SARANAC LAKE - Depending on how you look at it, Saranac Lake's unbeaten football team could now have either a 9-0 or a 1-0 record. After defeating AuSable Valley 40-6 in Saturday's Section VII, Class C championship game, the Red Storm are perfectly happy to be called a one-win team.
Fueled by a six-touchdown passing performance by Matt Phelan, Saranac Lake rolled into the next round of the playoffs on a day when the Patriots had no answer for a nearly flawless air assault led by the Red Storm's senior quarterback.
Phelan tossed scoring passes to three different receivers while guiding an offense that accumulated 437 combined yards, and the Red Storm defense was tough again, allowing the Patriots just six points on a second-quarter touchdown.
Saranac Lake’s starters raise their helmets to salute their sideline after leaving the field late in the third quarter of Saturday’s game.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
After finishing 8-0 in the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference and following that by winning their third straight sectional crown, the Red Storm now play for the Section VII-X championship Saturday against Ogdensburg at AuSable Valley. The winner in that matchup will move into the state quarterfinal round to face the Class C champion from Section II, which will be either Hoosic Falls or Chatham.
"We can't just be happy with our regular season record," Phelan said. "We're 1-0 right now and looking to go 2-0. Saranac Lake expects to be in big games every year, and we have another big game coming up against OFA."
Phelan was off target on just two passes, going 10-12 for 175 yards and no interceptions. All all but four of his completions went for touchdowns, including three to senior Kevin Morgan, who finished with a game-high 141 yards receiving on four catches. Jon McCabe also had two touchdown catches, TJ Monroe hauled in a scoring strike, and senior Seth Pickreign led Saranac Lake's ground attack with 163 yards on nine carries.
"We were able to attack where they weren't," Red Storm head coach Eric Bennett said. "Overall, we moved the ball pretty efficiently, particularly with Matt through the air."
The Red Storm wasted little time taking control with touchdowns on their first three possessions. McCabe got Saranac Lake going, scoring on an 8-yard pass from Phelan 3:20 into the opening quarter to give the hosts a 6-0 lead 3:20 into the game. McCabe's touchdown capped off a quick three-play march that started after a shanked punt gave the Red Storm offense great field position at the Patriots' 46-yard line. It took just two Pickreign runs of 21 and 17 yards to get Saranac Lake close and McCabe then put his team on the board.
Morgan then displayed his catch-and-run talents, taking two Phelan tosses into the end zone on plays of 40 and 36 yards to give Saranac Lake a 20-0 lead with 1:38 left in the opening quarter.
Down by three scores, AuSable Valley started to move the ball on a drive that started at its 25-yard line. Using a mix of passing and running plays, the Patriots advanced all the way to Saranac Lake's 2-yard line, but on a fourth-down and goal, they fumbled away the football, with Monroe making the recovery and returning it to AuSable's 17. From there it took Saranac Lake just six plays to score on a drive that was aided by a late hit penalty and capped off by McCabe's second touchdown catch, a 26-yarder that gave the Red Storm a 27-0 edge with 2:22 remaining in the first half.
After coming up empty on their first long march of the game, the Patriots were on the move again and scored with just four seconds left in the half when senior quarterback Kodie Simpson threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Luxon. The conversion kick was blocked, leaving Saranac Lake up 27-6 at intermission.
Saranac Lake got its final two touchdowns shortly after halftime, with Morgan crossing the goal line on a 45-yard pass play 1:52 into the third quarter and Monroe adding six more points on a 14-yard catch with 4:53 left in the period.
With a comfortable lead and a ninth straight win assured, Saranac Lake pulled its starters late in the third period after Pickreign reeled off a 53-yard run that put the ball at the AuSable Valley 17. Following the play, Bennett called a time out, Saranac Lake's senior-dominated starting offense raised their helmets to acknowledge the home fans, and the reserves took the field to finish the last game of the season being played at Ken Wilson Field.
The win gave the Red Storm a season sweep over the Patriots that included a 56-20 victory in Clintonville during the regular season.
The AuSable Valley team that took the field Saturday, however, had improved and put up a tougher fight this time around. Playing without junior fullback and linebacker Dillon Savage, whose season ended a week ago with a broken leg, the Patriots were led by Simpson and running back Michael Thompson, both seniors. Simpson went 10-for-14 passing for 95 yards and tacked on 46 rushing yards on 10 attempts. The hard-running Thompson, who was converted from an offensive tackle to tailback midway through the season, finished with 131 yards rushing on 19 carries.
"We knew what the odds were coming into this game," AuSable Valley head coach Heith Ford said. "Our kids wanted to go out and compete. They didn't want to get blown out 70-0, and I'm proud of the way they played. Saranac Lake plays football about as perfectly as you can, and our only chance was keeping the ball away from their offense.
"Most of our guys our there were juniors and sophomores," Ford added. "It was an underdog story for sure. You always want to pull for the underdog, and we were playing up that role all week."
After claiming the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference and Section VII Class C crown, the Red Storm, who are ranked sixth in New York state, will look for their third title on Saturday when they square off against Section X champion Ogdensburg. The game will be held in Clintonville Saturday and starts at 1 p.m.
The Blue Devils have struggled to a 4-5 record this season, and are coming off two straight setbacks to Potsdam, including a blow-out 54-8 loss to the 'Stoners on Oct. 19 in a game that saw some of Ogdensburg's starters ejected and not eligible for the upcoming matchup with Saranac Lake. Even though they are facing a team that could be considered in a state of disarray, Bennett told his players they have to be at their best against the Blue Devils come Saturday.
"We are 9-0 but really we are 1-0," Bennett said. "On Saturday, we'll be playing a big, physical football team that loves being in big games. We have to have all hands on deck."
Saranac Lake 40, AuSable Valley 6
SL - McCabe 8 pass from Phelan (Kick missed), 3:20
SL - Morgan 40 pass from Phelan (Pickreign kick), 7:24
SL - Morgan 36 pass from Phelan (Pickreign kick), 10:38
SL - McCabe 26 pass from Phelan (Pickreign kick), 9:38
AV - Luxon 28 pass from Simpson (Kick missed), 11:56
SL - Morgan 45 pass from Phelan (Pickreign kick), 1:52
SL - Monroe 14 pass from Phelan (Kick missed), 4:53
AuSable Valley - Simpson 10-46, Thompson 19-131, Owen 2-3, Coats 1-8, Cobb 1(-2). Totals: 33-186.
Saranac Lake - Pickreign 9-163, Leahy 3-30, Burpoe 1-2, Phelan 2-14, Ackerson 4-35, Thurber 1-0, Kilner 1-13, Colon 1-5, Ryan 1-2. Totals: 23-264.
AuSable Valley - Simpson 10-14-1-95 TD, Coats 2-4-0-15. Totals: 12-18-1-110.
Saranac Lake - Phelan 10-12-0-177 6TDs.
AuSable Valley - Sikandar 2-14, Luxon 3-38 TD, Owen 3-37, Cobb 2-10, Smith 2-10.
Saranac Lake - McCabe 4-33 2TDs, Morgan 4-131 3TDs, Pickreign 1-(-1), Monroe 1-14 TD,
Saranac Lake - Fischer