Its been a long season for the Watertown Red and Black.
Players have come and gone. Coaches have come and gone. The team won two games with fourth-quarter comebacks, and had four of its games decided by one score.
And of course, there was the home game against Albany that was stopped at halftime due to a break-in of the Metro Mallers locker room that resulted in personal items being stolen from Albany coaches and players.
And yet, the Red and Black (7-3) is right where it wants to be. Winner of three of its last four games and opening the Empire Football League playoffs at home, against the Vermont Ice Storm (5-5) at 7:30 tonight at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
I feel like were the best football team in our conference, Red and Black quarterback Brian Williams said. The reality is that weve had some internal things that weve had to go through this year that easily could have torn a team apart, almost did. As a team, as a unit, as players, we stayed together and we made it through a season. That provided us some strength, and I think going into playoffs, well be able to utilize the strength that weve gained throughout our year.
A win would put Watertown in the EFL semifinals at league champion Plattsburgh (8-2) next Saturday, and a loss would end the Red and Blacks season. The EFL championship game is scheduled for Oct. 20 at the field of the highest remaining seed.
We got three more to be champions, and thats definitely our overall goal. It has been all year, Running back Joe Brennan said.
What were setting forth to do is still attainable, and thats play in the championship. Thats what we want to do, Watertown coach George Ashcraft added.
The Red and Black beat the Ice Storm, 23-13 on Aug. 4, in the only meeting between the two old rivals this season.
Watertown ran for over 200 yards in that game and scored both of its touchdowns on the ground. But it gained just 21 yards on 10 carries in the first half.
Vermont quarterback Tim Kynoch rallied his team back to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Watertown was able to hold on for the win, connecting on a field goal to go up by 10 with two minutes left.
I dont think we played to our full potential at that point. Weve come a long way since then, Brennan said. We executed, and as long as we execute this weekend, too, I think well get the win.
The Red and Black is coming off a tough 14-13 win over Syracuse (7-3) in its regular season finale. The Watertown defense held the vaunted Syracuse offense to just 204 total yards, and made several big stops to hold off a Shock rally in the second half.
The last couple weeks weve been an 11-pistol machine firing on all cylinders, so we just have to keep that going, defensive end Ben Call said.
Any person on our defense can step in and get the same intensity the whole game, defensive tackle Dwohn Lucky added. So if one person gets tired, when we step out, its not like youre going to have that letdown. Youre going to have that same intensity the whole game.