Storm piece together another win
SARANAC LAKE — Mistake-free, definitely not. Resilient, without a doubt.
Saranac Lake’s football team overcame its own miscues, bounced back from two big momentum shifts in the second half and took advantage of a couple breaks to win a tough battle Saturday, topping Saranac Central 21-15 to improve to 2-0 in the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference.
After slugging it out with the Chiefs during a scoreless first half, the Red Storm rebounded twice after intermission to triumph on home turf for the second straight week at Wilson Raymond Field.
The first time Saranac Lake needed to respond was after the Chiefs returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown to take a 6-0 lead. The Red Storm’s answer came on the ensuing possession in the form of a touchdown and successful two-point conversion run.
Owning an 8-6 edge, Saranac Lake’s offense had a woeful possession the next time it had the ball, which led to quarterback Rhett Darrah getting sacked in the end zone for a game-tying safety. But instead of caving in, the Red Storm put two touchdowns on the board for a 22-8 lead that basically put the game out of reach. The Chiefs scored the final points of the day, getting a touchdown and a conversion kick with nine seconds remaining on the game clock.
In the first half, Saranac Lake shook off an interception thrown by Darrah on the game’s opening possession. And after halftime, a rash of Red Storm offensive penalties, including three in a row when the Chiefs recorded their safety, didn’t wind up being costly in the end.
“We talked in the beginning of the game and all week of ‘what are you going to do, and how are you going to respond when things don’t go right?'” Red Storm head coach Eric Bennett said. “Things have been going right all along — in the preseason, our scrimmage, game one. The real test is when things don’t go right. We have a little work to do, but overall, our guys didn’t panic. They kept playing and showed us just how tough they were. It was outstanding. It was awesome.”
For the second game in a row, the Red Storm defense proved to be a huge factor in the outcome. A week ago, they pitched a 12-0 shutout in the season-opening win over Plattsburgh, and they were just as effective Saturday, limiting the Chiefs to just 128 yards of offense, including a mere 33 yards rushing. After being stymied all afternoon, Saranac’s offense picked up nearly half of its real estate on its 61-yard scoring drive on the final possession of the game.
Logan Brown, Braden Ryan and Ben Munn each scored a touchdown for the Red Storm. Senior Bryce Smith scored both Chiefs touchdowns, with his first coming on an 86-yard kickoff return that started the second half and put Saranac on top 6-0.
Trailing for the first time after playing six quarters of football, the Red Storm rallied with a 10-play, 67-yard touchdown drive capped off by Brown’s 2-yard scoring burst through the middle of the line. Brown then tacked on two more points on the conversion run for an 8-6 Red Storm advantage with 5:25 remaining in the third quarter.
The key play during the march was a 39-yard pass reception by junior David Warner that gave Saranac Lake a first down at the Chiefs 3-yard line. The catch turned out to be the Red Storm’s first major break of the game. On the play, Darrah launched a pass down the right sideline intended for Jeffery LaVair, but the ball was tipped and landed in Warner’s hands. Two plays later, Brown was in the end zone for the third time this season on his 2-yard run.
After losing their lead, the Chiefs went three-and-out and punted to give Saranac Lake the ball back at its own 30. But instead of moving forward, the Red Storm were penalized twice for holding and also flagged for a delay of the game. Pinned at their own 2-yard line and facing a third-down-and-38, the Red Storm gave up a safety when Addison Kelting tackled Darrah in the end zone for a safety with 1:03 remaining in the third quarter.
The safety seemed to energize the Chiefs, who went back on the attack and reached Saranac Lake’s 22-yard line before stalling. They ultimately came up empty when Saranac Lake senior defensive end Patrick Alberga blocked a 40-yard field goal attempt by Garrett Adolpho.
