RICKY ST. CLAIR
SARANAC LAKE — The third part of this trilogy might be hotter than any movie ticket in town.
Saranac Lake and Hoosick Falls meet in a highly-anticipated matchup this afternoon at 1 p.m. for the third consecutive season at AuSable Valley in the NYSPHSAA ‘C’ quarterfinals and the stakes remain the same — a trip to Dietz Stadium for a semifinal opportunity is on the line.
The Red Storm (10-0) were able to overcome an early 12-0 deficit and knock off the Panthers (10-0) 15-12 in overtime at AuSable Valley in 2010. However, Eric Bennett’s inexperienced 2011 squad were unable generate any offense in last year’s regional bout and suffered a 47-13 defeat.
“(Hoosick Falls) is an incredibly well-coached, disciplined team that comes out of a great football tradition,” Bennett said. “We recognize what we’re up against and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Each of the two teams play with similar philosophies and have comparable numbers throughout the 2012 season. Both Saranac Lake and Hoosick Falls were able to fight through their sections undefeated and generated over 3,785 and 3,910 yards of offense, respectively.
The Red Storm are led by quarterback Matt Phelan. The senior signal-caller, who currently holds the top spot for passing yardage in Section VII, has thrown for 1,635 yards and 24 touchdowns, while totaling an eye-popping 246.46 passer rating on the year.
Phelan’s primary targets include Kevin Morgan (32 receptions, 801 yards, 16 touchdowns) and Mike Burpoe (30 receptions, 406 yards, four touchdowns). Morgan’s older brother Forrest Morgan kicked the game-winning 34-yard field goal in the 2010 contest at AuSable Valley, while quarterbacking the Red Storm to their second semifinal appearance during a three-year span.
“For (Phelan and Morgan) to be apart of that (2010) team, it gave them a chance to see how we do our business in the postseason and conduct practices,” Bennett said. “It’s a different year, but the names have been cycled through. The familiarities between the two squads are now getting down to the families as well.”
Saranac Lake’s balanced, up-tempo offense features a plethora of playmakers. The team has rushed for 2,039 yards and 32 touchdowns, while Phelan and Seth Pickreign have combined for 1,102 yards and 17 end zone appearances on the ground.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Panthers obtain one of the state’s best Class C running backs in Brad Burns. The 5-foot-10-inch, 195-pound bruiser scored more touchdowns individually (31) this season than six Section VII teams during the regular season. Burns, a three-year starter, has rushed for 1,636 yards this season, which is best in a section that features 58 total teams.
“In Class C, they don’t make a better back than him,” Bennett said. “He’s a physical runner that has the wheels, making him the full package. Slowing him down is going to be the game plan. We need to get a lot of helmets on the football, which is our best chance for success.”
The Panthers also own the sections third-best quarterback in terms of passing yardage in Billy Pine. The 5-foot-10-inch, 180-pound senior has thrown for 1,471 yards and 21 touchdowns, while tossing only two interceptions.
Hoosick Falls operates various spread sets, predominately out of the shotgun and pistol formations. Their closest game — a 43-12 win on the road against Schuylerville.
The Panthers defense might be the most ferocious in the Capital District Region, surrendering just 44 points all season, for an average of 4.4 points against per content. Through their first seven games, the perennial Section II power had only yielding a touchdown, field goal, and an extra point.
“They’re a very physical, aggressive run-stopping defense,” Bennett said. “They are sound with their assignments and responsibilities. If you make a mistake, they’re going to exploit it.”
Bennett spoke to his team following last week’s 42-12 rout of Ogdensburg Free Academy. The third-year head coach called the neutral Section VII site at AuSable Valley “a place of opportunity” and dubbed it “the field of dreams.”
“This past week was the best week of practice I’ve seen during my three years on the (Saranac Lake) coaching staff,” Bennett said. “Our players left the field as well-prepared as they’re going to be. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. We’re ready to go out and try to compete against a perennial power.”
For live updates from Saranac Lake's Class C quarterfinal today, follow @Ricky_PRSports on twitter.com.
Hoosick Falls - Saranac Lake
Record (10-0) (10-0)
Points 463 (46.3) 409 (40.9)
Points Allowed (G) 44 (4.4) 86 (8.6)
Rushing Yards (G) 2,548 (254.8) 2,039 (203.9)
Passing Yards (G) 1,362 (136.2) 1,746 (174.6)
Rushing Leader Brad Burns 151-1,636-27TD Seth Pickreign 46-561-4TD
Passing Leader Billy Pine 72-118-2-1,471-21TD Matt Phelan 98-126-2-1,635-24TD
Receving Leader Randy Tutunjian 24-625-8TD Kevin Morgan 32-801-16TD