SCHUYLERVILLE, N.Y. -- Cambridge Central School junior Chris Warnke caught the ball, then looked forward to see open space and a lane to the end zone.
But Warnke wasn't in his normal role catching a pass out of the backfield on offense -- he was on defense.
Picking off Rensselaer quarterback Steven Harwood in the third quarter, Warnke returned the ball 52 yards for a touchdown that would put Cambridge up two scores and seal a 36-14 win in the Section II Class D Super Bowl at Schuylerville Central School.
"As soon as I caught it, I knew I had to go as fast as I could," Warnke said. "To have the downfield blocking helped me, too."
For teammate Ethan English, the play helped to rally the group one final time.
"[The play] made our whole team electrified. Plays like that re-amp the sideline and our crowd. That is really the big part in deciding the games."
But before Warnke's interception, the Indians had to weather a turnover storm of their own as they fumbled the ball three times in the first half.
Cambridge struck first after each team punted on its first possession. Starting at the Rensselaer 36, Cambridge ran four plays before junior Caleb Rowland (15 carries, 105 yards, 2 TDs) scored from six yards out for a 8-0 lead.
The Rams would answer on the next drive, with Harwood (16-for-35, 146 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT) connecting with Brandon Butler on a 25-yard strike, but a failed conversion left the score 8-6.
Rensselaer forced a Cambridge fumble on the Indians' next drive and capitalize 30 seconds into the second quarter when Tyler Harwood (16 carries, 111 yards) waltzed in from four yards away to make it 14-8 Rams.
Rowland fumbled on the ensuing possession after taking a carry for 19 yards, but the Indians defense held up and forced the Rams to punt.
"This was hard fought, but ugly," Rensselaer coach Joel Preston said. "This was the worst game we played all year ... But that just says something about the competition, with two teams going at each other that hard."
Moments later, Cambridge capitalized on a muffed punt snap, starting at the Rensselaer 8 and three plays later, Rowland scored his second TD on a run from nine yards out to tie it 14-14 with 1:34 left in the half.
Cambridge nearly scored again right before halftime as eighth-grader Colton Dean, playing because of an injury to Nate Winchester, busted up the middle and snatched Harwood's ball out of the air.
"Colton did a great job, getting thrown into the Section II championship as an eighth grader," English said. "You can't take anything away from him. He did a phenomenal job, and he deserves to be proud of himself."
A Cambridge fumble near the goal line kept it tied at the break.
"That [scoring opportunity] was kid of unexpected, with the INT Colton had, i was ready to go in at 14-14 and be happy," said Cambridge coach Doug Luke. "I thought they dominated us a bit in the first half and we made mistakes. Although it would have been nice to go in with a lead, I was satisfied."
In the second half, the Indians stepped up the pressure.
Rensselaer started with the ball, and drove down to the Cambridge 5, but turned it over on downs.
The Indians would go three-and-out, but on the first play of the Rams' next possession, senior David Reedy intercepted Harwood.
English took advantage, finding Sean Herbig for a 13-yard strike and taking a 20-14 lead it wouldn't give up.
"Keeping them from scoring was a big deal," Luke said. "The icing on the cake was when Warnke intercepted it and went all the way."
That play would come with nine seconds left in the third.
On first down, Warnke stepped up into Harwood's passing lane and promptly returned it for a pick-6.
For Rowland, the Indians were able to make the right plays at the right time to see the game out.
"Rensselaer does everything well, and they did today," Rowland said. "I just think we were able to get turnovers when we needed them the most."
Rensselaer would turn the ball over on downs on the next drive, then Warnke would finish off the game with a one-yard touchdown.
"It feels long overdue," English said after the game. "It is a great feeling, there is no other way you can describe it. You feel like you are on top of the world."
But even in the glow of victory, the Indians already started turning their attention to next week, and a Friday night game against Section VII opponent Moriah -- winners of the intersectional game over Tupper Lake.
"It is a good feeling, and we want to be able to celebreate it today," Rowland said. "But at the same time, we know this is the first step, and we want to keep playing this year. We can celebrate today, but we have to come back and be ready to play next week."