The Red Storm’s offensive struggles continued though, as they went backward again after starting at their 22. But this time, Saranac Lake caught its second massive break of the game when Warner boomed a punt up the middle that was never fielded by the Chiefs. The ball took a big Red Storm bounce and was downed at Saranac’s 12. The Red Storm defense held, the Chiefs punted, and Ryan returned the kick 48 yards into the end zone on a play where the senior first bobbled the ball, regained control along one sideline and outraced the coverage to the opposite side of the field to put the Red Storm back on top. Darrah sent the extra-point kick through the uprights for a 15-8 Saranac Lake lead with 5:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Saranac Lake’s defense then slammed the door again with another three-and-out highlighted by an Alberga 17-yard sack of Saranac quarterback Conner Burns, which forced the Chiefs to punt. The kick was shanked, giving the Red Storm the ball at Saranac’s 33, and six plays later, Munn burst across the goal line on a 1-yard run. Darrah added his second conversion kick of the game and Saranac Lake led 22-8 with 1:26 remaining.
Saranac Central then went 61 yards in nine plays, with Smith snagging a Burns throw for a 6-yard touchdown catch with 9.4 seconds left on the clock.
For the second week in a row, the Red Storm didn’t have an impressive output on offense, gaining just 145 total yards, but it was enough to get the job done.
“What’s nice is I feel like over the last couple years, we haven’t got a lot of breaks and we haven’t finished,” Bennett said. “Today we got some breaks and we finished, so I’m happy and proud of our kids. Our defense, they’re just tenacious. It’s tough to move the ball against them. I love their willingness to stick their nose in there play after play and get it done.”
“I got to give it to Saranac Lake. Their line did a great job firing off the ball today,” said Saranac head coach Dylan Everleth. “They’re not the biggest kids in the world. They are smaller, they are faster and they explode off the line, and that gave us a lot of trouble today.”
Despite the loss, Everleth, whose Chiefs are Section VII’s two-time defending champions, said it’s early in the season and there’s plenty of football left to prepare for the playoffs.
“We had some big plays here and there, but when it comes down to it, we made some mistakes that we need to clean up and they capitalized on them,” he said. “It’s week two, and it’s anybody’s league from this point. We just need to move on from this week, focus on Beekmantown coming up, try to win one game at a time, and when it comes down to it, the league will sort itself out. And then we have to show up for playoffs.”
“I think we have an amazing defense, probably one of the best in the league,” Alberga said. “We’ve been taking care of our jobs, taking care of our gaps, making plays in the backfield and demoralizing the other team I guess. When you get picked up and thrown on the ground the first play of the game, you just have to pick your head up and smack them the next play. Show them who’s the boss.”
After winning just once a year ago and twice in 2017, Saranac Lake now has the opportunity to get off to a 3-0 start when it travels for the first time this fall, next playing Friday at AuSable Valley with the opening kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m.
Saranac will look to rebound when it hosts the CVAC’s other unbeaten team, Beekmantown, on Saturday, with that matchup scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m.
Saranac Lake 22,
Saranac Central 15
Chiefs 0 0 8 7 — 15
Red Storm 0 0 8 14 — 22
S — Smith 86 kick return (kick blocked), 11:46.
SL — Brown 2 run (Brown run), 5:25.
S- Kelting tackles Darrah for safety, 1:03.
SL- Ryan 48 punt return (Darrah kick), 5:54.
SL- Munn 1 run (Darrah kick), 1:26.
S- Smith 5 pass from Burns (Adolfo kick), 9.4.
S- Kelting 8-29; Devins 4-15; Smith 4-10; Clausen 5-2; Burns 2-(-23). Totals: 23-33.
SL- Munn 16-39, TD; Darrah 13-32; Warner 1-12; Brown 5-8, TD; Ryan 1-3; Gladd 1-(-2). Totals: 37-92, 2TD.
S- Burns 10-22-1-95, TD.
SL- Darrah 2-5-1-53.
S- Adolfo 3-28; Recore 3-24; Smith 2-18, TD; Clausen 1-18; Devins 1-7.
SLCS- Warner 1-39, LaVair 1-14.