Assistant Sports Editor
CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- Last season, the Cambridge Central School football team headed into the Section II, Class D semifinals against Salem with an undefeated record and the confidence to match it.
The game ended with a 27-26 loss, which still stings a year later.
Flash forward to Saturday, and the Indians find themselves in the same spot.
The Indians are 8-0, and the only thing that stands in the way of a shot at a 13th sectional title, and 17th title game appearance, is a 5-3 Salem team.
Whichever way you cut it, the Indians are coming in fired up.
"You can say it's not revenge, but it really is," coach Doug Luke said after his team beat Whitehall 48-18 last Saturday. "They beat us last year, and we don't want to let them beat us again."
But the large heads aren't coming with the Indians this time. Instead, the Indians are remembering what it takes to get this far.
"We are definitely not underestimating our opponents," junior Chris Warnke said. "Last year, we came into the game cocky and Salem beat us up pretty bad."
Salem is 5-3, but two of the defeats were forfeits due to low numbers. Their only loss on the field was to Greenwich.
"We just have to keep working at it each day," senior lineman Kiel Kyer said. "And slowly get better each day."
Junior quarterback Ethan English admitted that the team was happy to see Salem again, but they had to keep it in perspective.
"We are excited, but regardless of the opponent we have to have the same game plan and come in like it was any other team," English said. "What happened last year is behind us, but it adds a little something."
But even if it's behind them, the thoughts still creep in. And for some, that's exactly the way they want it.
"Last year was brutal to take," Rowland said. "We have to keep it in the back of our minds that we did lose to them last year, and we have to remember that feeling."
So how do the Indians go about fixing that mistake?
By doing what they have done all year -- Run the football.
Junior fullback Chris Warnke has 998 yards and 13 scores, while Rowland has 860 and 15 touchdowns.
But without their offensive line, those stats don't happen.
"They have a lot of heart. We wouldn't be anywhere without them," Rowland said. "They come to practice every day ready to work."
The front five, consisting of seniors Nate Winchester, Mico Contreras, and Kier, plus junior Josh Haskell and sophomore Kordell Benson, have been a dominant force, as Cambridge has averaged 41.5 points a game and have posted 40 or more in five straight.
"They are not overly big, but we knew they could be good right from the beginning," Luke said. "I said at the beginning of the year, we go as far as they go."
The Indians have wins over both teams in the other Section II semifinal (Rensselaer and Greenwich), and the offensive line has been a major part in helping score touchdowns late to seal games.
"Our conditioning is our strong point, definitely," Rowland said. "We have won a couple games this year because of it. Our line was able to control their line in the fourth quarter because we were in better shape."
What has led the line to being so successful? The word ‘heart' is thrown around a lot to describe their play, but Winchester thinks it comes down to being close.
"I think we have really grown as a team," Winchester said. "The chemistry has gotten a lot better. There has been a healthy relationship between all of us."
English thinks that the line has come together because they are taking pride in their work.
"They are certainly very protective," English said. "Their main goal is to protect us. They take pride in it. They take pride when we score. Even though a lot of the times they don't get the glory they deserve, they take pride in the success we have as a team."
One set of plays that Cambridge has found a lot of success is trap plays. These plays have allowed Rowland, in particular, to get to the outside and make a play.
"That's been our bread and butter all year," Rowland said. "And that is because the line is so good at pulling. Every time I hear that play called, it is a great feeling. I get my two linemen out in front of me, and they will give me the best shot."
Warnke, who prefers dive plays to suit his bulldog-like style of running, says that on the rare occasion he does get to the outside, he eats it up.
"Whenever I come around that line, and I see one or two of them pulling for me, it makes me feel good. Makes me feel like I get the protection I need."
Any time that the Indians make a big play, Kyer says that the line feels a huge rush.
"Pretty much the best thing [about big plays] is that we did it as a team. There are so many things that go into it. [The backs] are doing a good job running, but we are doing a great job blocking."
But no matter who gets the ball, or which play is ran, the Indians are going out to give it their best on Saturday. Otherwise, the heartache of last year will be the last feeling they get this year, too.
"That's what we try to explain to them," Luke said. "My playing career was over a long time ago. I told [the seniors] that, after this game, if you don't do what you are supposed to do, your career is over, too"
Saturday's game will be played at Schuylerville, with a 1 p.m. kickoff.