SARANAC LAKE - Well before the preseason started, Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said Peru could be the toughest opponent on every team's schedule this year.
The Red Storm found why their coach made that prediction Saturday when the two teams met for the third-straight time to open their Champlain Valley Athletic Conference football season.
Despite being penalized 15 times and committing three turnovers, the Indians held the upper hand for most of the afternoon to claim a 33-7 victory over the Red Storm at Ken Wilson Field.
Red Storm safety Torin Smith moves in to tackle Peru running back Jozua Cote during the third quarter of Saturday’s matchup. Smith scored the lone touchdown for Saranac Lake on a 15-yard completion late in the second quarter.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Behind a dominant defensive front, Peru kept Saranac Lake's offense pinned down early while building a 20-0 lead. And after Saranac Lake finally got on the board late in the first half, the Indians responded with two more touchdowns to deal the Red Storm their first regular-season loss since the opening game of their 2011 campaign.
Against a quick, strong Peru defense, Saranac Lake could only muster 99 total yards on offense, including just 35 on the ground. Meanwhile, the Indians offense overcame its own mistakes to reach the end zone five times, including three passing touchdowns thrown by Blake Altizer. The junior quarterback completed 17 of 22 attempts for 203 yards. He was intercepted twice by Saranac Lake defensive backs Carl Bevilacqua and Dustin Fischer.
In his first varsity start, junior Anthony Gallo led Peru's receivers with nine catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
"The difference was we just couldn't handle Peru up front," Bennett said. "They have strong linebackers, they have a solid front and they didn't let us get any kind of run game going. If you can't run the ball, you don't win football games."
Saranac Lake's offense ran into trouble on the opening possession of the game. After a one-yard loss on first down and an incomplete pass on second, senior quarterback Trent Fitzgerald coughed up the football when he was hit dropping back to pass. The Indians recovered on Saranac Lake's 1-yard line. A penalty pushed Peru back to the 6, but running back Jozua Cote got it back with a 5-yard gain on his first carry of the game. On the next play, he scored on a 1-yard run. Saranac Lake blocked the extra-point kick, leaving the score 6-0 with 1:26 gone in the game.
With the Red Storm offense unable to move, Peru's next two possessions started at the Saranac Lake 31- and 27-yard lines. The Indians came up empty the first time, but scored the next, with Altizer tossing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Gallo. Peru upped its lead to 20-0 when Rivelino Hendricks broke a slew of attempted tackles on a 43-yard touchdown run with 3:10 left in the first half.
With Tristin Fitzgerald taking over at quarterback, Saranac Lake marched 51 yards in five plays to reach the end zone. The Red Storm's possession started with a reception by Dylan Gunther that picked up 30 yards, and ended with a 20-yard touchdown catch by junior Torin Smith on a fourth-down play.
After cutting the deficit to 20-7, Saranac Lake gave up a costly touchdown with no time left on the first-half clock. After taking possession at their own 36 with just 53 seconds remaining in the half, the Indians covered the distance in just four plays. The march ended when Altizer connected with Gallo in the end zone on a 33-yard pass as time expired, which gave Peru a 27-7 edge at the intermission.
Peru scored the only points after halftime when Altizer gunned a 9-yard touchdown pass to Zane Bazzano on the first play of the final quarter.
"Coming into week one, we knew we were going to make mistakes, but not like that," Peru head coach Nick Damiani said. "We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot again and again, especially in that first quarter. As the game went on, the mistakes got fewer and fewer.
"What got us the football game was our line," Damiani added. "My 'D' line is tough. We tried to play four quarters of good physical football, and we did that. We have the athletes to play football. We just have to clean up the mistakes."
Despite the loss, Bennett was encouraged by the Red Storm's effort.
"We didn't quit. The kids played hard," Bennett said. "That's a talented football team we played.
"I thought our defense played outstanding," Bennett added. "That first quarter was tough on us. Peru had all the field position, we had none, and our defense held their own."
Saranac Lake next plays Friday on the road at Moriah.
Peru 33, Saranac Lake 7
Peru - Cote 1 run (Kick blocked), 1:26
Peru - Gallo 15 pass from Altizer (Kick failed), :07
Peru - Hendricks 43 run (Abel pass from Altizer), 8:48
SL - Smith 20 pass from Tri. Fitzgerald (Marmion kick), 11:07
Peru - Gallo 33 pass from Altizer (Kick blocked), 12:00
Peru - Bazzano 9 pass from Altizer (Cote kick), :06
Peru - Cote 12-66 TD, Bazzano 1-(-8), Hendricks 2-44TD, Altizer 3-(-6), Wyckoff 4-27, Landon 3-8. Totals: 25-127 2 TDs.
Saranac Lake - Gunther 4-(-2), Tre. Fitzgerald 7-(-1), Ackerson 5-(-1), Ryan 5-2, Kilner 3-35, Tri. Fitzgerald 1-2. Totals: 25-35.
Peru - Altizer 17-22-2-203.
Saranac Lake - Tre. Fitzgerald 4-13-0-4, Tri. Fitzgerald 5-9-0-60 TD. Totals: 9-22-0-64
Peru - Hendricks 1-26, Gallo 9-95 2TDs, Bazzano 4-53 TD, Guay 3-29.
Saranac Lake - Gunther 2-31, Bevilacqua 2-7, Smith 2-16 TD, Fischer 1-12, Stack 1-(-3), 1-1.
Saranac Lake - Bevilacqua, Fischer.