Saranac Lake won’t play archrival Tupper Lake during the 2012 football season — or any other season in the foreseeable future.
Beekmantown won’t have to make three long trips like last year — but the Eagles won’t have the challenge of facing Class A schools either.
Ticonderoga and Moriah will duke it out in Class D, just like always.
And all the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference football schools will meet each other. Every year. With something on the line every game.
Local football will look much different from last season but familiar to anyone who was around 10 years ago, before the merger between Section VII and Section X.
Because that merger was dissolved in April, Section VII teams will play a seven-game schedule in the CVAC and then go through sectional playoffs, with the champions clashing with Section X teams for the right to go to the state regionals.
“We’re excited about going back to Section VII,” Eric Bennett said of his Saranac Lake team. “There’s a couple games from Section X we’ll miss playing every year, but I think generally going back to the Champlain Valley is good for football and good for the fans.”
The merged Northern Football Conference began in 2003, with a focus on allowing teams to play more games against opponents in the same classification. Section X initiated the split this spring, primarily because of rising travel costs.
Now the CVAC will have four Class B teams (Beekmantown, Peru, Plattsburgh High, Saranac) but just two in Class C (AuSable Valley and Saranac Lake) and Class D (Ticonderoga and Moriah). They’ll all play each other once, and a team’s overall record will determine its seed for the sectional playoffs within its class.
“Even more than how the seeds work out for the playoffs, it’s great for Section VII football to have every week mean something to everyone,” Bennett said.
Another change is that JV games will be played before varsity games at the same locations. Bennett noted that’s good for families who have a kid on both teams and had to choose which game to go to in the past. And Beekmantown coach Jamie Lozier said he likes it because he only saw two JV games last season and he likes to keep an eye on players that will eventually play for him.
EAGLES STAY CLOSER TO HOME
Beekmantown is one team that won’t miss the long trips. The Eagles visited Potsdam, Gouverneur and Malone last year — around 500 miles of roundtrip travel.
“That was always tough. We never really looked forward to that,” Lozier said of the long bus rides.
Without those trips, Beekmantown will have the chance to play Saranac Lake, AuSable Valley and Ticonderoga, none of which they faced last season. Lozier said his players were excited when they heard about the new schedule.
For Saranac Lake, the changes mean it will test itself against the local Class B teams every year. In addition to Beekmantown, Saranac and Plattsburgh were missing from the Red Storm’s schedule last year, as were Class D’s Ticonderoga and Moriah.
“We’re excited to play some schools that year in and year out field great football teams,” Bennett said. “That’s only going to make us better. If we’re fortunate to make it beyond the section into state play, the tougher the schedule was in the regular season, the better chance we’ll have of doing well.”
The one glaring absence on Saranac Lake’s schedule is the Mayor’s Cup game. Under the new system, there’s no room in the regular-season schedule for nonleague games.
“I’m sure everyone’s sorry to see that end,” Bennett said. “I’ve had plenty of kids come in and see the schedule for the upcoming season, and they’re almost in disbelief that we’re not playing Tupper Lake. That’s tough for them to swallow. We’re just two small Adirondack towns that love football.”
In Class D, the big rivalry remains in tact.
With just Moriah and Ticonderoga in the class, the only thing to be decided in the regular season is who gets the home-field advantage that comes with the top seed. Their regular-season schedules will be full of games against bigger schools. But they’re used to that.
Ticonderoga coach Bob Sutphen echoed Bennett, saying that helps prepare his team for the playoffs, and he added that it’s “a great rallying cry for our kids. And I think both Ti and Moriah take pride in that.”
PLAYOFFS WERE KEY
Class C and Class D will have crossover games in Week 8, while Class B will hold its semifinals. All three championship games will be in Week 9, and the winners will face Section X the following week. Bennett said having to play Section X for a spot in the state tournament isn’t much different than the previous system.
“It’s just going to feel bigger because you haven’t seen that side all year,” he added.
Sutphen’s only complaint is that while Moriah and Ticonderoga will have to fight it out, Tupper Lake automatically gets a spot in the Section VII/Section X playoff this year because it’s Section X’s only Class D team.
“They could go 0-9 and still make it there,” Sutphen said. “But every system has pluses and minuses.”
In other sports, Sections VII, X and II alternate playing each other, with one section receiving a bye into the regional finals. But Sutphen recognizes that’s not realistic in football because Sections VII and X are small.
“I understand we have 16 schools up here that play football,” he said. “We can’t say we’re equal to other sections in that regard.”
Sutphen said the “deal-breaker” for the new format was the Section VII playoffs. Before the merger, Section VII champions were determined by regular-season records in the CVAC. Lozier, who played for Beekmantown, said he remembers a year when the Eagles lost an early game and were out of the running, even though they won every contest after that.
Sutphen thinks this system will renew some old rivalries among CVAC teams, and Bennett, who played for Saranac Lake, agreed that it will include the best parts of the system that was in place before the merger.
“You had the hard-nosed smaller schools, like Moriah and Ti, and it was always a dogfight. And then you had bigger schools like Peru, Beekmantown that you knew would be a test, a struggle,” Bennett said. “Every week felt big. And that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
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Class B-C-D championships
Section 7-10 games
Semifinals at Kingston
Finals at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome