black in the first half, giving his team a 22-0 lead before St. Lawrence Valley made its initial first down of the game. Pinned on their own three late in the second quarter, the Trailblazers did avoid another safety as Currier hooked up with Dan Staton on passes of 17 and six yards.

Head coach George Ashcraft said he wasn't surprised by his team's dominant performance. "I know how good the team is that I have," he said.

The teams traded turnovers late in the game and Watertown could have easily ended up with much more than the three interceptions it did produce.

"One thing that did shock me is the interceptions we could have had," Ashcraft said. "The defense still got that goose egg, though."

Anthony Noel ended the scoring for Watertown in the third quarter on a 33-yard scoring run.

The Trailblazers were facing an uphill battle even before Saturday's kickoff. Britton had to assemble his players, coaches an staff in whirlwind-fashion last week when he found out they might have another game. Even though they practiced Tuesday and Thursday, the Trailblazers' offseason had begun last weekend. To get the team back into game mode was a challenge for Britton.

"Some guys didn't find out until last night we were playing," Britton said. "I called all the players and they whole-heartedly agreed they wanted to play this game. We're grateful for the chance."

Said Dumaw, "it says a lot about their character to come down here and play us, no matter what."

NOTES: Brian Williams and Dumaw also notched interceptions. ... Wash caught six passes for 95 yards. ... John Check led Watertown with six tackles. ... Cheyenne Dashnaw recorded a game-high 14 tackles for the Trailblazers while Ricky Delaney contributed 13. ... Justin Martel recovered for fumbles for SLV. ... Joe Hutchison made five receptions for 53 yards.

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