PERU - In the past two years, Saranac Lake has lost just one regular-season football game. That setback was against Peru in a matchup that kicked off the 2011 schedule for both squads.
If the Red Storm got caught off guard at home by the Indians a year ago, they weren't going to let it happen again in Saturday's rematch at the Apple Bowl.
Clinging to a 7-0 lead at halftime, Saranac Lake turned three Peru turnovers into third-quarter touchdowns and pulled away to a 27-7 victory. The Red Storm scored 27 unanswered points until giving up a late touchdown with their backup players on the field.
Senior Seth Pickreign picks up yards while staying ahead of Peru’s Mackenzie McKethan in Saturday’s game.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Guiding Saranac Lake's no-huddle offense, senior quarterback Matt Phelan had a solid season-opener, running for a pair of touchdowns and tossing two scoring strikes to senior wide receiver Kevin Morgan. And after giving up a pile of rushing yards on the Indians' first possession of the game, the Red Storm played shutout defense until conceding a late score after the outcome had already been decided.
"We told our kids that it was going to be a second-half game," Red Storm head coach Eric Bennett said. "Peru is a big, physical team, and in the end, I think our pace wore them down. To essentially shutout a team like that on the road, you have to feel good."
The Red Storm and their large contingent of fans that traveled to the Apple Bowl had a big reason to be concerned at the start of the game. Peru took the opening possession and made running the football look easy. The Indians' offense started with the ball at its own 25 and drove 61 yards in 14 plays before coming away with no points while turning the ball over on downs.
Saranac Lake 27, Peru 7
SL - Phelan 6 run (Pickreign kick), 3:39
SL - Phelan 16 run (Kick blocked), 5:58
SL - Morgan 31 pass from Phelan (Run failed), 8:33
SL - Morgan 60 pass from Phelan (Pickreign run), 11:07
P - Boyer 18 pass from Altizer (Boyer kick), 8:54
Peru - Bazzano 12-35, Boyer 3-3, McKethan 7-59, Altizer 5-12, Landon 1-4, Bruno 4-16, Sarazen 1-0, Blake 2-11. Totals: 35-140.
Saranac Lake - Ackerson 9-14, Pickreign 5-29, Thurber 3-4, Phelan 9-60 2TDs, Grebe 2-(-6), Leahy 1-0, Fitzgerald 4-2. Totals: 33-103 2TDs.
Peru - Altizer 8-16-2-91 TD.
Saranac Lake - Phelan 8-13-0-135 2TDs.
Peru - Phillips 1-10, Bazzano 3-19, Cunningham 1-19, Uliva 1-13, Blake 1-12, Boyer 1-18 TD.
Saranac Lake - Morgan 4-101 2TDs, Burpoe 4-34.
Saranac Lake - Gunther, Pickreign.
Both teams went three-and-out on the next two possessions of the game, and Saranac Lake put the first points on the board on its second offensive series. Starting at their own 24, the Red Storm were penalized for holding on the first play, which pushed the ball back to the 14. But after two short gains, followed by a Peru interference call, Saranac Lake was on the advance. Overall, the Red Storm strung together a 12-play, 76-yard drive capped off by Phelan's 6-yard sprint to the corner of the end zone. Senior Seth Pickreign, who had a solid game all around, made good on the conversion kick, giving the Red Storm a 7-0 edge with 6:02 remaining in the second quarter.
The rest of the first half was a defensive stalemate, as both teams punted twice before time expired.
Saranac Lake started the second half with the ball, and Pickreign ran for 14 yards on the opening play of the third quarter. But four plays later, the Red Storm punted, and Phelan got the job done on the kick as the ball was downed at Peru's 2-yard line. The Indians picked up 15 yards and a first down on three successive runs, but on the next play, Red Storm junior Dylan Gunther intercepted a pass from Peru quarterback Blake Altizer, and Saranac Lake had the ball at the Indians 38. Five snaps later, the Red Storm were in the end zone when Phelan broke through the middle of the Peru defense for a 16-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down-and-1 play.
Peru fumbled two plays into its next possession, with senior Mike Burpoe making the recovery at the Indians 35-yard line. After Phelan picked up five yards on two running plays, he completed a swing pass to Morgan on third down, and the senior scampered 31 yards into the end zone to put the Red Storm on top 19-0.
The Indians coughed up the ball again two plays into their next possession when Pickreign intercepted Altizer for the second time, which put the ball at the Red Storm 41 with 2:37 left in the third quarter. Saranac Lake only managed to gain a yard on two straight runs, but on the third play, Phelan and Morgan struck again, this time on a 60-yard bomb that saw Morgan spin his way through Peru's secondary on a sprint to pay dirt.
Holding a 27-0 lead, Saranac Lake pulled most of its starters early in the fourth quarter, and that's when Peru finally got on track. Starting a drive at their own 41, the Indians scored in five plays, with Altizer completing an 18-yard touchdown pass to Bret Boyer with 3:06 remaining in the game. Boyer then sailed the conversion kick through the uprights to make it a 27-7 final in favor of Saranac Lake.
Phelan finished the day with 60 yards rushing on nine carries and 135 passing yards. He completed eight of 13 attempts, with Morgan and Burpoe finishing with four catches each. Morgan led the game with 101 receiving yards, which was just two yards shy of the Red Storm's total rushing output of 103 yards on 33 attempts.
Saranac Lake didn't turn the ball over in the game.
Peru's top ground gainer was junior Mackenzie McKethan, who ran for 59 yards on seven carries before leaving in the third quarter with an injury. The Indians gained 140 total yards rushing on 35 attempts and Altizer finished the day completing 8-of-16 passes for 91 yards.
"That's a good a football team over there," Peru head coach Nick Damiani said as he looked across the field after the loss. "That Phelan, he's a heck of a quarterback. He definitely hurt us today.
"We just wore down. It was a hot day and we got tired," Damiani added. "We have some guys in new positions who have never been here before, and I think conditioning may have been an issue. We'll just move on from here. Our goal is to win that B championship again."
"I was scared on that first possession," Morgan said. "I thought Peru was going to take it to the house when they first came out, but when we made the stop, we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves."
"It feels awesome, not only coming off the loss to them last year, but getting off to a good start this year," Phelan added. "Our mindset coming into the season is hard work pays off. Right now, we're 1 and 0. Early on, I thought our defense was going to have trouble with the run game, but they were outstanding."
Saranac Lake's next game will be its home-opener Saturday against Moriah. The Vikings also got the season off to a positive start with a 39-12 rout over Plattsburgh Friday. Saturday's opening kickoff at Ken Wilson Field is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.