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Red & Black struggles to build momentum

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The Watertown Red and Black is anxious to say goodbye to its bye weeks.

The nation’s oldest semipro football team will host the Syracuse Shock (4-2) at 7 tonight at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds in just its third game against an Empire Football League opponent since July 20.

The Red and Black, entering with a 3-4 overall record and 3-3 in the EFL, hasn’t played on consecutive Saturdays in more than a month.

“We have not had any rhythm this year,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said. “There is no such thing as saying we’re getting in sync because when you have these bye weeks every other week, you can’t get in sync.”

The Montreal Voyageurs notified the EFL of its intent to take a one-year hiatus after the league schedule had been released this offseason. Montreal’s removal left the EFL with just six teams.

The league’s response was to award teams a forfeit victory for every game against Montreal on their respective schedules. The Red and Black was scheduled to play the Voyageurs on July 27 and Aug. 17.

Ashcraft tried to schedule nonleague games in place of those Montreal dates, but was unable to get any team to agree to play.

The constant byes have created difficulty in sustaining momentum from game-to-game for a team filled with new players in key spots that could benefit from the additional game time.

“It’s tough. I think the biggest thing is it takes a toll on the offensive line. They can’t really get a cohesiveness going,” veteran linebacker and defensive captain Rob Hughes said.

“Games are where you get the most opportunities to work together and when they call out blitzes, picking up blocks and things like that. It’s hard for the new guys when we haven’t played a whole lot of games and all the bye weeks in between, it doesn’t help.”

First-year quarterback Tyler Michaelwicz looks at it from a different perspective.

He said the team should benefit from the extra practices and preparation time, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case.

“If anything it should be an advantage for us. But at the same time, we’ve got some guys that kind of blow off practice on those bye weeks because we have the bye,” he said. “So it’s like a Catch-22, really. We got the time to really prepare if the guys are there, but if they’re not there, there’s nothing you can really do.”

Montreal’s exit from the league means that all six EFL teams will qualify for the playoffs.

The Red and Black, with only tonight’s game and a Sept. 21 date at Plattsburgh remaining on its schedule, could fall anywhere from second to fifth in the playoff bracket.

If the Red and Black wins out, it will finish no lower than third. With help from other game results, it could finish second, clinching a first-round bye and a home game in the second round.

Playoffs begin on Sept. 28 and the EFL title game is slated for Oct. 12 at the field of the highest remaining seed.

“I think we’re still in the mindset that we need to be,” Michaelwicz said. “Everybody is focused and understands that from here on out we have to take it one game at a time. And it starts (today) with Syracuse.”

Watertown lost its season opener to the Shock, 30-6, at Liverpool High School.

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