SARANAC LAKE - If Saranac Lake's players step off the football field tonight with a victory in Ticonderoga, its football program will have notched its 400th win dating back to 1923 when the sport was first played at the school.
Then on Saturday, Tupper Lake will be looking for its first win of the season when the Lumberjacks host Gouverneur in an afternoon homecoming matchup.
As the North Country high school football season enters its third weekend, the Red Storm hope to keep their roll going as they seek to improve to 3-0 in the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference. They will square off starting at 7:30 p.m. against a Sentinels team that has opened the season with two losses.
Senior Mike Burpoe caught four passes for 74 yards in Saranac Lake’s 41-6 victory over Moriah a week ago in Champlain Valley Athletic Conference football action.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Meanwhile, the Lumberjacks have found some offensive success early on, but have been unable to stop the run and hope to put an end to the trend when they host the Wildcats at Frank Tice Field starting at 1:30 p.m. An added setback to Tupper Lake's tough start is the loss of three-year starting quarterback Morgan Stevens, who's out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL.
Saranac Lake's season couldn't have gotten off to a better start. The Red Storm knocked off Peru to kick off the campaign and followed with a convincing victory a week ago over Moriah. In those two games, Saranac Lake has scored 68 points while giving up just 13. Head coach Eric Bennett said he was especially pleased with the way his players performed a week ago during their 41-6 win at home against Moriah.
"We were solid all the way through," Bennett said. "Our kids executed really well on offense, defense and special teams. It looked like they weren't even thinking. They just went at it."
Saranac Lake's offense is led by senior quarterback Matt Phelan, who is off to an exceptional start with four rushing touchdowns and three more through the air. In two games, he has completed 20 of 28 passing attempts for 341 yards and has just one interception. Seniors Kevin Morgan and Mike Burpoe have been Phelan's favorite targets and a week ago, they combined to make 10 catches good for 206 yards receiving.
Junior running back Lance Ackerson also got on track last week, rushing for three touchdowns against the Vikings.
The Red Storm will face a Sentinels team hungry for a win after they dropped two games to tough opponents in Beekmantown and Peru. Bennett said Ticonderoga's talented running back Miles Austin, a three-year starter, and quarterback Michael Granger, should provide the Red Storm defense with a difficult test.
"Austin is a dynamic running back," Bennett said. "He is fast, he can move and he makes you miss tackles, and their quarterback is a real nice passer. This isn't going to be an easy game for us. It will be a challenge to take that bus ride down there to play our first night game. Ticonderoga already has one under their belt."
Bennett said the possibility of winning for the 400th time in Saranac Lake football history is neat to think about, but noted that's not on the minds of his players.
"No. 400 is a big win obviously," Bennett said. "It's a real achievement for the community and our supporters. It's kind of cool to think about it, but I don't think it means a whole lot to our kids. They just want to step off that field with their third win of the season."
The Lumberjacks will host a rare Saturday afternoon game as the 2-0 Gouverneur Wildcats visit Frank Tice Field. After getting off to a tough 0-2 start, things don't get much easier for Tupper Lake as it prepares to play the rest of the season without Stevens, who suffered an ACL tear at the end of a 9-yard running play in last week's game against Potsdam.
Saturday marks Tupper Lake's third straight home matchup, and junior Mitch Keniston, who has been Stevens go-to receiver, will now line up behind center. Keniston did a nice job taking over at quarterback against the 'Stoners after Stevens left and led the Lumberjacks on the last scoring drive of the game. Head coach Dennis Klossner has confidence in the backup's ability.
"Mitch throws a nice ball and we've always had him taking snaps in practice," Klossner said. "He's our guy now, and we are all confident that he can do a nice job. We just won't have the Morgan Stevens-Mitch Keniston connection any more. The good thing is, we'll have Morgan back next year. He's a junior, so his career isn't over yet."
Tyler Minogue and Jeremy Roussel are both expected to run the ball for Tupper Lake, and Brock Tarbox and Nick Bourbeau will have to step up as new receivers for Keniston.
Tupper Lake has been able to put points on the board during its first two games, but it's been a rocky start for the 'Jacks defense. In two losses, Tupper Lake has been outscored 92-40 and has allowed a combined 971 rushing yards in setbacks to Massena and Potsdam. Klossner said inexperience has played a big role in that situation.
"Our defensive schemes have been fine," Klossner said. "Our kids are getting in position, they're putting their shoulder in there, they just haven't been wrapping up, and we've faced some good running backs. With more game experience, our tackling should get better."
The Lumberjacks are facing a Gouverneur team that kicked off the season by defeating Ogdensburg for the first time in 11 years. After defeating the Blue Devils in a 15-6 upset, Gouverneur went on to top Canton 39-22 to begin the season at 2-0, something the team hasn't done since 2005.
Running back Levi Tupper paced the Wildcats last week with four rushing touchdowns against Canton. Quarterback Mark Horne also ran for a game-high 131 yards on 14 carries.
"They knocked off Ogdensburg the first week, and they have a nice little momentum thing going," Klossner said. "But I think we match up pretty well with them. We expect them to run about 95 percent of the time, and they have good speed to the outside. We want to contain them, keep them inside. If we can do that I like our chances."