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Red & Black escapes with 14-13 victory over Shock

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Red and Black fans couldn’t have scripted a better ending to Saturday night’s regular-season finale.

Syracuse kicker Zack Grulich, who played the first four games of the season for Watertown, missed the game-tying extra point with a minute and a half to play, pulling it wide right after a botched snap, and the Red and Black escaped with a 14-13 Empire Football League victory at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

Watertown (6-3) is all but assured of a fourth-place finish in the standings, and will likely host No. 5 Monroe County (6-4) in a first-round playoff game this Saturday. Nothing is official until today’s annual year-end league meeting.

“I’m very proud of the team, they played four full quarters and a win is a win. This was a big win for us,” Watertown coach George Ashcraft said.

Syracuse (7-3) recovered an onside kick after Grulich’s miss, and quarterback T.J. Sheard appeared to throw the game-winning touchdown on a 4th-and-15 play with 44 seconds left. But Sheard was called for an illegal pass for crossing the line of scrimmage before making the throw, and Watertown took over on downs.

“Bounces go one way, bounces go another,” Red and Black quarterback Brian Williams said. “They went our way a couple times and we were able to hold on for a victory.”

Syracuse players and coaches crowded the officials after the play, and the game was ended with 28 seconds remaining.

There were two separate squabbles at halftime, with groups of players from each team shoving and yelling back and forth. Players were separated without incident each time.

Syracuse coach Kenny Anderson, a former Red and Black assistant, declined comment after the game.

“Very crazy, very intense, a lot of emotions going on,” said Red and Black defensive tackle Alex Tibbles, who finished with a team-high 14 tackles and a sack.

The Red and Black jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. It started its first drive on the Syracuse 11-yard line, after the Shock fumbled on a punt attempt.

Williams found Josh Cox on a fade to the back of the end zone two plays later to put Watertown up 7-0.

Joe Brennan ran in a score from two yards out on Watertown’s next possession, which featured four penalties called against the Shock. Of the 42 yards gained on the drive, 30 came off Syracuse penalties. The Shock was penalized 18 times overall.

“We came out and were able to put points on the board first, that gave us a little more momentum,” Williams said. “It was just a good overall football game when it came to doing our jobs, what we were supposed to do, and our defense executed their game plan perfectly.”

Syracuse rallied in the second half, as running back Dewayne Gordon ran in an eight-yard touchdown late in the third quarter, and Sheard threw a 12-yard touchdown with just under two minutes left to set up the missed kick by Grulich.

Watertown defensive back Adrian Paris came through with a sack on a 3rd-and-12 play with nine minutes left to force the Shock to punt and end a promising drive.

Dwohn Lucky made a similar play near the end of the first half, tallying the sack on a key third down to force Syracuse to punt.

“Our defense is the heart and soul of this team and it always has been,” Tibbles said. “They came out great tonight, everyone did a fantastic job.”

Watertown can now look to the playoffs and its expected matchup with Monroe County, which earned a 14-10 win over Glens Falls on Saturday to lock up fifth place.

Watertown and Monroe County split their two regular-season meetings in a pair of close games. The Red and Black beat the Sting, 24-20, in its season opener, but then dropped a 20-14 game at the Fairgrounds on Aug. 11.

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