SL to clash with top-seeded Pats in Class C football final

Saranac Lake quarterback Rhett Darrah carries the ball for positive yards while getting a block from Ben Munn during Saturday’s 21-7 Section VII, Class C semifinal victory over Saranac Central at Wilson Raymond Field in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — During the past two seasons, Saranac Lake’s football team really struggled on the way to posting just three combined victories.

This fall, with an experienced lineup leading the way, things have looked much brighter for the Red Storm. On Saturday, Saranac Lake can really put an exclamation mark on this fall’s campaign when it takes on AuSable Valley in the Section VII, Class C championship game.

The contest will be held at Plattsburgh starting at noon.

Saranac Lake heads into the game with a 5-3 record as it looks to take back the sectional crown it last claimed in 2016. The task won’t be easy however, as the Red Storm face an AuSable Valley team that features some quality athletes ranked at or near the top of the offensive statistics in the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference.

The Patriots are Class C’s top seed entering the matchup. They earned a bye for the opening round and enter Saturday with a 4-3 record that includes a 20-15 win over Saranac Lake on the third weekend of the CVAC season. AuSable Valley started the year with two straight losses and has since gone 4-1.

After wrapping up its regular-season with two disappointing losses, Saranac Lake turned in a solid effort a week ago, defeating Saranac Central 21-7 in the Class C semifinal game. Head coach Eric Bennett reflected that it was probably a good thing the Red Storm had to take on the Chiefs in a semifinal game, especially seeing how well they played.

“Our goal all along was to get the bye, but we didn’t, and we put together a pretty nice effort last week,” Bennett said. “I really think that gave us some confidence and a chance to try to get out some wrinkles in our schemes.”

The main task in front of the Red Storm is slowing down AuSable Valley’s four key players — Eli Douglas, Luis Perez, Nathan Doner and Evan Snow.

Douglas and Perez finished first and third respectively, in the CVAC in receiving yards. They combined for 45 receptions that yielded 994 yards and 14 touchdowns. Douglas, a sophomore, is third in the league in scoring with 64 points on 10 touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions. Doner, another sophomore, ranked second in the league in rushing with 592 yards on 129 attempts, and Snow led the league in touchdown passes with 14.

When the teams met for the first time this season, penalties piled up on the Red Storm, and they also had a tough time watching Douglas and Perez make some big catches and Doner run the ball efficiently.

“AuSable has some big-time athletes for sure,” Bennett said. “They do a great job getting the ball to their playmakers, they play good defense and they have that quick-strike ability. When we played them the first time, I think what they did best is not letting us run the ball, and at the same time, they made every big play when they had to. Hopefully, we’ll do a better job this time around.”

If last week’s win is an indication of how Saranac Lake might perform, Saturday could be a good day for the Red Storm. A big boost Saranac Lake enjoyed against the Chiefs was having a healthy Ben Munn playing and seeing senior receiver and defensive back Braden Ryan return to the lineup. Munn came through with his best rushing performance of the year, gaining 137 yards on 15 carries. He has 327 yards and four touchdowns on the ground on 63 carries, and also has one touchdown reception.

Junior quarterback Rhett Darrah has proved to be a two-way threat running and throwing the football for Saranac Lake in recent outings. He leads the league in passing yards, completing 68-133 attempts for 1,168 yards and eight touchdowns. Darrah has the seventh-highest rushing total in the league with 379 yards on 84 attempts. He has run for three touchdowns, recorded a pair of two-point conversions and leads the CVAC in point-after kicks with 14.

Saranac Lake’s roster, which at one point this season was down to 17 due to injuries, will be bolstered by a slew of junior varsity players who have moved up for the playoffs. The Red Storm will dress 30 players for the game, and a number of the new junior varsity additions are expected to see time on the field.

The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the next round the state playoffs and face the winner of Section X, which will be either Ogdensburg or Gouverneur. Those teams will also be playing Saturday in the Section X, Class C final.