Assistant Sports Editor
RENSSELAER, N.Y. -- Cambridge Central School's Austin Dean touched the ball four times on offense and special teams during Friday's game against the Rensselaer Rams, and he scored on three of them.
But it was his one touch on defense that might have made the biggest impact.
In a battle of two of the top teams in Section II Class D football, Dean recovered a fumble forced by Josh Haskell with the Indians trailing 27-26 late in the third quarter.
Eight plays later, and fullback Chris Warnke (26 carries, 120 yards, 4 TDs) would plunge ahead for one yard and the go ahead touchdown. Two more touchdowns later, and the Indians (6-0, 4-0) walked out of Rensselaer (5-1, 3-1) with a 46-27 victory.
"Nobody even thinks about Austin," coach Doug Luke said. "He scored three big touchdowns tonight."
Dean's fumble recovery swung the momentum fully into Cambridge's corner after it had bounced back-and-forth all night.
The Rams would strike first in the game. After the Indians failed to convert on fourth down on the opening drive, Rams quarterback Steven Harwood connected on a 56-yard toss to Brandon Butler. It was the start of a 41-point quarter.
The Indians would respond two plays later.
Quarterback Ethan English (8-for-9, 176 yards, 2 TDs) dropped back to pass and found Dean (3 receptions, 136 yards, 2 TDs) for a 58-yard touchdown.
"I couldn't have done it without the line making the blocks for Ethan to make the throws," Dean said.
On the next series, the Ram would answer.
Harwood started the drive and helped the Rams get down to the Indians' 15-yard-line. But on an 11-yard keeper run, Harwood was hit and the head and had to leave with concussion-like symptoms.
Jake Forgea (5-for-15, 130 yards passing, 19 carries, 70 yards, 2 total TDs) entered and, after two penalties set the Rams back at the 30, found Butler on a 30-yard strike.
"This game was a lot like last year," Rensselaer coach Joel Preston said. "We didn't have Steven, but Jake played a hell of a game." For the next touchdown, the Indians' offense did not need to touch the field.
On the kickoff, Dean caught the ball at his own 13-yard line, entered the mass of bodies at the center of the field, and came out on the other side for an 87-yard return for a touchdown.
"To return that kick for a touchdown was big," Luke said. "It put a damper on [Rensselaer's] celebration and helped us mentally." For Dean, it was a run of faith.
"I came in not knowing if any holes would open for me," Dean said. "But they did and I made the right cuts."
But the touchdowns were not over.
On Rensselaer's next series, the Rams needed just two plays before James Stevens took a 31-yard carry to the end zone, making it a 21-12 game.
For the Indians' next touchdown, Dean gave way to Warnke, Caleb Rowland (24 carries, 170 yards), and the offensive line.
Rowland ripped off runs of 16 and 15 yards on the drive, and Warnke finished things off with a four-yard run with 2:32 left in the first, making it a 21-20 game after a failed two-point try.
The Rams would fail to convert on fourth down on the follow series, giving the Indians their first opportunity to take a lead.
Warnke made it happen, rushing for his second touchdown of the day on an eight yard carry four minutes into the second quarter to make it 26-21.
"Everything starts with our line," Luke said. "A running back can look really good when you have a good line in front of them. I thought our line did a great job. Our running backs, they never went down after the first hit. They kept their legs moving and never stopped."
The rest of the first half would play out without another touchdown, leaving the score at 26-21 heading into the break.
But on the first drive of the third quarter, the Rams would find the end zone once more.
Forgea started the drive with a 47-yard strike to Butler, and Forgea would end the drive with a one-yard plunge to make it 27-26.
But it would be the last time the Rams saw the end zone.
"Our kids were pretty tough mentally," Luke said. "And not giving up when things got real bad, and they did really quickly to start and in the third quarter, I think we just wore them down."
The Indians would drive the ball down to the Rensselaer seven on the next drive, but a fumbled snap gave the Rams the ball back.
Forgea and the offense would get the ball out to the 39, but then Haskell forced the ball to come out and Dean fell on top of it. Warnke would deliver the winning touchdown shortly after.
The Rams would get the ball back to the Indians' 25 on the next drive, but the team stalled out on fourth down.
"They are a good football team," Preston said of Cambridge. "Their scheme always gives us trouble. In the fourth, they wore us down and we shot ourselves in the foot a few times."
Six plays later, English and Dean connected on the same route as the first touchdown for a 61-yard touchdown that sealed the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Indians would take advantage of a mental mistake by Rensselaer, and Jared Sausville hopped on the loose ball at the Rams' 18-yard-line.
Two runs by Warnke later, and the 6'3" back dropped his shoulders and scored from seven yards out to finish off the scoring.
"This was a confidence builder for us," Luke said. "We needed to come in and play a good game. We made some mistakes, they made some mistakes, but we did what we had to do."