RUBBER MATCH: Hoosick Falls, Saranac Lake battle in third straight state quarterfinal
HOOSICK, N.Y. -- When the Hoosick Falls Central School football team travels north to battle Section VII champ Saranac Lake today, it might be like looking in a mirror.
Both teams come into the game at 10-0 and both run the same offense and defense.
The teams also share a 1-1 record against the other: Two years ago, the Red Storm beat Hoosick Falls on a field goal in overtime, 15-12. But last year, at Stillwater, the Panthers got a measure of revenge, winning 47-13.
So now comes the rubber match.
"What they do is really what we do," said Hoosick Falls coach Ron Jones. "Our offenses and defenses are very similar, we run different versions of the same stuff. It's been like that for the past three years. We played them last year and they were young. I'm sure they've gotten better, but we have too."
Both teams are ranked in the top 10 of the latest New York Sportswriters poll, Hoosick at No. 2 and Saranac Lake at No. 6.
Saranac Lake is led by senior quarterback Matt Phelan, who threw for six touchdowns in the Red Storm's win over Ogdensburg Free Academy in the VII/X championship.
Phelan has completed 76 percent of his passes for more than 1,600 yards and 25 touchdowns, but he's also the team's leading ball-carrier, rushing for 552 yards and 14 more touchdowns.
"He was the starter last year," said Hoosick Falls senior Randy Tutunjian, who has played in all three games against Saranac Lake. "He has good moves, [we'll] need to wrap up and get guys to tackle. This week, we worked on getting more guys to the ball."
Most of Phelan's TD passes have gone to Kevin Morgan, who has 16 scores and 806 yards receiving.
"He's similar to Randy -- shifty, smooth, tough to guard with one guy," Jones said.
In the first game in 2010, senior Brad Burns played on both sides of the ball, but Tutunjian only started on offense. Tutunjian, who has caught eight touchdowns this season, said the teams have changed a lot since the first matchup.
"They were a real physical team [two years ago]," Tutunjian said. "Last year, there were real young, not really up to where they were before. But this year, the whole team is back, especially their running back, wide receiver and quarterback."
On defense, the Red Storm run a similar scheme to the Panthers, a 3-3-5.
"They have a 3-3, they blitz a lot, sound familiar?" Jones said. "They run to the ball so well, they elect to give up certain parts of the field. "They'll give up 6 or 7 yards, [but the question is] do you have patience to do that down the field?
During practice this week, Jones and the rest of the Hoosick coaching staff have stressed hustle.
"We have to be more multiple, stressing we dont know what's coming, so we must hustle every second," Jones said. "They will present issues, show us some things we havent seen. Turnovers and special teams may separate us."
Hoosick Falls has been led by quarterback Billy Pine, who has 30 total touchdowns -- 20 passing and 10 rushing -- on the season. His classmate, Brad Burns, has 27 rushing touchdowns, including five in the Class C Super Bowl win over Chatham.
"The speed of the game goes up this week," Jones said. "The kids touching the ball can really go. There's no underacheivers, everyone has a championship mentality at this point."
For the Panthers, the senior class has only three losses -- and the one to Saranac Lake still stings.
"Last year we got our revenge," Burns said. "We've got to win this to get back to Kingston. "I've lost to three teams on varsity and they are one. I dont want to lose to them again."
Burns said he knows this game will be much different than their first 10 this season.
"They are a great team and we know it'll be close," Burns said. "They will be physical, but we need to bring it to them. We have focus on doing the little things right; that's what it will come down to for a close game."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.