PLATTSBURGH - A few weeks ago, Saranac Lake's football team was left with a hole in its Champlain Valley Athletic Conference schedule when Plattsburgh High School dropped its varsity program.
The resulting two-week break from competing turned out to be a good thing for the Red Storm.
On Saturday, Saranac Lake didn't appear to miss a beat, upending Beekmantown 28-21 in a game played at Plattsburgh High School. The Red outscored the Eagles 21-7 in the second half to erase an early deficit and improve to 4-2, a record that includes a forfeit win over Plattsburgh in a game originally slated to be played on Oct 4.
Saranac Lake quarterback Tristin Fitzgerald gains yardage on a first-half carry as teammate Dustin Fischer looks to make a block on Beekmantown’s Justin Stevens during Saturday’s game at Plattsburgh High School.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
With Saturday's victory, Saranac Lake clinched the top seed for the Class C postseason and will face the winner of a game that will be played between AuSable Valley and Saranac Central.
Against Beekmantown, Saranac Lake rattled off an astounding 83 plays while piling up 417 yards with its no-huddle offense. On the other side of the ball, the Red Storm defense got tougher as the game progressed and limited the Eagles to just two yards rushing after halftime.
"Not playing last week gave us a chance to really break down our game with Beekmantown," Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said. "We watched a lot more film than usual, we came in healthy and raring to go, and our kids played their tails off today. At the end of the day, yeah, that week off was a big benefit to us."
Tristin Fitzgerald had his second standout performance in as many games to lead Saranac Lake's offense after taking over the full-time quarterback role. The sophomore was equally as dangerous with his feet and his arm. He ran the ball 22 times for 114 yards and one touchdown and completed 20-of-36 pass attempts for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back Lance Ackerson also had a big day for Saranac Lake, rushing for 95 yards and one score on 20 carries. The senior's 13-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter broke a 21-21 deadlock and held up as the game-winning points.
Dylan Gunther and Ty Marmion led Saranac Lake's receivers with a touchdown catch each on a combined 13 receptions.
Senior Devin Fessette ran for two Eagles scores, both in the first half, and Justin Stevens accounted for his team's third touchdown, taking a screen pass into the end zone on the last play of the third quarter.
Gunther got the Saranac Lake going when he intercepted a pass by Beekmantown quarterback Jacob Remchuk on the second offensive play of the afternoon. Starting with the ball at the Eagles 42, the Red Storm reached the end zone in seven plays on a march that ended when Marmion hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Fitzgerald. Marmion added a successful conversion kick, putting Saranac Lake on top 7-0 with 3:11 gone in the game.
Beekmantown scored the next two touchdowns, starting with a 60-yard march on its next possession. The Eagles tied the game with 4:05 left in the first quarter when Fessette reached the end zone on a 2-yard run, and Remchuk kicked the extra point to cap off a nine-play drive. Fessette notched his next touchdown on a 1-yard run with 2:45 left in the half, and Remchuk followed with his second successful conversion kick to send Beekmantown into intermission on top 14-7.
Saranac Lake scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half. The first came at the end of an eight-play, 45-yard drive with Gunther picking up the touchdown on a 12-yard Fitzgerald pass. Marmion, however, missed the conversion kick, which left the Red Storm trailing 14-13.
Stevens almost gave the Eagles back the lead when he returned the ensuing kickoff 69 yards and appeared to be on the way to the end zone. But Red Storm senior James Murnane caught up with the speedy junior and knocked him out of bounds at the 21. Saranac Lake's defense then held firm and forced the Eagles to give the ball back on downs to the Red Storm offense at its own 17 yard line. Saranac Lake then went 83 yards in 12 plays with Fitzgerald scoring on a 2-yard plunge to take the lead. Fitzgerald followed with a successful conversion pass to Marmion to put the Red Storm on top 21-14.
After both teams went three-and-out on their next possessions, Beekmantown rallied to forge a tie. On the last play of the third period, Stevens snagged a screen pass from Remchuk and took it 29 yards into the end zone to bring the Eagles within a point of the Red Storm. Remchuk followed with his third successful conversion kick of the game to set up a dramatic final period.
With the score now knotted, Saranac Lake answered with Ackerson's touchdown run to take the lead for good 1:38 into the fourth quarter. Beekmantown drove deep into Red Storm territory the next time it had the ball, but a potential game-tying drive ended on downs at Saranac Lake's 18-yard line. The two teams then traded turnovers, with Beekmantown's Cameron VanNatten and Saranac Lake's Carl Bevilacqua each picking off a pass. And with the ball back in their hands with 4:38 left in the game, the Red Storm ran out the clock by moving the chains three times.
"Heart, heart, heart, we won this game with heart," said Red Storm receiver and defensive back Dustin Fischer. "This game was all over the place. We were down, we were up, there were turnovers. Everything is becoming better with us. The bye week didn't slow us down. It allowed us to really prepare for this game. We came out firing and never let up."
Class B Beekmantown fell to 3-3 with the loss. Eagles head coach Jamie Lozier said his team was surprised by the Red Storm, and especially by Fitzgerald's ability to run an option offense. Lozier said the only time he saw Saranac Lake was on the opening week of the season when the Red Storm fell to Peru 33-7.
"We were going to scout them last week against Plattsburgh," Lozier said. "Their quarterback, we were not quite ready for his athleticism. I don't even know where he came from.
"They did a nice job knowing our stuff," Lozier continued. "We knew what they were doing, but we couldn't hurt them. We just did not play to our full potential, and that was frustrating."
Senior two-way starter Derek Thurber, who was again a force on defense for the Red Storm, said one of his team's goals - wearing the Eagles down -seemed to work.
"We preach speed and execution, and we use that to exhaust our opponent," Thurber said. "Once they started getting tired, we were able to run to the outside. We executed on every play. I think we played a great game. We gave them a battle."
Saranac Lake will next be at home Saturday, hosting Saranac Central with the opening kickoff scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
Saranac Lake 28, Beekmantown 21
SL - Marmion 11 pass from Tri. Fitzgerald (Marmion kick), 3:11
B - Fessette 2 run (Remchuk kick), 7:55
B - Fessette 1 run (Remchuk kick), 9:15
SL - Gunther 11 pass from Tri. Fitzgerald (Kick missed), 3:37
SL - Tri. Fitzgerald 2 run (Marmion pass from Fitzgerald), 8:47
B - Stevens 29 pass from Remchuk (Remchuk kick), 12:00
SL - Ackerson 13 run (Marmion kick), 1:38
Saranac Lake - Ackerson 20-95 TD, Gunther 2-3, Tri. Fitzgerald 22-114 TD, Fischer 1-10, Kilner 2-6. Totals: 47-233 2TDs.
Beekmantown - Stevens 8-54, Remchuk 5-(-16), Dupigny 1-7, Fessette 9-33 2TDs. Totals: 23-78 2TDs.
Saranac Lake - Tri. Fitzgerald 20-36-1-184 2TDs.
Beekmantown - Remchuk 9-20-2-133 TD.
Saranac Lake - Gunther 8-52 TD, Marmion 5-56 TD, Strack 2-12, Smith 2-20, Ackerson 1-14, Stack 2-30.
Beekmantown - Stevens 4-62 TD, Myers 2-27, Barber 1-7, Garceau 2-47.
Saranac Lake - Gunther, Bevilacqua.
Beekmantown - Vannatten.