The Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake football teams wrap up league play with home games on Saturday.
The Lumberjacks will begin a three-week run of home matchups against Section X opponents when they host Canton for their homecoming game at Frank Tice Field starting at 1:30 p.m. At the same time, 20 miles to the east, the Red Storm will tangle with Saranac Central at Ken Wilson Field.
After this weekend's contests, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake will start their postseason runs with crossover games next Friday. The Red Storm travel to face Moriah and the Lumberjacks host Gouverneur. In two weeks, Saranac Lake will play for the Section VII, Class C championship while Tupper Lake will be at home one more time before its Class D regional playoff game.
After sitting out half of last year’s schedule with an arm injury and being hobbled by a hamstring issue earlier this season, a healthy Dylan Gunther has caught three touchdown passes in the last two games for Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Despite a 2-4 record, Tupper Lake has played some solid football this season. Had the 'Jacks been on the other side of a pair of one-point losses to Ogdensburg and Malone, their record would be reversed. Tupper Lake will host a Canton team with a 1-5 mark, but 'Jacks head coach Dennis Klossner said the Golden Bears are much better than they have been in recent seasons.
"They are a pretty good ball club," Klossner said. "We're really going to have to keep an eye on their quarterback. He'll run the ball as much as he'll throw it, and he has some pretty good targets. We don't want him to run outside on us."
Canton's quarterback is senior Hunter Yerdon, who converted from a running back a season ago. In last week's 47-30 loss to Malone, Yerdon racked up 158 all-purpose yards, which included a 41-yard touchdown run and scoring passes thrown to receivers Louden Porter and Cole Zeller. The Golden Bears' ground game was led by Payton VanBibber, who ran for 112 yards on 14 attempts. His biggest gain of the day was a 60-yard touchdown run that tied the game 12-12 in the second quarter.
Tupper Lake is coming off a 56-19 loss to unbeaten Potsdam, the state's fifth-ranked Class C team. Although they lost, the Lumberjacks were able to put three touchdowns on the board against the 'Stoners, who had outscored their five previous opponents by a combined 234-52 points.
"I was happy with how we played. Potsdam's quickness was just too much for us," Klossner said. "The big thing is we scored two touchdowns in the first half, and other teams haven't been doing that."
Senior Jeremy Roussel paced the Tupper Lake offense last week with 129 rushing yards on 27 carries. He ran for a pair of touchdowns, with senior receiver Cody LaPierre accounting for the other 'Jacks score on a 33-yard catch from quarterback Morgan Stevens.
Saranac Lake brings a 4-2 record into battle against the 2-4 Chiefs. The Red Storm will play for the final time this year at Ken Wilson Field, and they have shown big-time improvement from the start of the season. Saranac Lake enters the game after earning a hard-fought 28-21 win over Beekmantown.
In that game, sophomore quarterback Tristin Fitzgerald threw for a pair of touchdowns and ran for another. Fitzgerald had 296 all-purpose yards, which included 112 yards rushing and 184 passing yards on a day when he completed 20-of-36 attempts.
Senior Dylan Gunther was Saranac Lake's top receiver with eight catches, good for 52 yards and one touchdown. He also picked off a pass on the game's first possession that led to an early Red Storm touchdown. Junior Ty Marmion also hauled in five passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. Senior Lance Ackerson ran for 95 yards and one touchdown, a 14-yarder, in the win over the Eagles.
"We finally stopped shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit," Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said. "We executed, we played great defense and we scored a touchdown on that opening drive, and that was huge."
Bennett said that the Red Storm will be at a size disadvantage against Saranac Central.
"Saranac is another big team we will have to contend with, and they have a really good running back," Bennett said. "Defensively, we have to shut down the run game."
Last week, Saranac suffered a 28-12 setback to Ticonderoga, which is 19th in the New York state rankings in Class D. In that game, the Chiefs led 12-7 at halftime but were outscored 21-0 the rest of the way.
John Maye paced Saranac's offense in the matchup, rushing for 125 yards on 25 carries. Lance Hackett and Hunter Church also combined to carry the ball 10 times while gaining 82 yards for the Chiefs.
After starting the season at 1-2, the Red Storm have been able to lock up the top seed in Class C, and are looking to continue their impressive run toward a possible fourth-straight victory.
"That certainly was a big win last week, but our kids don't want to be complacent and base their season on one week," Bennett said. "Our kids are hungry. They have something to prove, and they're ready to roll."