SARANAC LAKE - When the football merger between sections VII and X ended heading into this season, one of the games that immediately popped up on Saranac Lake's radar was a matchup against Beekmantown.
And after Saranac Lake knocked off Peru - which finished 8-0 in league play last year - to start this season, a showdown with the Eagles loomed even larger for the Red Storm.
That game takes place Saturday at Ken Wilson Field, as host Saranac Lake puts its undefeated record on the line against the once-beaten Eagles.
Saranac Lake senior tackle Kyle McGrain stands up Plattsburgh running back Sean Shea during last week’s game. McGrain and his teammates in the trenches will face their biggest group of counterparts this season when Beekmantown visits Saturday.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Before those two teams clash, injury-riddled Tupper Lake kicks off this weekend's local high school grid action tonight under the lights at home against Ogdensburg.
Tupper Lake hosts Ogdensburg
The 1-4 Lumberjacks return home to Frank Tice Field after two road games, playing the 3-2 Ogdensburg Blue Devils for the first time since 2008.
Tupper Lake is coming off a tough 43-6 setback to Class B Malone. In that matchup, the 'Jacks lost another key player for the rest of the season when two-way starter and kick returner Tyler Minogue left the game with a broken collarbone.
Minogue was Tupper Lake's leading rusher, a top tackler at linebacker and has had some long kickoff and punt returns this season.
"Tyler is a big loss to us, and being a senior, the loss is even bigger on a personal level," Tupper Lake head coach Dennis Klossner said. "He worked so hard to get ready for the season, and he's disappointed for sure."
The Lumberjacks will also have their next top ground gainer out of the lineup, as tailback Jeremy Roussel continues to deal with a nagging injury. Klossner said the junior should be ready to go next week.
Despite the loss of two solid runners, Tupper Lake has three backs who have carried the football a good deal the past two weeks in fullbacks Elliot Kerst and Keegan Bombard and tailback Tanner Charland, who are all seniors. Junior quarterback Mitch Keniston will be leading the offense, especially with the absence of Minogue.
"The bulk of our offense will go through Mitch," Klossner said. "We've been very happy with his play."
Keniston also plays a big role on the Lumberjacks' defense.
Klossner said the 'Jacks hope to keep Ogdensburg's spread offense off the field.
"We've lost some speed with our injuries, but I feel confident in the kids we have to run the football," Klossner said. "It's three yards and a cloud of dust. If we can sustain some drives, we should be OK. Ogdensburg is quick, and they run hard, but they are a beatable team. We just need to keep them contained."
Two key offensive weapons for the Blue Devils are quarterback Nate Angel and running back Zach Sharpe, a fast, hard runner in the backfield.
The opening kickoff for tonight's contest is 7 p.m.
CVAC title on the line in Saranac Lake
"5-and-0 meets 4-and-1, that's a big football game," Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett said of Saturday's showdown at Ken Wilson Field, which begins at 2 p.m. "When the merger came to a close, we knew we would be playing hard-nosed smaller schools and the larger schools - the Perus and Beekmantowns - that have strong programs and bigger rosters.
"We know they are going to come up here and give us everything they got," Bennett continued. "They have a massive offensive and defensive front, they are well coached, and I'm sure they are hungry. Both teams are looking for momentum heading into our respective class playoffs, and it starts with this game."
Saturday's contest can also decide this year's Champlain Valley Athletic Conference champion. The Red Storm control their own destiny in that regard. A win gives them the title. A Beekmantown victory, however, could potentially leave three one-loss teams in the hunt, including Peru, with a tiebreaker determining the champion following the conclusion of next week's games.
Bennett described the matchup as a battle between Beekmantown's size and Saranac Lake's up-tempo style that has at times exhibited nearly flawless execution by the Red Storm's no-huddle offense and a swarming defense fueled by the contributions of all 11 players on the field.
"It's no secret that they have a much bigger line than we do," Bennett said. "We are going to try to wear them down with our pace and they will try to grind it out on us. I'm impressed with Beekmantown. They have a nice, simple scheme. They want to run downhill."
Saranac Lake heads into the game without its starting center, senior Hajro Cecunjanin, who injured a shoulder during last week's win over Plattsburgh. Senior Grant Strack, who missed the Hornets game, will move to center, and junior Joe Atkinson will fill in on the line, starting for the second game in a row.
Zach Myers is the Eagles' starting quarterback and guides a run-oriented offense that features some talented backs. He has completed just 17 of his 57 passing attempts, but seven of those have been for touchdowns.
Dustin Pickering is Beekmantown's top rusher with 308 yards on 58 carries. The Class B Eagles have also benefitted from having Devin Fessette back in the lineup. Fessette missed three games with an injury, and returned a week ago to score three rushing touchdowns in the Eagles' 29-20 win over Moriah.
Saranac Lake is the only unbeaten team in the CVAC and leads the league in numerous areas, starting with quarterback Matt Phelan. The senior has the most completions, 44, the best accuracy at 77 percent and is tops in passing yards with 721. He's thrown eight touchdowns and has just one interception. He also leads the Red Storm in rushing, averaging 12 yards per carry and has run for eight touchdowns.
Phelan is among four Saranac Lake players who are currently second through fifth in league scoring. Seth Pickreign tops the list for the Red Storm with 43 points, which includes 18 extra-point kicks.
Seniors Kevin Morgan and Mike Burpoe are the CVAC's top two receivers. Morgan has 17 catches and 380 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions. Burpoe has 18 receptions good for 267 yards and one touchdown. Junior running back Lance Ackerson also has seven rushing touchdowns for the Red Storm.
Saranac Lake tops the league in points scored with 204, and fewest points allowed with 45. None of those points have been scored against the Red Storm's starting defense. The Red Storm are currently ranked seventh in New York state in Class C.
"We are going to try to have a track meet, and they are going to try to have a slugfest," Bennett said. "It will be interesting to see what comes out on top."
A community tailgate party organized by Saranac Lake's 5th Quarter Club will beld in the high school parking lot following the game.