The Watertown Red and Black is getting a trio of its defensive stars back. And it couldnt have come at a better time.
Matt Kepler, Dwohn Lucky and Alex Rodriguez, along with six other Red and Black players, returned from a two-week military training exercise in California this week.
The three will take the field tonight when Watertown (5-2) travels to Plattsburgh (6-3) for a pivotal 7:30 p.m. game that will either save or severely damage the Red and Blacks hopes of winning the Empire Football League and getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Everybody was looking forward to getting back, we kept talking about it, Lucky said. We were all talking about getting back here, getting the helmets on, ready to hit some people. It just so happened that Plattsburgh is the next game and its a big game. Were excited about it and I know all these guys are excited.
Rodriguez, a defensive back, is still second on the team with 37 tackles despite missing two games.
Kepler and Lucky rank third and fourth, respectively, in tackles per game. Kepler, a second-year linebacker, is averaging seven a game while Lucky, a defensive tackle, is averaging 5.6.
Im looking forward to going back out there and helping this team get a win. I know the other guys that are coming in feel the same way I do. They cant wait to put the pads on again, Kepler said.
The Red and Black played well in their absence, outscoring its last two opponents, Amsterdam and Glens Falls, 119-8.
The guys did a lot of good while we were gone, Kepler said. I hope I can join the momentum and get back into things quickly.
The guys that were down there with me, we always talked about the games, Lucky said. It was kind of funny, after every game we were all trying to find internet or find some way to keep up and see what happened. But we knew our guys would go out there and play well.
But, Amsterdam and Glens Falls are at the bottom of the EFL standings, whereas Plattsburgh is the highest-scoring team in the league and riding a four-game win streak that includes a 21-7 win over Syracuse (7-2).
Plattsburgh quarterback Harry Rascoe has 24 passing touchdowns on the season, making the returns of the defensive standouts that much more important.
Im happy to see them back because they make things happen, Red and Black coach George Ashcraft said of the group.
Its the biggest game all year. This has got home-field advantage, first-place in the league consequences. Bottom line, got to win. Play our game and win, Ashcraft added.
That should be an easier task with Rodriguez, Kepler and Lucky back in the lineup.
Watertown closes the regular season by hosting Syracuse at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday.