SARANAC LAKE - With the regular season completed a week ago in North Country high school football, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake will be at home this weekend for games that have no bearing on the playoffs, but they could be big when it comes to building momentum heading into the postseason.
Both games feature rematches against teams the Red Storm and Lumberjacks have already defeated. The action starts tonight at Frank Tice Field at 7 p.m. when Tupper Lake hosts St. Lawrence as the two teams tangle for the second time in less than a week in Section X play. Then on Saturday, Saranac Lake takes its undefeated record into a Section VII game against Moriah, a team the Red Storm soundly defeated in the second week of the season.
The Class D Lumberjacks earned the right to host St. Lawrence with a 28-14 victory on Saturday on the Larries' field. Tupper Lake had to break a 14-14 tie in the fourth quarter with a pair of rushing touchdowns to get the job done. Junior quarterback Mitch Keniston scored the winning points for Tupper Lake on a 29-yard run with eight minutes remaining in the game and senior fullback Elliot Kerst then reached the end zone on an 8-yard run to seal the victory.
Saranac Lake seniors Craig Leahy (42) and TJ Monroe nearly recover an onside kick during last week’s win at Saranac Central.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
"We are ultimately going to play either Moriah or Ticonderoga for a championship, so there's not a lot at stake in this game," Tupper Lake head coach Dennis Klossner said. "For us, this is a tune-up game to stay crisp. We're playing for pride and we're playing to get better. We really don't want to get handed a loss going into the playoffs."
Klossner said he was very happy with the performance of Tupper Lake's offensive line a week ago, which opened holes to help pave the way for junior running back Jeremy Roussel, who returned to action after being out of the lineup with an injury. Roussel ran for a game-high 120 yards on 20 carries in a contest that saw the 'Jacks grind out 306 rushing yards.
"Our 'O' line did a tremendous job," Klossner said. "The guys were working hard, and they didn't get much of a break because that's where a lot of our injuries are at."
The Lumberjacks will be bolstered in the trenches as Zach Boushie returns to the lineup after being out with an injury.
Although Klossner was pleased with his team's running game, he said Tupper Lake's defenders will need to do a better job tackling.
"St. Lawrence has some pretty good backs, and we let them run around too much," Klossner said. "We need to wrap them up and take them down."
The opening kickoff for Saturday's Saranac Lake-Moriah matchup is scheduled for 1 p.m. The Red Storm will look to continue its mastery of opponents before clashing next week with AuSable Valley for the Section VII, Class C title.
Saranac Lake beat Moriah 41-6 when the teams met for the first time this season, but Red Storm head coach Eric Bennett said the Vikings never make things easy.
"As usual, we will be facing a hard-hitting Moriah team, and they are also getting ready for their playoff run," Bennett said. "Any kid who plays for Moriah is the kind of kid who concerns us. They battle and they don't quit."
Bennett said so far it's been a fun football season at Saranac Lake, both for the players and the coaching staff. Led by senior quarterback Matt Phelan, Saranac Lake has been posting huge numbers statistics wise, and on defense, the Red Storm starters have still not given up a single point. In the last meeting, the Vikings scored their only points when junior Jessup Calkins returned a punt 56 yards for a touchdown 1:30 into the second quarter.
Saranac Lake intercepted Moriah quarterback Cole Gaddor three times in that matchup.
The Red Storm are coming off a 42-11 victory over Saranac, and in seven games, they have outscored their opponents by a combined 288-62. Senior receiver Mike Burpoe paved the way for Saranac Lake a week ago with three touchdown receptions, including a 56-yard catch and run on the Red Storm's firs offensive play of the game.
Injures have been piling up on Saranac Lake, and Saturday's game presents a good-news, bad-news scenario. On the negative side, the Red Storm will be missing a second starting lineman as senior Kyle McGrain will not play after sustaining a knee injury a week ago. Starting senior center Hajro Cecunjanin will also be out for the third straight week with a shoulder injury.
Saranac Lake does have two key players back in action, as senior Seth Pickreign has recovered from a neck injury and junior running back and linebacker Lance Ackerson returns after an illness. A slew of sophomores will also be dressed for the game after moving up from Saranac Lake's junior varsity team that finished its season with a 6-1 record.
"Our kids know there is a championship game against AuSable on the schedule, but right now, we're looking straight ahead to Moriah," Bennett said. "They just like to go out and play football. In this sport, you're either getting better or you aren't. I think we are getting better each week, and I think the kids are excited about that. It's been a lot of fun watching them."