MASSENA - A great start for Saranac Lake's football team didn't hold up as Ogdensburg erased an early two-touchdown deficit to down the Red Storm 27-19 in Friday's regional playoff game at Massena High School.
Saranac Lake drove for touchdowns on its first two possessions of the game to surge to a 12-0 lead. But once the Blue Devils got their passing attack in gear, they were able to claw back to pull ahead just before halftime and never looked back.
The Blue Devils, who improved to 9-1 and advanced to face Section II champion Hoosick Falls, got three passing touchdowns from quarterback Josh Liebstein and a rushing score from running back Jon Rogers.
Saranac Lake defenders Joe Atkinson (74) and Torin Smith (5) converge to bring down Ogdensburg running back Jon Rogers during Friday’s game in Massena.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Dylan Gunther, and brothers Trent and Tristin Fitzgerald scored a rushing touchdown each for Saranac Lake, which ended its season with a 5-5 record.
The Red Storm were unstoppable early. They got great field position on the game's first possession when Gunther returned the opening kickoff 30 yards to set his team up at the Blue Devils' 46-yard line. Eight plays later they were in the end zone when Trent Fitzgerald powered his way in from the 8-yard line.
Saranac Lake's defense then held Ogdensburg without a first down on its first series, and after a punt, the Red Storm was back in business at their own 26. On a drive that saw Tristin Fitzgerald complete four passes for 50 yards, including a 32-yard strike to Gunther, Saranac Lake scored on a 12-play march. Gunther put the points on the board when he dove into the end zone on an 8-yard run, which gave the Red Storm 12-0 edge on the first play of the second quarter.
Ogdensburg then scored 27 unanswered points to build up what turned out to be an insurmountable advantage. The Blue Devils got their first touchdown on a 10-yard Liebstein pass to Rogers with 7:02 gone in the second quarter. The extra point attempt was blocked by Trent Fitzgerald, leaving Saranac Lake on top 12-6.
After the Blue Devils forced Saranac Lake to go three-and-out on the next possession, their offense went back to work and methodically mounted another scoring drive. This time, Ogdensburg marched 76 yards in 13 plays to score a dramatic touchdown to turn the tide in the game.
The Blue Devils evened the score when Liebstein connected with Jon Thayer for a 7-yard touchdown completion with three seconds remaining in the half to forge a 12-12 tie. Liebstein then banged his way across the goal line on a two-point conversion run for a 14-12 Blue Devils edge at intermission.
Rogers lifted the Blue Devils to a 21-12 lead when he scored on a 29-yard run 4:30 into the second half, capping off a five-play, 39-yard drive. Ogdensburg then pushed its edge to 27-12 with 1:48 gone in the fourth quarter.
Facing the end of their season, the Red Storm refused to quit and scored on their next possession. Starting at their own 26, they marched 74 yards in 12 plays, with Tristin Fitzgerald diving in from the 1-yard line. Junior Ty Marmion tacked on the extra-point conversion to cut Saranac Lake's deficit to 27-19.
With renewed hopes, Saranac Lake's defense forced an Ogdensburg punt to get the ball back into the hands of its offense near midfield with just over four minutes left in the game.
The Red Storm began to drive the ball, but on a second-down play, Ogdensburg's Jordan McCormick stepped in front of a Tristin Fitzgerald pass for an interception to end the threat. From there, the Blue Devils offense ate up the rest of the time on the clock to secure the win.
Playing his final game in a Red Storm uniform, Trent Fitzgerald was a force on both sides of the ball. He finished the game with 87 rushing yards on 22 carries and made numerous tackles on defense from his linebacker position.
Liebstein had 69 rushing yards for Ogdensburg, but 63 were in the opening half after Saranac Lake held the senior quarterback mostly in check after intermission. Liebstein was 9-for-17 passing for 103 yards and three touchdowns.
Tristin Fitzgerald finished with 12 completions on 19 attempts for 113 yards for Saranac Lake. He was intercepted twice.
Despite finishing with a 5-5 record, those involved with Saranac Lake's football program were proud of the team's effort this season.
"We started out slowly, but finally got a rhythm going this season," Trent Fitzgerald said. "We fought hard every game, but it's always going to have a sting. You always want to win that last game."
"The quarterback put the ball in the air and we just weren't able to rally to it," Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said of the Blue Devils effective passing attack. "We had a great season. Our kids have nothing to hang their heads about. We won a championship. I wouldn't trade any of the kids I coached this season for any thing in the world."