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Red Storm runs past Chiefs into Class C final

Carter Hewitt carries the ball for Saranac Lake in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game. Pictured blocking for the Red Storm is Sean Sanford. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — After surviving four first-half turnovers, Saranac Lake’s football team put together a strong second half on the way to claiming a 21-7 victory over Saranac Central in Saturday’s Section VII, Class C semifinal game at Wilson Raymond Field.

With the win, the Red Storm snapped a two-game losing skid and advanced to face top-seed AuSable Valley in the Class C final Saturday at Plattsburgh High School starting at noon.

Saranac Lake benefited from a ground game led by a healthy Ben Munn that piled up a season-high 225 yards, and an opportunistic defense that picked off three passes thrown by Chiefs quarterback Garrett Adolfo, who finished with just one completion on seven attempts.

The Red Storm converted two of the interceptions into touchdowns, one in each half. They grabbed a 7-0 edge in the first quarter when quarterback Rhett Darrah and receiver Sam Donaldson connected on a 78-yard touchdown throw, and then tacked on two more touchdowns on running plays in the third and fourth quarters to take a commanding 21-0 lead. Darrah was a perfect 3-for-3 on conversion kicks.

The Chiefs, who saw their two-year hold on the Class C crown end, scored the final points late in the game on a touchdown run and conversion kick by Adolfo, who paced the Chiefs with 113 rushing yards.

Saranac Lake defensive back Braden Ryan drags Saranac running back Hunter Devins to the ground during action in Saturday’s Class C semifinal game at Wilson Raymond Field. It was the final time the seniors were playing on home turf for the Red Storm, who will now battle for the sectional title against AuSable Valley. (Enterprise photos — Lou Reuter)

“Today was a great effort by the team in general,” said Red Storm senior lineman Sean Sanford, who had a standout afternoon on both sides of the ball. “Saranac has a great team and they played us really tough. We were able to run the ball pretty efficiently. We had a great week of practice with the coaches’ game plan, and today was amazing. We executed perfectly today.”

One of the biggest factors that weighed in Saranac Lake’s way was players returning from injures. Munn has been dealing with a thigh injury and only touched the ball once on offense during the past two weeks and saw limited time at linebacker. Two-way starter, senior Braden Ryan, was also back in the lineup after missing Saranac Lake’s last seven quarters of football with a knee injury.

“Finally, we’re clicking. It was nice to be healthy,” Red Storm head coach Eric Bennett said. “Today we had 21 kids, and with that little bit of added depth, it felt like we had the Titanic behind us. I felt like our kids executed our game plan. Except for too many turnovers, the kids played really well. We ran the ball.”

Saranac Lake moved all the way from its own 20 deep into Chiefs’ territory on the opening possession of the game, but fumbled the ball away. Saranac then went on the advance the first time it had the ball, but defensive back Kenny Dashnaw ended the threat when he recorded the Red Storm’s first interception at Saranac Lake’s 21-yard line. With the ball back in their hands, the Red Storm picked up seven yards on a pair of Munn runs, and then on third down, Darrah found Donaldson open on a short pass to the right, and the junior outraced the Chiefs to the end zone for the 78-yard touchdown that yielded the only points of the opening half.

Trailing 7-0, the Chiefs started with the ball in the third quarter and suffered their second turnover when Adolfo was intercepted for a second time as Ryan made the pick and returned it to the Red Storm 45. It took Saranac Lake just four plays to reach the end zone, with Logan Brown banging into the end zone from a yard out. The big play of the march was a 43-yard run by Munn that gave his offense a first-and-goal at the one.

Saranac Lake senior running back Ben Munn breaks an attempted tackle by Saranac Central’s Connor Kiroy while picking up a big gain in Saturday’s Class C semifinal. Munn gained a 137 yards in the Red Storm’s 21-7 victory. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

The Red Storm then basically put the game out of reach when Darrah scored on a 14-yard run and followed with the conversion kick to up their lead to 21-0 less than a minute into the final quarter.

After Adolfo suffered one more interception, this time when Brown hauled in a ball tipped by teammate David Warner, the Chiefs quarterback put his team on the board on a 13-yard touchdown run with 2:01 left in the game.

“I’ll give both teams credit. Kids on both teams were out here giving it everything they got,” Chiefs’ head coach Dylan Everleth said. “I thought it was a hard, physical football game. We missed some opportunities. They made the best of their opportunities.

“Saranac Lake has a helluva team,” Everleth continued. “They’ve got two big monsters on the outside on the defensive end; Alberga and (Sanford). Those two boys, they’re the anchors of that defense. Nothing gets outside of them, and (Munn), he played a great game at inside backer today. He was all over the field.”

With its ground game working well and holding a lead since early in the first quarter, Saranac Lake did not attempt a single pass in the second half.

“Despite the turnovers, we stayed very confident,” Sanford said. “It was just self-inflicted wounds we could clean up at halftime, and then just come back in the second half and push in the points.”

Saranac Lake improved to 5-3 and will now attempt to win its first Section VII, Class C title since 2016 against an AuSable Valley team that defeated the Red Storm on home turf by a 20-15 score during the third weekend of the season.

The Chiefs, the 2017 and 2018 Class C champions, ended their season with a 3-5 record.

“This is the healthiest we’ve been all year other than the first game,” Munn said. “We knew we wanted to run the ball and it worked; simple as that. We’ll use this game as momentum, stick to our game plan, keep our heads and play as a team. That’s what we need to do to win.”

Saranac Lake 21, Saranac 7

SL 7 0 7 7 — 21

SC 0 0 0 7 — 7

Scoring

First Quarter

SL — Donaldson 78 pass from Darrah (Darrah kick), 7:05

Third Quarter

SL — Brown 1 run (Darrah kick), 5:45

Fourth Quarter

SL — Darrah 14 run (Darrah kick), :50.

SC — Clausen 13 run (Adolpho kick), 9:59

Individual statistics

Rushing

SCS- Adolfo 14-113, TD; Devins 19-96; Kelting 7-33. Totals: 40-242, TD.

SL- Munn 15-137; Darrah 10-67, TD; Brown 4-17, TD; Hewitt 6-9; LaVair 2-1; Sturgeon 1-(-6). Totals: 38-225, 2TD.

Passing

SCS- Adolfo 1-7-3-22.

SL- Darrah 7-13-2-187, TD.

Receiving

SCS- Recore 1-22.

SL- Donaldson 1-87,TD; Brown 3-55; LaVair 1-27; Warner 2-18.

Interceptions

SCS- Burns, Adolfo.

SL- Ryan, Dashnaw, Brown.