By: Eric Belair, Syracuse Strong Sports Information Director
The Syracuse Strong made history on Saturday night as they captured the Empire Football League (EFL) title in their inaugural season with a 14-6 victory over the Watertown Red and Black.
“To be able to come out against a quality Watertown organization and battle like we did, it was a great game,” said Syracuse coach David Johnson.
After a first half that was a defensive battle, the Strong had a 6-0 deficit that they had to come back from. Outside of a few plays, the first two quarters of play were played between the 20-yard lines as both team’s defensive units stood tough.
“Our defense is outstanding and this defense won the championship,” said Johnson. “We haven’t clicked on all cylinders this season, but our defense stood strong throughout.”
In a strange sequence of events, Syracuse had a touchdown nullified by an offensive pass interference call, then proceeded to throw an interception on the following play. This set up Watertown for a 65-yard pass and catch from quarterback Anthony Noel to Chris Furr on a deep slant route to give the Red and Black their only scoreboard action of the game.
The Strong stayed consistent throughout the night and waited for Watertown to make the mistakes that they could capitalize on.
On the first possession of the second half for the Red and Black, the team muffed their punt snap, giving Syracuse tremendous starting field position.
This set up a designed run by quarterback Shakem Buckmon for a short touchdown run. After having his first field goal attempt blocked and missing his second, kicker Eric Wojtaszek connected on the go-ahead extra point to give the Strong a 7-6 lead midway through the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter of this defensive battle, Watertown had another mishap while trying to punt. The Strong recovered the ball and after six plays Lydell Killings found himself in the back of the end zone on a seven-yard scamper, giving Syracuse a 14-6 lead.
Watertown had one last attempt to move the ball downfield, but the Strong continued their relentless defensive pressure and the 10-play drive fell short for the Red and Black, resulting in a turnover on downs
Syracuse just needed to get a first down and run the clock out. On fourth and four, Travon Burke was handed the ball and bulled his way for a first down that would run the clock down. Burke finished with 10 rush attempts for 70 yards and his running mate, Greg Tobias, had a game-high 110 yards on eight carries.
Due to the stingy defense that Syracuse played all night, defensive linemen Dominique Harris and Austin Morris were named the game’s co-MVP. Harris tallied 12 tackles, while Morris recorded 15 tackles and 2.0 sacks in the contest.
Syracuse finished the season with a 9-3 record as they beat Watertown in the third meeting of the two teams this season.
“To be able to win a championship in your first year with brand new guys and coaching staff is great,” said coach Johnson. “It’s a great feeling for these kids, I’m so happy for the guys.”