Line play key in power matchup
The Indians are trying to do something that's as rare as the double rainbow — book back-to-back state championship game appearances.
To accomplish that, they'll have to focus on Millbrook, a Section IX team known for its double-wing offense and three-yards-at-a-time mentality, in the semifinal — a game scheduled to take place today at 4 p.m. at Middletown High School.
"Personally, I don't think of it as anything special, you want to be here every year. It's an opportunity to win something we've won [only a few times] in our lifetimes. I've been here for 30 years, and I've gone home winning the last game about four times, it's a good feeling to start the next season after a win," said Cambridge coach Doug Luke, who sits at 201 career victories.
To stop it, the Indians have an experienced front seven who are unfazed by the spotlight. They'll need all of them to clamp down on the Blazers.
Down on the line, the front four include junior Nate Genevick and seniors Max Hoffer, Keenan McCauley and Colton Dean, all of whom have played in the biggest games over the past two years for the Indians.
The quartet, which weighs in at more than a half-ton, have also combined to make 300 tackles this season, led by Genevick's 91. Hoffer is next with 75, while Dean has 70 and McCauley 64 from his nose guard spot.
"With their offense, they are content on getting three yards every play, so what we do when we play that type of offense is you have to get them behind schedule," said Hoffer. "If they have one play where they don't get any yards, they won't be able to get the first down, because they don't have a lot of plays that they can really break for a long one. That's what we want to force them to do, drop back and pass, try to get to the outside. We can't let them be content with three yards a play and have a six-minute drive ending in a touchdown. If we can get them on first [down] and stop them for a loss, it [can kill] their drives."
The team has some experience facing the double-wing offense. Hoosic Valley runs it, as does Warrensburg somewhat. Granville runs it now with former Queensbury coach John Irion at the helm of the Horde.
"If we can avoid the long drive, I think we'll do well," Genevick said. "We've had a lot of experience in the past few years and I think that'll come into play a lot with a team like Millbrook."
Hoffer agreed that the team's experience — today's game will be the 25th in two seasons for the Indians — will make a big difference. Millbrook hasn't been to this level of the playoffs since 2014, when the Blazers, who were in Class C at the time, lost 29-0 to Hoosick Falls at Dietz Stadium.
"We've all been around, we played in the state championship last year, and it's good to get that upfront push," Hoffer said. "We're taking this as a blessing, we've obviously worked really hard to get here, not just on the field, but in the weight room. We know this game is really important because if we don't win, we don't make it to [the championship] and that's been our goal all year long."
Behind the big line are linebackers Brendan Holcomb — second on the team with 86 tackles and the leader in sacks with four, sophomore Hunter Day with 71 tackles, and junior Tyler Linendoll with 66 tackles and three sacks.
Senior Jonas Butz, who has 44 tackles, goes back and forth between the linebacking corps and the defensive backfield.
"When you get into big games, you have a tendency to know what's going on," Luke said. "Not so much in the playing of the game on the field, but more the preparation. The week of practice leading up to [today] has been relaxed and gone well. It's about getting on the bus and going for three hours south. It's not an easy thing, but we've done it and that stuff makes a big difference. You concentrate on what you have to do instead of on the little things."
A win would send Cambridge back to the Carrier Dome for a matchup against Section IV's Tioga or a title game rematch against Section VI's Maple Grove.
"It's really special as a Cambridge football player," Genevick said. "The town is behind you, you play for them and it would be special to win another one for them."
Luke said last year's triumphant return into town was an exciting moment.
"There were hundreds and hundreds of people at the red light, meeting us there and cheering, showing how important it was for us but for them as well," Luke said. "This is a town that really cares. I can't go anywhere in town without talking football and that's every day. It's important to people. You don't have that many opportunities so you have to take advantage of it. We think we have a team that can compete with anyone. We have a realistic shot at winning everything again this year."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.