A new high school football season kicks off this weekend for Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, and game one is a huge test for both teams.
For the inexperienced Lumberjacks, tonight's home matchup against Massena is, in a way, a trip into the unknown. And for a Red Storm team loaded with experienced seniors, Saturday's road showdown against Peru will be as important as a game can get under the new format Champlain Valley Athletic Conference teams are playing under this season.
The 'Jacks and the Red Raiders clash under the lights at Frank Tice Field starting at 7 p.m., and Tupper Lake enters the game with a host of new starters on both sides of the ball.
Saranac Lake quarterback Matt Phelan looks for running room against the Peru defense during last year’s season opener. Peru won the game 22-19.
(Enterprise file photo — Lou Reuter)
"The best way to put it is we have a lot of unanswered questions," Tupper Lake head coach Dennis Klossner said. "We are young and inexperienced. We've had a good training camp, and the test of what we have accomplished in the preseason will be Friday night against Massena."
Klossner said one area Tupper Lake is not lacking in experience is at quarterback as Morgan Stevens will be starting for a third season. Still a junior, Stevens will also be a leader on defense, lining up as a dual safety with Mitch Keniston, a junior who is also starting at wide receiver.
Klossner said the key for success against Massena and for the rest of the season will be playing sound, fundamental football.
"I've always been a firm believer that holding onto the ball and not making mistakes is how you win football games," Klossner said. "We can't have those procedure penalties, we can't miss assignments."
Massena will be looking to improve on last year's 4-5 record.
Saranac Lake vs. Peru at the Apple Bowl
The North Country high school game of the week looks to be Saturday's contest at the Apple Bowl as Saranac Lake visits Peru with the opening kickoff scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
Not only does every game in Section VII count toward playoff seedings this season, each matchup is also big since an overall CVAC champion will be crowned based on win-loss records. Plus, both teams are preseason favorites to have strong campaigns.
The two teams faced off in Saranac Lake to open the 2011 season. The Indians claimed a 22-19 victory in that game and then went on to an unbeaten regular season. The Red Storm also went on a roll after that, not losing again until the regional playoffs.
"I have a feeling that Peru is going to be one of the top contenders in the CVAC this year, if not the top dog," Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said. "I believe every team is going to have their hands full with Peru this year. They are big and they are physical."
Peru won the battle in the trenches a year ago with a young line that returns all but one of its starters. Saranac Lake was also young up front and returns five senior experienced linemen for the 2012 campaign.
A factor weighing in favor of Saranac Lake is senior signal caller Matt Phelan, who is back as a second-year starter and was the only quarterback in the CVAC to complete more than 60 percent of his passes a season ago.
Junior Lance Ackerson will line up behind Phelan at fullback in the Red Storm's spread offense.
Bennett said Peru will run the football on Saturday and his team's job on defense will be to shut down the Indians' backs.
"I expect them to be running the football downhill," Bennett said. "I have no doubt that they will be coming at us. We will have to be sound in our assignments. When we played last year, we were being reactive instead of active."
A year ago, the Red Storm may have been caught off guard by a Peru team that struggled in the seasons leading up to its 2011 run. This time, it's a different season and Saranac Lake's players should know what to expect on Saturday.
"We're going down to play the defending Class B champions," Bennett said. "Our kids want to do down there and compete. I think it's great we are facing a formidable opponent in week one. Of course this game is big. After Saturday, we're not going to get another shot at them."