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Semipro football: Red & Black faces Shock in EFL playoff opener

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Few people outside the Watertown Red and Black locker room believe it has a chance to upset the Syracuse Shock in tonight’s first-round Empire Football League playoff game.

But despite two convincing losses to Syracuse already this season, and its worst league record in five years, the nation’s oldest semipro football team will go to Fulton High School for tonight’s 7 o’clock kickoff with the belief that its playoff run is just getting started.

The winner of tonight’s clash will play the top-seeded NEPA Miners at Scranton, Pa., in next Saturday’s semifinals.

“I think anything is possible, I truly do,” Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said.

“I truly believe that if the guys show up and want to play a game,” he added. “Syracuse has got a dozen studs and so do we, bottom line.”

“We’re going to play together for 60 minutes and let the cards fall where they fall,” Ashcraft added. “At the end of the night, (our players) might be loading their stuff in the trailer for the last time, or they’ll be throwing it in there and saying ‘I can’t wait until (practice) Tuesday.’ You never know and that’s part of the game.”

The Red and Black, entering the playoffs with a 3-5 league record and 4-5 overall, was outscored a combined 56-6 in a pair of regular-season losses to the Shock (7-2).

Syracuse tallied nearly 600 rushing yards in those two games combined, while the Red and Black managed just less than 130 yards of total offense.

“That only got them a seed, it didn’t get them a championship,” Red and Black offensive coordinator Nate Bryant said.

Syracuse has won a league-best five straight games and scored a league-high 310 points this year.

Watertown, which has lost its past three and captured all but one of its league victories via forfeit, has struggled to find consistency with a roster that Bryant estimated is made up of 80 percent first-year players.

The Red and Black’s six league games were stretched across an 11-week span, and it hasn’t played back-to-back games since the first two Saturdays in August.

“This year we haven’t had as much success as we’ve had in years past, but every team goes through it,” said running back Joe Brennan, who ran for a team-high 348 yards in six league games.

“But I think that we have a great team here. That’s why you play the game and you don’t go off paper,” he added.

Defensive back Jordan Johnson, who hauled in a team-high five interceptions this year, said: “We’re just trying to be optimistic going into this game. We’ve had a rough year so far, but I think we’re ready and we’re going to play better in this game.”

Red and Black players and coaches hinted at the possibility of personnel changes for tonight’s game, saying that some players could see time on both sides of the ball.

“We’re going to show Syracuse a totally different ball team,” Bryant said.

“We’ll put our best 11 against their best 11 and see if we can come out with a win,” he added.

Watertown’s previous high for league losses in a season was seven in 2008.

The Red and Black captured its first EFL title in 29 seasons the following year and has made it to at least the EFL semifinals every year since.

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