Storm hunt home playoff game

Sophomore Ben Munn, pictured carrying the ball on a kick return last week against Beekmantown, is expected to play a bigger role in Saranac Lake’s offensive backfield with Jarrett Ashton out of the lineup. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — In recent years, Saranac Lake’s football team would have already earned a first-round bye at this point on its schedule as the Section VII playoffs approach.

That’s not the case this season for the struggling Red Storm. Instead of receiving a semifinal bye and heading right into the Class C final, Saranac Lake will face AuSable Valley in two weeks for the right to take on top-seeded Saranac Central in the Class C championship game. Where that semifinal contest is going to be held will be determined over the final two weeks of the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference season.

The Red Storm and Patriots both own 1-4 marks, and with two games remaining in the regular season, the team that finishes with the best record will host the upcoming semifinal matchup. If Saranac Lake and AuSable finish with identical records, the Patriots will host the semifinal based on their season-opening victory over the Red Storm.

Saranac Lake has a challenging road ahead in order to earn that home playoff game, starting tonight when it travels to face Moriah in the not-so-friendly confines of Linney Field. The Vikings are 4-1 and are the 13th-ranked Class D team in New in New York state.

At the same time Saranac Lake and Moriah are playing, Tupper Lake will host Canton in a Section X game at Frank Tice Field.

Tupper Lake junior Brennen McComber picks up yards during the second game of the season against St. Lawrence Central. McComber will be back in the lineup for the ’Jacks tonight after recovering from an injury. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

What makes the Red Storm’s task tonight even more daunting is they will face the Vikings without their top two-way player. In last week’s 44-14 loss to Beekmantown, senior running back and linebacker Jarrett Ashton exited the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and will be out of the lineup for at least tonight.

Moriah will be hungry entering tonight’s contest after suffering its first loss of the season, a 20-16 setback at rival Ticonderoga a week ago. The Vikings have an explosive offense led by senior Dylan Trombley, who is a talented three-year starter at quarterback. They have scored 173 points for an average of nearly 35 points per game in five starts.

“Moriah is a physical team with very good athletes, range and height,” Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said. “We expect them to be running downhill, and we expect them to spread it out. They have a ton of talent and a lot of experience.”

Ashton’s absence in the offensive backfield opens the door for senior Hunter LaHart and sophomore Ben Munn to see more time carrying the football. Senior quarterback DJ Morgan is also expected to play a more critical role with the Red Storm’s top back sidelined.

On defense, LaHart, Morgan, and Ward Walton will play bigger roles in Saranac Lake’s linebacker rotation without Ashton.

“We’re in a difficult situation with Jarrett Ashton on the sideline, but it’s also a real opportunity for some other guys to step in there,” Bennett said. “Obviously, on offense, we are really going to look to get the ball in the hands of other players.”

Despite a 1-4 record, Bennett is happy with the hard work and attitude on the part of his players.

“For the most part, we’ve been right in there in these games,” Bennett said. “It seems to be that when we are rolling and we’re in a tight game, we make critical mistakes. That’s what happened last week, and before we new it, the game was well out of reach. We have to stop hurting ourselves. It’s difficult for our team to overcome those mistakes when they start piling up.

“I’m really happy with our guys. All along they’ve been working, they’ve been a no-quit team, and really at this point, we don’t have a lot to lose,” Bennett continued. “We’re going to go into Moriah and we’re going to give it our best shot. I’d like to see us come out flying. I’d like to think this game is kind of like the lottery — you never know.”

Like Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake is also having a tough fall, but its road has been even rockier. Not only are the Lumberjacks looking for their first win, they are hoping to generate some offense after being shut out in their last two starts. The setbacks came at the hands of Gouverneur and Potsdam, and the week before those games, Tupper Lake was unable to field a minimum roster of 16 and had to cancel its matchup against Massena.

Taking on 1-4 Canton tonight might offer Tupper Lake its best shot at finding some success, although the Bears are by no means an easy opponent. Their lone win was at home two weeks ago, a 27-14 victory over Franklin Academy, and they’ve been competitive in the rest of their matchups with the exception of a 53-7 loss to Ogdensburg on the second weekend for the regular season. Last week, Canton fell to Massena 31-30.

The Golden Bears are led by junior quarterback Declan Porter, who a year ago against Tupper Lake, completed 6-of-9 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns.

“Canton is a throwing team,” Tupper Lake head coach Dennis Klossner said. “Porter, he’s 6-4, 6-5, and he’s a helluva a ball player. We really want to force him to throw. We’re going to try to put pressure on him, but we’re also going to sneak a couple guys around in our defensive backfield and hope for an interception or two.”

Some of the best news regarding the Lumberjacks is that they will have 20 players in the lineup tonight, including junior running back Brennen McComber, who is back from an injury suffered during the second game of the season. McComber’s return gives Tupper Lake the chance to re-establish its running back combination that also includes sophomore Skyler Pickering.

Klossner said his junior quarterback Noah Cordes has shown steady improvement and is looking for a big game against Canton from his first-year starter.

“Noah Cordes has gotten a lot better from day one with his confidence and understanding the game,” Klossner said. “He’s made some great strides. We’ve actually been able to open up our passing game with him. We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t only have to throw on third-down-and-long situations.

“We haven’t scored our last two games, but we have been able to move the ball,” Klossner added. “We just have to put the ball in when we are in the red zone, and that’s where we’ve had a tough time. I think we’ve got the pieces in place. Finally having 20 players has allowed us to do more things in practice, and the kids are excited. They are pumped. We’re not looking to just be competitive Friday. We’re looking to win a football game.”