SARANAC LAKE - The Saranac Lake and Hoosick Falls football teams have gotten to know quite a bit about each other over the past two seasons. On Saturday, the teams will become even more acquainted when they meet for the third year in a row in the state Class C quarterfinal round.
Both teams are unbeaten with 10-0 records, they have explosive offenses and swarming defenses, and the winner will advance to next week's semifinals at Dietz Stadium in Kingston.
The game will be played at 1 p.m. at AuSable Valley on the same field where the Red Storm captured a dramatic 15-12 victory in overtime to end the Section II Panthers state championship hopes two years ago. Hoosick Falls turned the tables last season, routing Saranac Lake 47-13 at Stillwater High School. In that game, Saranac Lake turned the ball over four times and was also flagged for a number of costly penalties.
Saranac Lake’s starting offensive line is set to run a play during practice Wednesday as the Red Storm prepares to tangle with Hoosick Falls Saturday in a state Class C quarterfinal game at AuSable Valley High School.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Each squad is stocked with veteran seniors who competed in last year's matchup, and Red Storm coach Eric Bennett said his team, including players and coaches, learned a lot from being on the wrong side of that blowout loss.
"We made a ton of uncharacteristic mistakes, and I think being in the bright lights of a big game got to us," Bennett said. "Clearly, that defeat pointed us in the direction we needed to go. Hoosick Falls is one heck of a good football team, and our appearances in the state playoffs against teams like that only make us better."
The Panthers were ranked at the top of Class C standings when they clashed with the Red Storm a year ago. This time they are second in the poll put out by the New York State Sportswriters Association. Saranac Lake is sixth in the same poll.
Hoosick Falls head coach Ron Jones said Saturday's game will feature two teams that play a similar style of football.
"I think we both skin the cat the same way. We are mirror images of each other," Jones said. "Both defenses get a lot of guys to the ball, and we both have high-scoring offenses. It's going to be a really good chess match between two teams that have some kids who can do some special things."
Looking at the scoreboard, neither team has been threatened this year. The Panthers have outscored their opponents by a combined 462-44 and the Red Storm have piled up 409 points while giving up 97.
Two Hoosick Falls seniors, running back Brad Burns and quarterback Billy Pine, have been the go-to guys on what has so far been an unstoppable offense. A three-year starter, Burns has amassed 1,652 rushing yards on 151 carries - an average of nearly 11 yards per attempt - and has run for 27 touchdowns. Pine is versatile. He's completed nearly 65 percent of his pass attempts for 1,396 yards, has thrown 20 touchdown passes and has been intercepted just three times. He has also rushed for 10 scores and 383 yards. As a team, Hoosick Falls has racked up 43 touchdowns on the ground.
Both players are also key contributors on a Panthers defense that has recorded six shutouts in 10 games played.
When it comes to airing it out, the Red Storm's numbers are on par, if not even more impressive. Led by senior quarterback Matt Phelan, Saranac Lake has rolled to 10 straight wins with a two-pronged attack. Phelan has connected on 97 of 127 pass attempts - a 76-percent completion average - for 1,654 yards and 25 touchdowns. A shifty ball carrier, Phelan has also reached the end zone 14 times on runs and leads the team with 552 yards rushing.
Kevin Morgan is the top receiver for Saranac Lake, and was also the best in Section VII this season. The senior has caught at least one touchdown pass in every Red Storm start and has 16 heading into Saturday's contest. Morgan has 806 yards receiving on 35 catches.
Obviously, both squads want to see their campaigns continue all away to the state championship game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. That road hasn't gone any further for Saranac Lake or Hoosick Falls during the past two seasons. In 2011, the Red Storm fell at Kingston to eventual state champion Bronxville, and last year, the Panthers suffered a one-point loss on that field to Dobbs Ferry, which went on to win it all.
"This is the best time of the year to be playing football," Jones said. "It's become a nice rivalry between our teams, and it should be quite a game on Saturday. Both schools have proud football traditions, and both our teams have a ton of athletes."
"I'm so excited," Phelan said during practice Wednesday. "I think we've learned a lot during the past year. We have a lot of seniors this year who played with us last year, and I think we are much smarter as a team.
"Hoosick Falls had a great team last year, but we didn't help ourselves," Phelan added. "We can't make the mistakes we did at critical times like we did last year. We just have to go out and do what we've been doing all season long."
Bennett and his coaching staff also took a lot away from their loss to the Panthers a year ago. He said Saranac Lake's football team has based much of this season on having a more successful playoff run this time around.
"When you play them, your weaknesses become apparent very quickly," Bennett said. "Many of the things we worked on to prepare for this season stemmed from that game. I think the things we have done have helped us during a successful regular season, and hopefully we can carry it right into the playoffs. We've learned so much about ourselves being in the state playoffs. We'll learn a lot more Saturday, too."