SL wraps up memorable run
SL wraps up memorable run
SARANAC LAKE — Although Saranac Lake’s football season was only about a month long and included just two games, it certainly turned out to be a memorable one for the Red Storm players, coaches and parents.
On Friday, Saranac Lake finished its run through the Fall II spring season with a 2-0 record after beating Beekmantown 44-14 under the lights on the Eagles’ turf field.
In two games played, the Red Storm unleashed an offense that racked up 82 points in victories over Tupper Lake and Beekmantown. And as an extra bonus, the team captured a pair of trophies. Playing the Lumberjacks for the first time in nearly seven years, Saranac Lake retained the Mayor’s Cup it won when the teams last met in 2014. And on Friday, the Red Storm headed home with a brand-new trophy — the Milk Jug — that head coach Eric Bennett hopes will become an annual award presented to the winner when the two Champlain Valley Athletic Conference foes clash each fall.
Two benefits the short season provided are that seniors at least had the opportunity to play some football before their high school careers ended, and younger players got a foundation to build on heading into next fall, when they hope to have a full slate of games followed by playoffs.
“I can say this as an athletic director, we’ve been toying with what type of Fall II season we were going to have,” Bennett said. “We really wanted to give spring sports a full season because that didn’t happen last year, and when things started shaking out, it looked like we were going to have a two-game football season.
“Folks wondered, ‘Is it worth it?'” Bennett continued. “I’m so glad we did it. What a great experience. Yes, it was a ton of work, but anything worth anything takes a lot of work. I’m so happy for our kids. I’m so happy for our seniors to have the experiences they did the last few weeks.”
Saranac Lake’s five seniors and those who plan to return to play in the fall certainly made the most out of their opportunity.
Among the five seniors on the team were varsity veterans Rhett Darrah, David Warner and Sam Donaldson, who all took on key roles when high school football was last played in the North Country in the fall of 2019, when Saranac Lake won the Section VII, Class C championship. Brady Yando was another senior who joined the team after playing soccer as a junior, and Brice Callahan rounded out the group of five.
Darrah, Saranac Lake’s starting quarterback for the past three seasons, ended his four-year run as a member of the varsity team. Against the Eagles, Darrah completed two touchdown passes — both to Warner — and ran for three more, including a 62-yarder that put the Red Storm on top 28-0 less than two minutes into the second half. Combined with Saranac Lake’s 38-22 victory over the Lumberjacks the week before, Darrah finished with four rushing and four passing touchdowns in two games.
“It was awesome to go out 2-0,” said Darrah, who will heading to Ohio the day after graduation to play prep school football. “Just to come out and have two games with the guys one last time and get two wins was great.”
As a junior in 2019, Donaldson started making a statement that he could be one of the premier players in the CVAC heading into what would have been the 2020 fall football season, especially when it came to running the ball. As it turned out, Donaldson was held out of the Tupper Lake game due to a wrist fracture suffered two seasons ago. But on Friday, he was on the field ready to go, cast and all. During the first three quarters, Donaldson was limited to playing only on defense, and he proved to a menace to the Eagles at linebacker, finishing with three sacks. Then with Saranac Lake well in control, Donaldson got to carry the football twice with the clock winding down. His first run went for 16 yards and a touchdown, and he dove into the end zone again on his second carry on the ensuing two-point conversion play.
“I didn’t plan on running the ball at all,” said Donaldson, who will be heading to Vermont in the fall to play Division III college football for Norwich University. “Obviously, with this club on my hand it was hard to take handoffs, but we were up and I got the chance. Getting two more runs, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“We came into this game confident,” Donaldson added. “The last game of my high school career, I gave it my all. We made do. We made it happen. Playing with these guys all the way from kindergarten to now, I’m never going to forget anybody from this team.”
Darrah and Donaldson will be missed when Saranac Lake’s gridders look forward to getting back on the field in the fall, and Warner will be another weapon Bennett will look to replace. In two games played, Warner hauled in four passes for 157 yards, and every one of those catches went for touchdowns, with his longest a 77-yarder against Beekmantown.
With the likes of those three wrapping up their careers, the torch now moves on to players including sophomore running back Carter Hewitt, who certainly made a statement in the two games he played this April. In two starts, Hewitt carried the ball 25 times while rambling for 205 yards. And that number didn’t include touchdown runs of 60 and 75 yards in back-to-back carries against Tupper Lake that were nullified by penalties.
“Going into the season and playing two games, we couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was great,” Hewitt said following Friday’s win. “Originally, I wasn’t supposed to be getting the ball. Sam Donaldson had an injury and I got thrown in there. We going to keep this momentum right into the fall and hit it hard. We’re keeping our full line, and they’re big boys.”
“We’re losing some real talent from our seniors but with some trips to the weight room and some work, it’s going to be up to this young group to see what they’re made of,” Bennett said. “I can say one thing — for a team that has only been together for three weeks with no summer, they were just so impressive. They are so coachable. They’re hungry, they have some talent and they are a pleasure to coach. I think we are going to be a physical team that can run the ball, and I’m really looking forward to it. I wish we had whomever up next — but.”