Saranac Lake’s rocky season comes to an end
Saranac Central captures first title with win over Red Storm
CLINTONVILLE — Two things happened on the football field for the first time in half a century when Saranac Lake and Saranac Central faced off in the Section VII, Class C championship game.
The Chiefs won the contest 21-12 to claim their first sectional title in the 50 years football has been played at Saranac Central. And with the setback, the Red Storm finished a season with just two or fewer victories for the first time since the 1960s as they headed home with a 2-7 record.
When the two teams met on the second weekend of the regular season, Saranac quarterback Luke Maye torched the Red Storm defense for a Section VII record of 414 passing yards while leading the Chiefs to a 34-29 victory. This time around, the junior got the job done with his feet, running for a game-high 141 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Keagan Wood also rambled for a score and Noah Clausen went three-for-three on conversion kicks in a game that saw the Chiefs score all their points in the opening half to carry what turned out to be an insurmountable 21-6 lead into intermission.
Saranac finished with just 30 passing yards on three Maye completions, but an unstoppable ground game in the first half coupled with a fast-closing defense proved to be enough to lift the Chiefs into the next round of the playoffs where they will face Section X champion Ogdensburg on Friday at Potsdam High School.
The game plan for both teams was pretty simple. For Saranac Lake, it was all about containing Maye, and the Red Storm defense failed to get that job done until it was too late. Meanwhile, the Chiefs needed to slow Red Storm running back Jarrett Ashton, and despite allowing the senior 117 rushing yards, they were able to keep one of the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference’s leading ball carriers out of the end zone for the entire afternoon.
“They definitely came out with a good strategy on defense to stop the run,” said Ashton, who ended his last season of high school football with 1,177 rushing yards. “They had guys blitzing a lot filling up gaps. We prepared all week for them to be passing the ball all over the place and they came out and ran all over us in the first half. We had to make adjustments in the second half to stop them.”
Saranac Lake appeared to make a major turnaround following a one-win regular season after routing AuSable Valley 35-6 a week ago in the Class C semifinal. The Chiefs, however set the tone on the opening two possessions of the game. They forced Saranac Lake’s offense into a three-and-out on the game’s first series, and followed with a 72-yard touchdown drive that took just four plays. The Chiefs kept to the ground for the game’s first score, with Maye carrying the ball three times and Wood capping off the march on a 32-yard sprint to the end zone.
Facing a 7-0 deficit just 2:26 into the game, the Red Storm also failed to move the chains on their next possession, but got a big break when their defense stripped the ball from Wood and Ashton recovered the fumble at the Chiefs’ 32-yard line. But for the third time in a row, Saranac Lake was unable to pick up a first down and handed the ball back on downs 23 yards short of the end zone.
Saranac Lake did reach the end zone the next time it had the ball, and the scoring play came on the final play of the first quarter on a 47-yard touchdown pass from DJ Morgan to Emery Swanson. Playing all season with a broken left wrist, Swanson made a great catch for the score when he hauled in a deep pass from Morgan that was tipped by a Saranac defender. The Red Storm went for a two-point conversion after the touchdown but came up short, leaving the score 7-6 in favor of the Chiefs.
Both teams went three-and-out on the game’s next two possessions, and the Chiefs then took advantage of great field position to up their advantage, taking over at the Red Storm’s 43. In just three plays, Saranac was back in the end zone when Maye scored on an 11-yard run, and Clausen tacked on the extra point to move the score to 14-6 with 4:35 gone in the second quarter. The Chiefs added their third touchdown later in the quarter when Maye shot through the middle of the Red Storm defense on a 7-yard run with just 50 seconds remaining in the half.
Saranac Lake finally showed some life after intermission and mounted a scoring march late in the third quarter that was capped off on a half-back option pass that Ashton threw to junior Jacob Shipman for a 26-yard touchdown with 1:13 left in the period. But for the second time in as many attempts, the Red Storm failed to reach the goal line on a conversion run, which kept it a two-score game with Saranac Central on top 21-12.
The Red Storm made one more advance deep into Chiefs territory while attempting to rally, but turned the ball over on downs at Saranac’s 7-yard line with 5:16 remaining in the game. After holding off the Red Storm, the Chiefs went three-and-out and punted, but two plays later, Maye picked off a Morgan pass to seal the win.
“This is the 50th year of Saranac football and this is our first ever championship,” said Chiefs head coach Joe Fish. “This is a huge win for this team and this program and the community that supports us. Our mantra this year is “Banner or bust.” It really was. We thought we could do it and the kids believed in that, and they did a great job.
“We had a game plan today to throw the football, but we also need to be able to run the ball because you never know with the weather,” Fish continued. “Our ‘O’ line did a good job controlling their big ‘D’ line. This is the first time we’re playing out of the section and our first time playing November football, so we’re really excited.”
“We needed control the line of scrimmage and get off the ball better to start the game,” Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said. “We needed to finish our blocks and we just didn’t. I really credit Saranac with a good defensive scheme. They loaded the box well and we didn’t have many answers early.
“I think our kids came out to play in the second half,” Bennett added. “No question that we came out a little flat in the first half, and once we got going a bit in the second half, we made it a game. We won the second half — unfortunately it just wasn’t enough.”
“It was pretty disappointing,” said Ward Walton, a three-year starter for the Red Storm. “I’ve been on the team for three years and I wanted my senior year to be good. It was a tough end, but I played with a great group of kids. I’m friends with everybody here. We turned it around last week, we just couldn’t carry that into today.”
Saranac 21, Saranac Lake 12
Chiefs 7 14 0 0 — 21
Red Storm 6 0 6 0 — 12
S — Wood 32 run (Clausen kick), 2:26.
SL — Swanson 47 pass from Morgan (Run failed), 12:00.
S — Maye 11 run (Clausen kick), 4:35.
S — Maye 7 run (Clausen kick), 11:10.
SL — Shipman 26 pass from Ashton (Run failed), 10:47
Saranac Lake — Ashton 32-117, Morgan 4-8, Lahart 1-(-1). Totals: 37-124.
Saranac — Maye 24-141 2TDs, Wood 12-87 TD, Devins 1-2, Baisi 1-0. Totals: 38-230 3TDs.
Saranac Lake — Morgan 6-15-1-81 TD, Ashton 1-2-0-26 TD. Totals: 7-17-1-107.
Saranac — Maye 3-11-0-30.
Saranac Lake — Swanson 3-58 TD, Kratts 2-12, Shipman 1-26 TD, Walton 1-11.
Saranac — Nolan 2-22, Garman 1-5.
Saranac — Maye