SARANAC LAKE - After getting off to a fast start and then stumbling over their own mistakes, Saranac Lake's football players needed to regain their edge in Saturday's important matchup against Class C rival AuSable Valley.
That spark may have come on a 13-yard gain that saw Red Storm running back Lance Ackerson barrel over a Patriots defender late in the second quarter. Or it might have occurred four plays later when head coach Eric Bennett got in a heated discussion over a questionable penalty that put his offense in a third-and-14 situation.
On the next play, quarterback Tristin Fitzgerald tossed a 19-yard scoring strike to Dustin Fischer that enabled Saranac Lake to tie the game at 14-14 with 1:37 left in the half. The Red Storm then took the lead for good on another Fitzgerald touchdown pass 25 seconds before intermission as they went on to claim a 34-21 victory over the Patriots.
Saranac Lake senior running back Lance Ackerson stiff-arms AuSable Valley’s Connor Kennedy to turn a loss into a 13-yard gain during the second quarter of Saturday’s homecoming game at Ken Wilson Field.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Red Storm defenders converge to stop AuSable Valley ball carrier Tyler Champine during Saturday’s game. Saranac Lake players included in the picture are James Murnane (1), Lance Ackerson (2), Derek Thurber (71) and Austin Ecret (55).
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Saranac Lake senior receiver Dylan Gunther (11) and quarterback Tristin Fitzgerald celebrate a touchdown late in the second half of Saturday’s game.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Fitzgerald, a sophomore playing his second complete game, finished with four touchdown passes, and the Saranac Lake defense recorded four interceptions as the Red Storm evened their record at 2-2 on homecoming day at Ken Wilson Field.
"I was extremely excited to see our kids play with some pride, play with heart and play for a full four quarters," Bennett said. "In a big game, they showed us what they are capable of. I couldn't be any prouder of their effort."
Saranac Lake came up big right off the bat. After forcing the Patriots to go three-and-out on the opening possession, the Red Storm took over at AuSable Valley's 25-yard line following a high snap on a punt attempt. Fitzgerald ran for 12 yards on first down. Fischer then sprinted for a 13-yard touchdown on a reverse on the next play. Junior Ty Marmion, who went 3-for-4 on conversion kicks and also picked off two passes, booted the ball through the uprights for a 7-0 edge just 1:33 into the contest.
Playing without their team leader Dillon Savage, who had to sit out the game after being ejected a week ago, the Patriots answered with the next two touchdowns.
They took advantage of a Saranac Lake turnover to even the score when a high shotgun snap sailed over Fitzgerald's head, which gave AuSable Valley the ball two yards from the goal line. On the next play, senior quarterback John Goodnough dived into the end zone and Gavin Friedrich followed with the conversion kick to deadlock the game at 7-7 with 42 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Patriots took a 14-7 lead with 4:20 gone in the second period when Goodnough tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Champine. A punt that was blocked by AuSable Valley's Connor Kennedy led to the score by giving his team the ball at the Red Storm 26.
Now in the lead, AuSable Valley nearly increased the advantage to a pair of touchdowns on its next possession, but an apparent 82-yard touchdown pass from Goodnough to Sultan Sikandar was nullified by a penalty. Instead of being on top 21-7, the Patriots punted from deep in their own territory and Saranac Lake took over near midfield.
On first down, Ackerson turned what could have been a big loss into an even bigger gain when he broke a tackle and rambled 13-yards for a first down at the 30-yard line. A personal foul against the Patriots moved the ball to the 15, but Ackerson was then thrown for an 11-yard loss. Each team was flagged for penalties on the next two plays, and Ackerson then picked up three yards on a run. Saranac Lake lined up for a screen pass on the following play and was penalized again for an illegal formation, which prompted Bennett to step on the field to argue his case.
After the penalty, Bennett called a timeout. On the next snap, Fitzgerald found Fischer alone in the left corner of the end zone for a game-tying 19-yard touchdown pass.
Marmion intercepted Goodnough on the Patriots' next possession, giving Saranac Lake the ball at the AuSable Valley 39. It took the Red Storm just one snap to score, with Fitzgerald completing a touchdown pass to Dylan Gunther 25 seconds before halftime.
Coming out of intermission with a 21-14 edge, Saranac Lake scored the next two touchdowns to pull away. The first came on a 33-yard scoring pass from Fitzgerald to Marmion on the final play of the third quarter to give the Red Storm a 27-14 edge. The next was Gunther's second touchdown reception on a 33-yard catch-and-run play midway through the fourth quarter that put Saranac Lake in command with a 34-14 lead.
AuSable Valley posted the final points on the board, with Champine nabbing his second receiving touchdown on a 13-yard pass from Goodnough with 4:02 left on the game clock.
Although Saranac Lake won the first-round matchup against AuSable Valley, both coaches realize things could be different if they clash again in the playoffs.
"The story of this game is that No. 44 (Savage) was on the sidelines," AuSable Valley head coach Heith Ford said. "He has accounted for 65 percent of our tackles this year, and he's an important part of our offense. We have a young team, and it's tough going into an important game without their leader. I think our kids did an admirable job making up for his absence."
"There's no question we caught a break with Savage out of the lineup," Bennett said. "If he played, it could have been closer."
Although Saranac Lake most likely benefitted without Savage in the game, Bennett said his players rose to the occasion, especially Fitzgerald. The young quarterback finished the day completing 10-of-15 pass attempts for 222 yards, and also picked up some key gains running the option.
"Tristin Fitzgerald came of age today," Bennett said. "He showed incredible poise out there."
"I'm impressed with how Trent played," Marmion added. "Our offense was flowing today, and he was a big part of that. He made some big plays for us. Watching him, it's tough believing he's a sophomore."
Saranac Lake's next game was scheduled to be played Friday in Plattsburgh, but since the Hornets' varsity team folded, the Red Storm are now looking at their next matchup taking place on the road Saturday, Oct. 12 against Beekmantown.
Saranac Lake 34, AuSable Valley 21
SL - Fischer 13 run (Marmion kick), 1:27
AV Goodnough 2 run (Friedrich kick), 11:18
AV - Champine 8 pass from Goodnough (Friedrich kick), 4:20
SL - Fischer 19 pass from Fitzgerald (Marmion kick), 10:23
SL - Gunther 39 pass from Fitzgerald (Marmion kick), 11:35
SL - Marmion 33 pass from Fitzgerald (Kick missed), 12:00
SL - Gunther 33 pass from Fitzgerald (Marmion kick), 6:48
AV - Champine 13 pass from Goodnough (Friedrich kick), 7:58.
AV - Kennedy 7-8, Goodnough 16-38 TD, Ashline 2-0, Douglas 3-(-12), Pray 2-3. Totals: 30-37 TD.
SL - Fitzgerald 9-24, Fischer 3-14 TD, Ackerson 8-33, Martin 1-2, Marmion 3-12, Gunther 1-4, Ryan 1-3, Thurber 33-24, Kilner 1-3, Clark 1-6. Totals: 31-125 TD.
AV - Goodnough 20-31-4-187 2TDs.
SL - Fitzgerald 10-15-1-222 4TDs.
AV - Champine 7-67 2TDs, Sikandar 7-74, Douglas 2-15, Ashline 3-21, Kennedy 1-1.
SL - Stack 2-48, Bevilacqua 1-18, Fischer 1-19 TD, Gunther 4-85 2TDs, Marmion 2-54 TD.
AV - Douglas.
SL - Marmion 2, Martin 2