When Watertown Red and Black coach George Ashcraft accepted an offer to play the Central Penn Piranhas — a semipro football national powerhouse — in an exhibition game with about a week’s notice, he viewed it as a measuring stick for a team with fresh faces at key positions.
And, after the resulting 71-0 loss Saturday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, the Red and Black learned that it has plenty to work on before its Empire Football League regular season opener on July 13.
“It was game four for them, game one for us and that sure showed. We got a lot of mistakes we got to fix,” first-year offensive coordinator Nate Bryant said.
“We asked for the best team in the preseason, and we got them. These guys came up here and played Grade A football, and opened our guys’ eyes up. That will be the best team that we’ll see all year so I think it will push our guys to play to that level. We got three weeks to work on it and come back out ready for our season,” Bryant added.
The Red and Black will play the Syracuse Shock at Liverpool High School in its season opener. The team doesn’t have another preseason game on the slate in the meantime, but Ashcraft said that he still hopes to schedule one more exhibition before July 13.
“You play a team of this caliber, and it’s their third or fourth game, you’re really just trying to work the kinks out,” Red and Black running back Joe Brennan said.
The Red and Black’s quarterback position is still up for grabs, and neither of the two leading candidates were able to create much separation as they spent the game scrambling away from the swarming Piranhas’ pass rush.
The competition is down to Shane Slate, last year’s backup to the departed Brian Williams, and first-year player Tyler Michaelwicz.
Ashcraft and Bryant said that the plan was for Michaelwicz to play the first half on Saturday, and Slate to take the second half. But Slate suffered a leg injury, and Michaelwicz wound up taking a majority of the snaps. The competition, according to both coaches, is still open.
“The positives I take out of this is that we ran 60 offensive plays,” Ashcraft said. “We did move the ball, as crazy as it sounds in a 71-0 game, we did some good things.”
The Piranhas improved to 4-0 and lived up to their billing as one of the most dominant semipro football squads in the country.
Since its inception in 1995, Central Penn has won three national championships, seven league titles, and had a 126-game home winning streak that spanned 13 years.
“Since the middle ’90s to the present, they’re one of the top teams in the nation, and I didn’t see anything that would lead me to believe differently, every person from top to bottom that stepped on that field did a great job,” Ashcraft said.
“I’ll take nothing away from a good team. They’re a very good team. But we’re better than what we showed today and hopefully that will be clear when we take the field again in four weeks,” he added.