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Red & Black loses home opener, falls 0-2

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The coincidental fireworks display at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds added insult to injury for the Watertown Red and Black.

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Miners scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass with just under two minutes to play, then came through with an interception near the goal line to escape with a 15-12 victory to spoil the Red and Black’s Empire Football League home opener on Saturday night.

The pyrotechnics from the Watertown Rams collegiate baseball game on the nearby field went off right at the conclusion of the game, and the NEPA players celebrated accordingly.

“Could have, this game was attainable for us.” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “Could have and should have. We were there. We had it.”

The Red and Black dropped to 0-2 and may have lost running back Joe Brennan, who left the game midway through the third quarter and exited the field soon after to get X-rays on his hand.

NEPA quarterback JP Antosh entered the game with two minutes, 16 seconds left to play. He found Brandon Decker for a 14-yard touchdown pass 30 seconds later to give NEPA a 15-12 lead.

“Coming in cold off the bench, it was crazy,” Antosh said. “I sat there the whole game waiting.”

“Once I got in there, I think their defense was a little bit tired, because it was a battle all game long. But I got in there with fresh legs and I was able to get a little edge on them and make plays,” Antosh added.

The Miners, based in Scranton, improved to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the league.

Angel Hickman returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards to put the Red and Black at the NEPA 25-yard line with one minute, 36 seconds to play.

But less than a minute later, quarterback Tyler Michaelwicz’s pass near the end zone was tipped by the wide receiver and landed in the hands of a Miners defender to seal the victory. The Red and Black officially committed three turnovers.

NEPA’s game-winning drive started on the Red and Black’s 35-yard line after a botched punt attempt. The snap sailed over the head of Watertown punter Garrick Cook, well out of his reach.

“It seems like that’s been the story for a couple weeks now, a couple key plays is what turns around and bites us,” said Michaelwicz, who completed 8-of-20 passes for 104 yards.

Rookie running back Anton Gadson, who graduated from Watertown High School less than a month ago, replaced Brennan after his injury and provided a spark for the Red and Black.

He took his first two carries a combined 49 yards to set Watertown up at the NEPA 5-yard line.

He eventually ran it in on a 4th-and-goal play from the one-yard line to put Watertown up 12-7 late in the third quarter.

“I just heard my name be called and I’ve been patient, waiting,” Gadson said. “I guess tonight was just my time to do my thing.”

The Red and Black defense forced six NEPA turnovers — five interceptions and one turnover and downs. Josh Cox and Jordan Johnson each finished with two interceptions.

It held the Miners’ offense to 139 total yards in 11 possessions. NEPA’s two scoring drives started on the Red and Black’s 11 and 35-yard lines, respectively.

Rookie Derrek Dalton finished with a team-high 13 tackles, while Alex Tibbles and Rob Hughes added seven apiece.

“It’s kind of frustrating. I thought the defense, we played a hell of a game,” Hughes said. “We forced turnovers again, we were shutting them down. Not much more you can ask of a defense than what we did tonight.”

Edgar Givens made a spectacular catch on a fade in the back corner of the end zone to give the Red and Black a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter. He finished with 60 yards on three catches.

The Red and Black has a bye this Saturday, and will play a nonleague game at the Finger Lakes Impact on Aug. 3.

It will return home to host EFL rival Plattsburgh on Aug. 10.


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