SARANAC LAKE - For the most part, Saranac Lake's football team dominated its first five opponents in getting the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference season off to a 5-0 start.
It wasn't quite the same kind of domination when Saranac Lake hosted Beekmantown on Saturday, but it still ended up lopsided on the scoreboard as the Red Storm upended the Eagles 40-6 to capture the CVAC regular-season championship.
On home turf at Ken Wilson Field, Saranac Lake took advantage of Eagles' mistakes, including four turnovers, used a little razzle dazzle and had a big goal line stand at the end of the first half to improve to 6-0 and claim the Section VII regular-season championship in the process.
With Beekmantown defender Justin Stevens moving in for the tackle, Saranac Lake senior receiver Craig Leahy tucks away the ball after picking up 13 yards on a pass play during the first half of Saturday’s game in Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Senior quarterback Matt Phelan tossed two touchdown passes to Kevin Morgan and ran for another, Jon McCabe returned an interception for a touchdown and caught a half-back option pass from Seth Pickreign for a score, and Pickreign also reached the end zone on a run for the Red Storm's final points of the game.
"We played angry today," said Red Storm tri-captain Craig Leahy, a two-way starter who made a pair of key receptions to keep drives alive in the opening half. "We were giving up ground early, but when we had our backs to the wall, we stopped them."
Behind the biggest line in the CVAC, and with their starting quarterback out of the lineup, the Eagles' gameplan to keep the ball on the ground. They picked up 35 yards and a pair of first downs on the game's first possession that ended in a punt, but the Red Storm also saw its first series stall and had to kick the ball away.
Beekmantown moved the chains twice on its second possession, but that resulted in a punt, with Saranac Lake taking over at its own 28. The Red Storm then drove the length of the field for a score, with Morgan snagging a 6-yard touchdown pass from Phelan and Pickreign adding the extra-point kick for a 7-0 Saranac Lake lead with 57 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Eagles went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and Saranac Lake then caught a huge break after its offense failed to move the ball. Facing a fourth-down-and-four, the Red Storm lined up in punt formation, but Beekmantown was penalized for too many men on the field, giving Saranac Lake a first down a yard shy of the midfield stripe. Two passing plays later, the Red Storm were in the end zone again. The first completion went to Mike Burpoe and was good for 14 yards. Morgan then caught a 37-yard scoring strike from Phelan as he was streaking down the Saranac Lake sideline.
Trailing 13-0, the Eagles fumbled the ball away on their next play, with Saranac Lake recovering at Beekmantown's 25-yard line. The Red Storm offense gained just one yard on three plays. Facing a fourth-down-and-nine, Pickreign took a pitch from Phelan, sprinted toward the outside on what looked like a sweep, and tossed a 24-yard touchdown pass to McCabe, who got by the Eagles secondary. Lance Ackerson, who rushed for 68 yards on eight carries, ran in for the two-point conversion, putting the Red Storm on top 21-0 midway through the second quarter.
Both teams failed to pick up a first down on their next possession, with the Eagles coming up with their biggest play of the game when Justin Stevens returned a punt 70 yards to set up his team at the Saranac Lake 5-yard line. But with a chance to cut into the Red Storm's lead with time winding down in the opening half, the Eagles came up empty and were stonewalled on four successive running plays by the Saranac Lake defense.
Instead of heading into intermission up by two touchdowns, the Red Storm owned a 21-0 cushion entering the second half, and they all but sewed up the victory on the first offensive snap of the third quarter.
"Nobody had scored on our starting defense this season," Leahy said. "When Beekmantown had the ball in front of our goal line, I think it was on a third down play that we said 'Why make it this far and give up?' We stuffed them."
The second half started on a tense moment when Pickreign was dragged to the ground by his facemask in front of the Beekmantown bench while he returned the opening kickoff. After Pickreign walked off the field, Phelan darted 42 yards for a touchdown, and finished off the play by barreling over a Beekmantown defender at the goal line.
Two plays into Beekmantown's next possession, Saranac Lake was in business again when TJ Monroe intercepted a pass from Jacob Remchuk, giving the Red Storm the ball at the Eagles 41. Saranac Lake marched down the field to score again, with Pickreign returning to the game and reaching the end zone on a 5-yard sweep.
Owning a 34-0 lead midway through the third quarter, Saranac Lake scored one more time when McCabe intercepted another Remchuk pass and returned the ball 80 yards into the end zone.
The Eagles scored the final points of the game when Remchuk completed a 49-yard touchdown pass to running back Dustin Pickering.
"That was a good football team we played," said Saranac Lake head coach Eric Bennett. Beekmantown had a good scheme initially. They are big and physical, and we had to get some plays to the perimeter to wear them down a little.
"At the end of the day, that goal line stand by our defense set the tone for the rest of that game," Bennett continued. "If Beekmantown scored there, it could have been 21-7 at halftime and they would have had all the momentum. That stand and some big plays down the stretch turned the game in our favor."
"We were ready coming into this game. We thought we had a really good plan against them," said Beekmantown coach Jamie Lozier. "They didn't drive the ball on us, we were moving the ball, but we didn't help ourselves out. We had a penalty when they were punting, they ended up getting us on a half-back pass and we fumbled deep in our end of the field.
"Give credit to Saranac Lake, they took advantage of everything we gave them," Lozier added. "I thought we started well, but we didn't have a good day, and when you don't have a good day against Saranac Lake, that spells trouble."
Playing in place of injured quarterback Zach Myers, Remchuk completed half of his 14 passing attempts for 99 yards, with half of that total coming on Pickering's touchdown catch. Junior Devin Fessette led all running backs in the game, gaining 75 yards on 16 carries for the Eagles. Pickering added 53 yards on 13 attempts.
Phelan finished with 10 completions on 13 attempts, and also ran for 63 yards. Six Red Storm runners combined for 175 yards on 34 carries.
The Eagles, who are a Class B team, fell to 4-2 with the loss and next play Friday at AuSable Valley. The 6-0 Red Storm next travel to Saranac Central Saturday to face the Chiefs, with the opening kickoff scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
Saranac Lake 40, Beekmantown 6
SL - Morgan 6 pass from Phelan (Pickreign kick), 11:03
SL - Morgan 37 pass from Phelan (Kick failed), 4:24
SL - McCabe 24 pass from Pickreign (Ackerson run), 6:38
SL - Phelan 42 run (Thurber kick), :20
SL - Pickreign 5 run (Kick failed), 5:43
SL - McCabe 80 interception return (Kick failed), 7:53
B - Pickering 49 pass from Remchuk (Pass failed), 10:14
Beekmantown - Fessette 16-75, Pickering 13-53, Stevens 1-0, Remchuk 4-4, Roser 1-8. Totals: 35-140.
Saranac Lake - Ackerson 8-68, Phelan 7-63 TD, Pickreign 5-5 TD, Thurber 5-22, Grebe 6-28, Fitzgerald 4-(-9). Totals: 34-175 2TDs
Beekmantown - Remchuk 7-14-2-99 TD.
Saranac Lake - Phelan 10-13-0-98 2TDs, Pickreign 1-1-0-24 TD, Fitzgerald 2-3-0-9. Totals: 13-17-0-131 3TDs.
Beekmantown - Stevens 4-41, Pickering 2-60 TD, Dupigny 1-(-2).
Saranac Lake - Morgan 3-39 2TDs, McCabe 4-49 TD, Burpoe 2-13, Monroe 1-3, Leahy 2-26, Murnane 1-1.
Saranac Lake - Monroe, McCabe