1999 champions remember as 2016 Indians go for title
CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. - Since 1993, when the current state championship format in football began, Cambridge has seemingly always been in the conversation as one of the top teams in either Class C or Class D.
Despite all that success and 11 state semifinal appearances, the Indians have only come away with one state title.
In 1999, Cambridge went through the season undefeated, going 9-0 in the regular season, then beating Moriah 36-6 in the quarterfinals, Tuckahoe 42-26 in the semifinals, then finishing off the perfect season with a 28-0 shutout against Clymer.
Five members of the team were all-state players that season including lineman Bryan Bentley, running back-quarterback Kyle Lauver, lineman Jeff Tully and linebacker Benjamin Watrous on the first team, while John Holcomb was a second-team all-state player at defensive back.
Tully, now the first-year coach at Fort Edward, was a senior and captain for the Indians and said he sees a lot of similarities between this year's team and the 1999 squad.
"We were both motivated by losses, them to Whitehall in the sectional championship [in 2015] and us against Lake George [in 1998]," Tully said. "We blew out Lake George early in 1999 and then beat them again in the sectionals."
Even much of the personnel is similar, according to Tully, whose Fort Edward team played Cambridge this season.
"They have a big, bruising fullback in Colton Dean, they have quick guys like Maurice [Seymore] and Ryan [McLenithan]. We had Shawn Morrison and John Holcomb competing for touches," Tully said. "They have a big tight end in [Brendan Holcomb], so did we, we had a quarterback that could run and throw in Kyle Lauver, just like they do now with [Zackary] Rowland."
The offensive line wasn't big, but quick, something that the Indians now are using to fullest effect.
Offensively, Holcomb led the offense, running for 1,135 yards and 20 touchdowns, while Watrous racked up 552 yards and 14 touchdowns. Morrison added 540 yards and five scores.
Lauver threw for nearly 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns, 10 of those to tight end Matt Townsend, who caught 26 passes for 643 yards.
Current assistant coach Adam Burr was a sophomore two-way lineman on the 1999 squad. Burr started on both lines as a freshman, then cemented his spot as a top defensive lineman in 1999, recording 81 tackles, 11 for loss and eight sacks.
After the 1999 team beat Lake George 48-0 in the Class D final, the Indians marched into state tournament play with a 9-0 record and a state quarterfinal against Moriah, a game that Tully remembered as being played in a snowstorm.
"We got behind early, it was close in the first half. But we came out in the second half and we scored on the first drive and that helped us seal it away," Tully said.
Then it was on to the semifinal at Dietz Stadium in Kingston, a place that the seniors - when they were freshmen in 1996 - had reached, losing to Valhalla.
"We knew we wanted to get back there and we had played together for a long time, we wanted to be the first to go to the Dome and be the first to put Cambridge on that level," Tully said.
The Indians faced off with perennial small school power Tuckahoe and they felt confident after overcoming the adversity of the snowstorm the week before.
"Coach [Doug] Luke and Coach [Al] Rapp prepped us for Tuckahoe, they had a big offensive line and a quick running back," Tully said. "We had been to Dietz as freshmen and now as the seniors, we could lead the rest of the team for what was ahead.
Early in the semifinal - similar to what happened last week for the 2016 team - Cambridge jumped out ahead.
"Tuckahoe took a chance and went for it on 4th-and-1 at its own 40 and we stuffed them for a three-yard loss," said Tully, who was also a starting linebacker. "Then like one or two plays later we hit on a long pass to go up 7-0 and we took it from there."
After beating Tuckahoe 42-26, it sent the 11-0 Indians to the Carrier Dome for the first time. Cambridge won the championship for the eastern half of New York state in 1992, the year before the current playoff format began.
The week leading up to the championship was an exciting time, Tully said.
"We played on a Friday, just like the kids are this year. We prepared like it was a normal week, we practiced on Thanksgiving," Tully said. "The town had signs up all over the place, the whole town supported our run."
Tully said one of the moments he remembers most vividly is getting to Syracuse and getting on the field at the Carrier Dome.
"The first instinct when you open up the doors and go onto that field is just wow," Tully said. "Whoa, we're her and here's what it's about."
The Indians' opponent that Thanksgiving weekend was Section VI (Buffalo-area) team Clymer. They came into the game with a 9-2 record, making it through the gauntlet of the West regional and now they would face a Cambridge team looking to fulfill destiny.
"Clymer had an unbelievable running back, and we were focused on stopping him," Tully said. "The entire season, we prided ourselves on playing great defense and attacking. I know we had a couple of late interceptions, I think it was 21-0 at that point, that sealed it for us."
The defense was one of the strongest in team history. Overall, Cambridge outscored opponents 556-61 and only allowed 15 points total in the first half. Tully had 84 tackles and five sacks, while Watrous had 85 tackles. Holcomb led the team with six interceptions.
Cambridge ended up winning the title game, 28-0, and as the final minutes ticked away, Luke pulled one or two of his starters out at a time to thunderous applause from the Cambridge faithful.
The 1999 team was just one of many that Cambridge had make runs toward a state title in the next handful of seasons. Two years later, Cambridge made it back to Syracuse and lost to Delhi, 39-21. Two years after that in 2003, Cambridge returned to the Dome, this time falling to Onondaga and the all-time state rushing leader Mike Hart, who went on to play at Michigan and for the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL. In 2005, Cambridge returned to the title game for the fourth time in seven seasons, but were runner-up again, this time in a 35-6 loss to Randolph. It's been 11 years since the Indians have been back, but they return as they take on Maple Grove in Friday's championship.
"It was pretty special, we had put in a lot of time and effort and we were fortunate to reap the rewards," Tully said.
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