SARANAC LAKE - On Saturday, Saranac Lake's football team will look to win a sectional title for the third year in a row when it hosts AuSable Valley in the Section VII, Class C championship game.
Tupper Lake is also playing, but the Lumberjacks will have to wait another week to compete for a championship. The 'Jacks are on the road for their final Section X game of the season, traveling to face Massena on the same field where they will tangle with either Moriah or Ticonderoga a week from now in the North Country's Class D title matchup.
Saranac Lake, ranked No. 6 in the latest New York State Sportswriters' poll, has breezed through its schedule and takes an 8-0 record into Saturday's rematch with AuSable Valley, a team the Red Storm defeated 56-20 on Sept. 21 on the Patriots Field. Saranac Lake led that game 49-0 before AuSable Valley got on the scoreboard. In that matchup, senior quarterback Matt Phelan led the Red Storm offense, rushing for a pair of touchdowns and throwing for two more.
Senior Seth Pickreign went a perfect 7-for-7 on conversion kicks and also ran a kickoff back 83 yards for a touchdown when Saranac Lake and AuSable Valley met during the regular season.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
AuSable Valley heads into the game after having won just one game during the regular season. If facing high-powered Saranac Lake seems like a difficult enough task for the Patriots, it got even tougher when they lost one of their top players a week ago when junior Dillon Savage broke his leg in a tight game against Ticonderoga. In addition to being one of the top running backs in Section VII, Savage was a defensive leader for AuSable Valley at inside linebacker.
"Our focus is just to stick with our formula," Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said. "For us, it's all about staying disciplined, executing and moving fast. We want to play with energy. We are really looking forward to playing our last game of the season at home with a championship on the line."
The Red Storm is coming off a 41-16 victory over Class D Moriah. Despite the lopsided final score, Saranac Lake had its hands full and actually trailed in the game for the first time this season before taking control after halftime.
"I think we came out a little complacent," Bennett said. "There was a big difference in our play from the first half to the second half. We found a rhythm in the second half."
Although Savage won't be in the game, Bennett expects the Patriots to give his team a tougher time that they did the first time around. AuSable Valley is coming off a 26-14 setback to Ticonderoga in a game that saw the Patriots give the Sentinels all they could handle.
"This is kind of like the college bowl season," Bennett said. "All the teams in the playoffs are 0-0. You win, you move on, you lose and your season is over. We are going to be playing a vastly improved AuSable team. They have a young group, but they have a whole season of playing varsity football under their belt."
After playing with a patchwork offensive line the past few weeks due to injures, Saranac Lake will have two senior starters returning to the trenches Saturday. Hajro Cecunjanin is back at center after recovering from a shoulder injury and two-way starer Kyle McGrain returns to action following a knee injury.
The winner of Saturday's game will advance to play Ogdensburg in the Section VII-X title tilt, which will be held at AuSable Valley on Nov. 3.
The opening kickoff for Saturday's game at Ken Wilson Field is slated for 1 p.m. There will be a $5 admission charge for the game.
No matter what happens tonight when Tupper Lake and Massena square off on the football field, the Lumberjacks will be playing for the Section X-VII Class D championship in a week. And although the 'Jacks have the postseason in their sights, they are hoping to settle a score with Massena in a rematch from the opening day of the season when the Red Raiders won 40-20 at Frank Tice Field.
"The importance of this game is to keep the ball rolling for the playoffs," Tupper Lake head coach Dennis Klossner said. "This is a football game, and we want to win. We went into week one with so much inexperience. We only trailed 13-7 at halftime in that game. We feel very confident playing them again."
The first time Tupper Lake played Massena, the Red Raiders had three backs rush for more than 100 yards. Jordy Mitchell led the way with 163 yards, with more than half of that coming on a pair of 49-yard touchdown runs. The Red Raiders amassed an amazing 576 yards on the ground and six rushing touchdowns in that game, but they be will be going against an improved, more experienced Lumberjacks' defense this time around.
"This is a crossover game where we want to keep sharp," Klossner added. "We've come a long way this season and we are a very different team than when we started. The first time we met, we struggled on defense. We are better at stopping the run, we're better at stopping the pass. I'm really happy with our progress."
The 3-5 Lumberjacks enter the game having won their last two games and three out of their last four. The Class A Red Raiders have a 4-4 record, which includes a victory over the 'Jacks and two straight over winless Canton.
The opening kickoff for tonight's game in Massena is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.