CLINTONVILLE — Saranac Lake went into this season as the three-time defending Section VII Class C champion, but it had lost the majority of its starters and faced questions at quarterback.
But players filled new roles all season and sophomore quarterback Tristan Fitzgerald proved clutch, leading a scoring drive in the final minutes of Saturday’s Class C final for a 30-28 victory over Saranac.
“For the fourth year in a row, it feels great,” senior Dylan Gunther said after the game at AuSable Valley. “And I didn’t want to be a part of a team that wasn’t going to get the Class C championship, so it feels wonderful.”
The Red Storm (5-4), who were seeded first in Section VII, move on to meet Section X champion Ogdensburg Free Academy Friday in Massena.
Although Saranac Lake trailed for much of the game, it took a 24-21 lead into the fourth quarter thanks to Dustin Fischer’s 28-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third.
But No. 2 seed Saranac fought back, putting together a short drive that ended with a 1-yard scoring run by John Maye with 4:23 left in the game. Paul Herrera’s PAT gave the Chiefs a 28-24 edge.
The Red Storm got the ball back on their own 31-yard line and muscled their way to Saranac’s 25, picking up four first downs along the way. Then Fitzgerald threw a perfect pass to Gunther on the left sideline, and Gunther sped to the end zone.
“I tried to sell it as best I could. We tried to fake the outside zone,” Gunther said. “I tried to get open, and our quarterback threw a great ball. It was wide open. It put us on top.”
The kick missed, and Saranac Lake clung to a 30-28 lead with 1:03 on the clock.
Gunther came up huge again, picking off a Saranac pass to seal the victory.