Indians pull away to secure Super Bowl berth
CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. — In the final minute of the first half, the Tamarac football team had to punt trailing by two touchdowns.
The punt hit the Cambridge-Salem returner, and two plays later, the Bengals scored to make it a seven-point game at the break.
But Cambridge scored 14 unanswered points in the third quarter and the Indians walked away with a 41-21 victory to advance to the Class C Super Bowl next week.
"We tried something different and it worked for a while," said Cambridge coach Doug Luke. "We brought more guys and got some pressure on the quarterback. All we wanted to do was get him to move around."
Before that, Tamarac's recovery of the punt had them in the Cambridge red zone and with 25.1 seconds left, Tristen Nemjo hit Jack Mays for a 18-yard touchdown to cut Cambridge's lead to 21-14.
Nemjo had a pretty good day under center for the Bengals, completing 13-of-22 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Tamarac got the ball to start the second half, but Cambridge forced a three-and-out. On 4th-and-4 from its own 33, Tamarac coach Erick Roadcap called for a fake punt from his up-man, Jonah Rescott.
Rescott got the first down, but fumbled and it was recovered by the Indians to give them terrific field position. On the next play, Gabe Sgambettera took the handoff and jaunted 36 yards to the house, putting Cambridge back up by two scores.
On Tamarac's next possession, a pair of delay penalties and a sack by Aden Terry forced another punt and gave Cambridge the ball back at its 40. Eight plays later, buoyed by a 24-yard completion from Jacob Ruggles to Soyer Mattson, the Indians struck again, Hunter Day rumbling in from a yard away to make it 35-14 with 4:35 left in the third.
Ruggles completed 7-of-10 for 124 yards and an interception.
"He's capable, but he's still working on making good reads," Luke said. "We have to throw the ball to compete."
The Cambridge defense came up with a bunch of big plays in the second half to keep Tamarac at bay.
After a 40-yard pass from Nemjo to Spencer Yetto got the Bengals on the plus side of the field, a pair of sacks — one on a bad snap and another by Doug Pennington — resulted in another punt.
On the next Tamarac drive, the Bengals had 4th-and-1 and handed it to the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Rescott, but the Cambridge defense swarmed and dropped the senior for a 1-yard loss to get the ball back.
In the fourth, Tamarac cut the lead back to 35-21 when Nemjo hit Rescott on a 15-yard touchdown pass down the sideline, but Sgambettera had an answer, returning the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to the house, Cambridge's first kickoff return for a touchdown in about five years.
"People don't realize sometimes, you have to win all three phases, offense, defense and special teams," Luke said. "We don't need to be spectacular, just not to make a big mistake. Special teams is a big part of the game."
Tamarac's last gasp was thwarted three plays later, when Nemjo was intercepted by Blake Baylor for the junior's team-leading fifth of the year.
"[Nemjo] was good in the beginning and toward the end too, but between there, we decided not to sit back in the zone, we went to pressure him and it changed the outcome of the game," Luke said.
Cambridge took the lead with 3:29 left in the first quarter on a touchdown run by Kaedin Ogilvie, but Tamarac tied it on the next drive when Rescott ran in from five yards out. They tried an onside kick, but Cambridge was ready and recovered near midfield. Five plays later, Day scored on a 9-yard run to make it 14-7.
Cambridge forced a three-and-out and then drove 80 yards in less than four minutes with Sgambettera finishing the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run.
The Indians will face No. 1 Stillwater in the Class C Super Bowl on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Lansingburgh. It will be Cambridge's 23rd Super Bowl appearance since 1992.
"They have a lot of firepower," Luke said. "We'll be able to go and compete."
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