Year in Review: BACK-TO-BACK! Cambridge wins second straight title

The question sat there all year long.

The Cambridge football team won the Class D state championship in 2016 and they had most of their stars coming back. Could they win it again?

Fast-forward to Week 5 of the 2017 season and a game against Greenwich, the two-time defending sectional champs in Class C, moved down a division.

Three hours and an amazing Cole Burgess performance later, Cambridge was on the wrong end of a 43-38 defeat, one that snapped the Indians' 18-game win streak.

But it made them better, as they realizing all their dreams of a repeat Class D title could end in a blink.

Of course, when Cambridge got to the sectional final after dropping 75 points on Warrensburg, they had a familiar opponent in the way from right up the road.

This time, they shut down Burgess and the rest of the Witches in a 40-7 rout surprising many football fans around the area — but not the Indians.

In the regional, Cambridge had the unenviable task of traveling north to face Moriah at Ausable Valley, in a game where temperatures started at about 15 degrees and ended somewhere in the vicinity of the North Pole. After playing even for a half, Cambridge pulled away with 36 unanswered for a 54-20 rout of the Vikings.

Then it was downstate, to Middletown, the new site of the Eastern region semifinals. The Indians also had a new opponent in Millbrook, a tough-nose, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense.

Cambridge scored and scored and scored some more and the game was over, for all intent and purpose by halftime in a 56-8 destruction.

So at 11-1, the Indians made a return trip down the Thruway to the Carrier Dome, where they found another familiar foe — Maple Grove — who they had beaten in an overtime thriller the year before.

This year's game was great too, but for different reasons. Cambridge scored on the second play of the game and senior Colton Dean, in his final football game, maybe ever, scored twice, including the game-sealing score in a 26-14 victory, giving Cambridge the distinction as the first team in Section II history to win back-to-back championships.

The entire town came out to see them off and welcome them back and the Indians didn't disappoint, leaving tons of memories behind.

"Winning a state title is a great feeling, it's just exciting," said Cambridge coach Doug Luke after the state final. "We've done something no Section II team has ever done."

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Cambridge football team has been defined all season by big moments.

Avenging a regular-season loss to Greenwich in the Section II Super Bowl and coming back from a two-point deficit against Moriah were just two.

Cambridge added a third big moment in the fourth quarter of the Class D state title game, responding to a pick-six with a long touchdown drive, the sealing score in a 26-14 win over Maple Grove, the Indians' second straight title.

"Winning a state title is a great feeling, it's just exciting," said Cambridge coach Doug Luke. "We've done something no Section II team has ever done."

Cambridge becomes the first Section II team to win back-to-back titles in the state championship era (since 1993). Troy has a chance to match on Sunday.

Ahead 19-7 with 10 minutes left, Indians quarterback Zack Rowland threw an interception that Easton Tanner returned 59 yards for a score, pulling the Red Dragons within five at 19-14.

On the ensuing possession, Cambridge (12-1) started from its 32 and drove 14 plays — all runs — capped off by senior Colton Dean's eight-yard touchdown run, his second of the afternoon.

The drive took 5 minutes, 23 seconds, and the Indians converted three third downs and a fourth-and-inches.

"Our strength has been the right side of the line, with Nate [Genevick], Max [Hoffer] and Brendan [Holcomb], so we decided to go with our strength and take time off the clock," Luke said. "If we score great, if not, they'd have to drive a long way."

Dean led the Cambridge rushing attack with 81 yards on 19 carries and the two scores.

Down 14, the Red Dragons tried to come back, but on third-and-9 from the Indians' 42, Tanner was intercepted by Tommy English with 2:43 to go to essentially seal the victory.

"We just know that we have each other's backs," said English."We've been each other's brothers since we were little kids. We trust one another and stuck to our system."

Maple Grove won the toss, but deferred to the second half and Cambridge made them pay immediately. On the second offensive play for the Indians, Rowland found Brendan Holcomb, who caught the pass and outraced the defense to the house for a 65-yard touchdown to give Cambridge a 6-0 lead 41 seconds into the contest. Helen Mooney's point-after was good and the Indians led 7-0.

Rowland was 7-of-10 through the air for 172 yards, a touchdown and a pick.

Maple Grove came right back, taking 13 plays to tie it. Big plays on the drive came on the ground — a 34-yard quarterback keeper to get into Cambridge territory — and a 13-yard pass from Tanner to Nash Nelson to set up the Red Dragons in the red zone. A few plays later, Tanner found Zach Fischer for a 5-yard score to tie the game.

Tanner was 10-of-17 for 94 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

In the second quarter, the Indians broke out. After Maple Grove punted to pin Cambridge inside its own 10, the Indians swallowed up huge chunks to move the ball quickly to the Maple Grove side of the field. Rowland found Jacob Peters for 19 to get Cambridge out of its own end, then runs from Butz for 15 and English for 11 and 14 put the Indians at first-and-goal at the 1 and Dean found the end zone to make it 13-7 after a missed PAT.

Maple Grove was forced to punt on the next drive and Cambridge marched downfield again, setting up first-and-goal at the four. But the Red Dragons defense was up to the challenge, eventually forcing a fourth-and-goal at the one. They stopped English just short to get the ball back deep in their end.

The Cambridge defense stepped up and got a 3-and-out and the punt only got to the 38, setting up the Indians on a short field.

Three plays later — a 27-yard run by Butz the big play — set up Tyler Linendoll for a 6-yard score. The conversion failed but Cambridge lead 19-7 with 90 seconds left to play in the half.

In the third quarter, Cambridge played a bend-but-don't-break defense, allowing senior Nicholas Fabrizio a pair of double-digit runs on the opening possession. Fabrizio led Maple Grove with 76 yards on the ground.

Cambridge stiffened in the red zone, getting a negative run from Tanner and eventually forcing Maple Grove into a 4th-and-5 from the 12. Tanner went back to pass but Max Hoffer beat his lineman and dropped Tanner for a 10-yard loss to get the ball back.

"[Fabrizio] is a good runner and great football player," Genevick said. "We had to have good pursuit and find the ball carrier."

Cambridge couldn't move the ball, giving it back to Maple Grove. On the next drive, another Indian came through. Linendoll sacked Tanner to force another punt. Moments later, English fumbled on a controversial call but the Red Dragons couldn't capitalize until Tanner's pick-six, pulled Maple Grove within five at 19-14.

The win was the 25th in 26 games for the Indians and gave coach Doug Luke his third state championship, after titles in 1999 and 2016. Cambridge becomes the 12th team in state history with at least three state crowns.

"It's an awesome feeling to bring home another title for Cambridge," English said. "We've been working since August for this. The community does so much for us, we wanted to do this for them."


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