SARANAC LAKE - The stage has been set for the high school football playoffs, which begins next week for Saranac Lake and two weeks from now for Tupper Lake.
But before that, the Red Storm and Lumberjacks have more urgent business at hand as they both play games under the lights tonight on the eighth weekend of the season. In both cases, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake will be looking to beat the same opponent for the second time this fall.
After picking up their first victory of the season on the road against Moriah in September, the Red Storm will be back at Linney Field again tonight for round No. 2 in an environment where the Vikings are always tough. Meanwhile, after topping Gouverneur on the road during the Section X regular season, the Lumberjacks host the Wildcats as they look for a sweep in out-of-class action.
Saranac Lake senior tailback Lance Ackerson breaks free on a 60-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of last weekend’s game against Saranac Central. Ackerson scored on two long touchdown runs when the Red Storm and Moriah met the first time this season.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Class C Saranac Lake slipped past Class D Moriah when the teams met for the first time this fall, with the Red Storm rallying for a 20-14 victory. The Vikings, however, have really picked things up on the offensive side of the ball, and in a big way. In their past three games, the Vikings have racked up a combined 136 points with a pro-set offense that has incorporated an efficient passing attack with their traditional pound-the-football running game.
"Moriah has put up a ton of points. They're the real deal," Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said. "They have two backs who can really run the ball, and their quarterback has done a nice job spreading the ball around. They've certainly been throwing more than traditional Moriah teams have done in the past."
Moriah brings a 3-4 record into the game, and are coming off a 49-42 setback at Class B Peru. Three weeks ago, the Vikings went down to the wire during another tough loss to a B squad in a 47-46 setback against Beekmantown.
Senior quarterback Cole Gaddor paced the Vikings a week ago, throwing for 180 yards and two touchdowns against the Indians. Troy Welch led their ground attack, picking up 105 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Another key ball carrier, C.J. Raymond, ran for 122 yards against Saranac Lake's defense the first time the teams met.
Saranac Lake owns a 4-3 record and is coming off a 34-13 loss to Saranac Central. Despite the setback, Bennett said he's happy with the effort turned in by his team, which usually enters each game at a big physical disadvantage in the trenches.
"We recognize against most teams, we're giving up a ton of weight up front, but our kids just keep battling," Bennett said. "When you don't have the mass to go toe-to-toe, you have to minimize your mistakes. You have to rely on technique. We know we made a lot of mistakes last week, and we know we can do better."
Senior Lance Ackerson helped lead the Red Storm to their first victory over Moriah, gaining 148 yards on 13 rushing attempts. He broke off two big runs of 68 and 52 yards for touchdowns, and also had a 60-yard scoring run a week ago against the Chiefs.
Tonight's game marks the fourth time in two seasons that Saranac Lake and Moriah have squared off. Although the matchup has no bearing on the playoff picture (Saranac Lake is already playing for the Class C championship next week), Bennett said his squad has only one objective, which is picking up a fourth-straight victory over Moriah.
"We're going down there to win," Bennett declared. "We're optimistic that we can give them a battle and hopefully come out with a win. I give our kids a lot of credit for fighting every game, and I'm really proud of their effort. It's a great atmosphere playing at Linney Field, it's unique to go down there twice in the same season, and our kids are looking forward to the challenge."
The opening kickoff for tonight's Saranac Lake-Moriah game is slated for 7:30 p.m.
Tupper Lake scored seven touchdowns a week ago in knocking off Canton 48-30 to improve to 3-4. The 'Jacks hope to even their record tonight and complete a two-game sweep over Gouverneur after toppling the Wildcats 27-12 on Sept. 30. In that game, Tupper Lake raced out to a 27-0 lead before Gouverneur scored two touchdowns in the final quarter.
Senior quarteback Morgan Stevens had a solid outing in leading Tupper Lake past the Golden Bears. He completed 16-of-22 pass attempts for 169 yards and four touchdowns and had no interceptions. Lumberjacks senior tailback Jeremy Roussel broke the 100-yard rushing plateau for the fourth time this season in the game, picking up 121 yards and two touchdowns. Head coach Dennis Klossner, however, said a sophomore runner, Brasen LaVassaur, helped provide the 'Jacks with a second-half push that broke the game open after Tupper Lake held a 20-14 lead at halftime. The Lumberjacks finished the game by scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter.
"We really didn't get off to the type of start that I wanted to see, but we got in sync in the second half," Klossner said. "Just to change things up, we brought in LaVassaur in to start the second half, and he sparked the team with his running."
LaVassaur finished with 56 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries. Three different receivers hauled in touchdown catches for Tupper Lake against Canton. Senior Mitch Keniston had two, and led the Lumberjacks in receiving with 63 yards on four catches. Cody LaPierre and Roger Delair also recorded a touchdown reception each for Tupper Lake.
Gouverneur brings a 1-6 record into tonight's game. The Wildcats are coming off a 40-22 loss to Ogdensburg in a game that saw them put up their highest point total of the season.
Tonight's matchup is the first of two home cross-over games Tupper will play before it enters a Class D regional championship final against either Moriah or Ticoderoga. The 'Jacks will host Massena next Friday.
"Obviously, in the back of our mind we are waiting for the Moriah-Ticonderoga outcome, but we have two more games to play before that," Klossner said. "We're are going to use these next two games to stay fresh, keep executing on offense and maintain what we've been doing defensively."
Tonight's matchup at Frank Tice Field starts at 7 p.m. and is Tupper Lake's annual blackout game.