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R&B goes on road to play Plattsburgh in EFL semifinal

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After the Watertown Red and Black beat the Vermont Ice Storm last Saturday in the first round of the Empire Football League playoffs, defensive back Alex Rodriguez guaranteed a win in the semifinals.

Entering tonight’s 7:30 matchup at top-seeded Plattsburgh, where a berth in the EFL championship game hangs in the balance, Rodriguez didn’t back off from that statement.

“I still believe that,” Rodriguez said. “This is a great team, a great group of guys. We bust our (humps). And you know what? We deserve it. We want it. We’re hungrier than every other team we play against. We’ll come out with a big ‘W.’”

The North Stars beat the Red and Black, 31-14, in the only meeting this season on Sept. 22, a win that gave Plattsburgh home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Watertown’s defense was missing some key pieces in that game, one being Rodriguez, who ranks fourth on the team in tackles. Matt Kepler and Dwohn Lucky, second and third on the team in tackles, respectively, had returned from a three-week military training exercise in California less than 48 hours before kickoff.

“With (us) at full strength and full speed, it’s going to be a whole lot different,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll be ready to go. It won’t be like last time, hell no.”

Since the loss to Plattsburgh (8-2), the Red and Black defense held a strong Syracuse offense to just 13 points in its regular-season finale.

It then forced five interceptions in its first-round victory over Vermont, holding the Ice Storm to just eight points on a fourth-quarter touchdown with the game already in hand.

Plattsburgh, meanwhile, hasn’t played since that game. Its regularly scheduled bye came in the season’s final week, and it received a first-round playoff bye due to winning the regular-season title.

“We’re peaking when we want to be, but you still got to go out and play the game,” Red and Black head coach George Ashcraft said.

Though it was undermanned, Watertown (8-3) hurt itself with four turnovers and a slow start against the North Stars. The Red and Black trailed 24-0 at halftime.

“We made a lot of mistakes in the game against Plattsburgh,” said Watertown’s leading rusher, Joe Brennan. “Against a team with that potential, you got to play mistake-free football in order to win. We didn’t do a good job with that and we ended up losing because of it.”

“We gave up three touchdowns to start the game out and it was all foolish plays,” Ashcraft said.

Tonight’s game is the latest installment in what has become a big rivalry between the Red and Black and the North Stars.

Watertown beat Plattsburgh in the 2009 EFL title game for its first championship since 1980. The Red and Black earned a grinding 6-0 win at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

One year later, Plattsburgh won the championship rematch on its home field in dramatic fashion, 13-10, when Watertown missed a 34-yard field goal in the closing seconds.

“Ever since then it’s just been a battle, every time we play it’s a hard-hitting football game, and really overall, it’s just always a great game to be at and a great game to be a part of,” Brennan said.

The third-seeded Monroe County Sting (7-3) will play at the No. 2 Syracuse Shock (7-3) in tonight’s other semifinal. The winners will meet next Saturday for the EFL title at the field of the highest remaining seed.

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