Hoosick Falls Central School senior running back Brad Burns (35) cuts back past a Saranac Lake defender on a second-half touchdown run in the
Hoosick Falls Central School senior running back Brad Burns (35) cuts back past a Saranac Lake defender on a second-half touchdown run in the Panthers' 20-12 Class C regional championship victory Saturday. (Adam Samrov)

ADAM SAMROV

Sports Editor

CLINTONVILLE, N.Y. - At halftime against Saranac Lake, the Hoosick Falls Central School football team was in a position it had not been yet this year: Trailing.

Senior tailback Brad Burns made sure it wouldn't end that way.

Burns rushed 28 times for 144 yards and three second-half touchdowns as the Panthers earned a bid into the Class C state semifinals with a 20-12 win over the Red Storm at AuSable Valley High School on Saturday.

"We came out in the first half, they had a good game plan; we couldn't do much on offense," Burns said. "We had one good drive and we fumbled. In the locker room, we said that we've had a goal for so long, we need to step it up.

"We came out fired up and ready to go, and really drove it to them in the second half."

A Saranac Lake (10-1) miscue on a fourth-quarter kick return gave the Panthers (11-0) the momentum they needed. Down 12-6, Burns' 35-yard kickoff return set up a six-play, 56-yard drive that he capped with a 15-yard TD scamper. Eric Kaufmann hit the extra point to finally give Hoosickthe lead, 13-12, with 7:57 left.

"At halftime, we talked about keeping composure," said Hoosick Falls coach Ron Jones. "We didn't make plays in the first half and they did. I told the kids, 'We'll be fine, we're one play from being ahead."

On the kickoff after Burns' score, Saranac Lake's Kevin Morgan, who caught 10 passes for 101 yards, was hit on the return and fumbled. Brandon Hodges recovered for Hoosick Falls.

"I went in looking for the big hit and he duped me out," Hodges said. "I was completely lost, so I started trailing him and I saw the ball pop out and I just fell on it."

With a slim lead and a short field, the Panthers capitalized on the turnover. Quarterback Billy Pine, who rushed for 100 yards, kept the drive alive with his legs, converting two third downs.

On the seventh play of the drive, Burns plowed in from five yards out to give the Panthers some breathing room, 20-12, with 4:35 to go.

With one final drive, Saranac Lake got as far as their 44, but a halfback pass on fourth-and-1 fell into the waiting arms of defensive back Josh Brogue. Then Burns sealed the game with two first downs in the final two minutes.

"We kept calling the same play because it was working," Burns said. "The line stepped up, opening holes, sealing the edge. The receivers were blocking, it was a a real team effort."

Burns rushed for 114 yards in the second half - when they were needed most.

"It was hard to get him the ball in the first half, we were behind the sticks quite a bit," Jones said. "When we got it to him, he was a bull, so strong and quick."

Saranac Lake got on the board in the beginning of the second quarter.

Pine threw his fourth interception of the season which gave the Red Storm the ball at their own 43.

On the first play of the second quarter, Red Storm quarterback Mike Phelan hooked up with Morgan on a 37-yard pass play to reach the Hoosick 11-yard line.

Three plays later, Phelan snuck in for a 1-yard TD, the only score of the first half. He also went 19-of-31 passing for 173 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions.

The Panthers put together their first sustained drive of the game near the end of the third quarter.

Two 15-yard runs by Pine, sandwiching a Red Storm facemask penalty, set up the Panthers at the Saranac Lake 25. Later, Burns plowed in from three yards out, diving into the end zone to tie the game 6-6.

Saranac Lake marched down the field on the next possession, going 75 yards in 10 plays, highlighted by a great leaping catch on a 30-yard bomb to Morgan. Phelan finished with an 18-yard touchdown run to put Saranac Lake back out in front.

On the two-point play, Grady Beck got his hands up to deflect the ball to make it 12-6. Burns scored on the next possession and the Panthers never looked back.