SARANAC LAKE - Tough may be an understatement for the opponents the Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake football teams face this weekend on the road.
The 'Jacks kick off action under the lights tonight as they travel to face Potsdam in a Section X matchup starting at 7 p.m.
The Red Storm will tangle with Beekmantown Saturday in a Section VII game being played on the turf field at Plattsburgh High School. That contest begins at 1:30 p.m.
Senior receiver Dylan Gunther, left, and sophomore quarterback Tristin Fitzgerald celebrate a Red Storm touchdown in their victory over AuSable Valley.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Tupper Lake is coming off its second one-point loss in three weeks and brings a 2-3 record into the game against unbeaten Potsdam, which is ranked fifth in New York sate among Class C teams.
Despite falling 25-24 at home a week ago to Franklin Academy, head coach Dennis Klossner said he's pleased with the way the Lumberjacks have been competing on both sides of the line.
"We have a good solid team, and we've been in the games every week," Klossner said. "We've been very balanced on offense and our tackling is getting better every week."
As expected, three seniors - Jeremy Roussel, Morgan Stevens and Mitch Keniston - have made the biggest impact for Tupper Lake. Stevens threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers against the Huskies, including a 35-yarder to Keniston with less than two minutes remaining that brought the 'Jacks within a point. A possible game-tying conversion kick, however, failed, and that's been one of Tupper Lake's major struggles this season.
Keniston finished with five catches for 102 yards, which kept his receiving average well above 100 yards gained per game. Roussel also carried the ball 25 times for 89 yards in last week's game.
The 5-0 Sandstoners have continued to roll this fall after finishing unbeaten in Section X play in 2012. In its five victories this season, Potsdam has outscored its opponents by a combined 234-52 while averaging 46 points per game.
Two of Potsdam's key players are seniors who have been starters the past three seasons, as quarterback Will Coleman and running back Oden Robertson lead a potent 'Stoners offense.
"Potsdam has been able to control the line of scrimmage, and that's where their success stems from," Klossner said. "They put the ball in the air, but they are mainly a running team. From the get-go, we're going to have to do our jobs to slow them down.
"They are undefeated, but they haven't played Tupper Lake," Klossner continued. "I'm pretty proud of how our guys have played so far. We are doing the right things, we just have to do them a little more often."
With repairs being done on the water system at Beekmantown High School over the weekend, Saturday's scheduled matchup between the Eagles and Red Storm has been moved to Plattsburgh High School. The game will pit two 3-2 teams against each other.
Class B Beekmantown is coming off a wild 47-46 victory at Moriah while Saranac Lake picked up a forfeit win in week No. 5 in a scheduled game that was supposed to be played against Plattsburgh. The Hornets saw their varsity program fold, which left the Red Storm with a bye.
"I feel for the Beekmantown fans because they don't get a home game against us, but we're really excited to play on some turf," Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said. "After having a week off from competition, we're hoping to catch up and get up to game speed quickly. The challenge of a bye week is taking the staleness out of not playing against an opponent, and we are facing a team that's loaded with athletes."
Heading into the season, Bennett and his staff had loads of unanswered questions about his inexperienced squad after Saranac Lake had been one of the state's most explosive Class C team during the past three years. Bennett said he's pleased with the progress so far.
"One of the great things about coaching is seeing how your team evolves," Bennett said. "We've come a long way since our first game. The kids are doing everything they can to get better, and we are getting better each week."
Saranac Lake's big test each week is playing with a lack of size, and on Saturday, it's the same situation as the Red Storm butts heads with a big, physical squad. Twice this season, Saranac Lake has been unable to run the football, and if that's the case again, sophomore quarterback Tristin Fitzgerald will need to come up big throwing the football. Two weeks ago, Fitzgerald asserted himself as a varsity starter by tossing four touchdown passes in a 35-21 victory over AuSable Valley.
"Without question, Tristin is the leader of our offense," Bennett said. "Throwing four touchdowns, that would have been a breakout game for anybody."
A big plus for Saranac Lake Saturday will be the return of senior Trent Fitzgerald, who missed two games and has recovered from a knee injury. Trent was alternating at quarterback with his younger brother, but will now play a key role on defense at outside linebacker. Bennett said Trent will be a nice addition to the Red Storm's linebacking group, that has seen solid play recently from seniors James Murnane and Lance Ackerson.
Speedy senior Dylan Gunther is finally healthy and is expected to play a key role on both sides of the ball for Saranac Lake. Gunther scored two touchdowns against the Patriots on exciting passing plays that highlighted his quickness and vision on the field.
"We're a much better team than when we started, but we've got a long way to go," Bennett said. "The one thing that I've seen is our kids are now confident. They are believers. In a way, it was nice to have a week off, but now, Saturday can't come soon enough."