CAMBRIDGE — Assistant coach Chad Burr did not mince words during Monday’s film session for the Cambridge football team.
The Indians were breaking down their opponent in Friday’s Class D state championship game — the Maple Grove Red Dragons. The showdown of 11-1 teams is scheduled for a noon kickoff at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
It’s a rematch of last year’s state final, won by Cambridge 22-21 in double overtime — a slugfest that came down to the very last play.
So Burr was very clear with the Indians.
“This will be our hardest game since that game,” he said. “They’re our equal in every way. They’re that good again, but I think we’re that good again, too.”
The fact that the teams have already met is pretty rare in state football championships. This is only the ninth time since the full state tournament began in 1993 that the same two teams are paired in the finals in consecutive years.
“That’s why I think this will be a great game: everything is out in the open, both teams know each other, the things that are distractions won’t be because we’ve been there,” Cambridge head coach Doug Luke said. “We know exactly what they’re going to do, they know what we’re going to do. The question is, can we stop them?”
Both No. 1 Cambridge and No. 2 Maple Grove — from Bemus Point on Chautauqua Lake, in the far southwestern corner of the state — feature explosive wing T-based offenses, aggressive, opportunistic defenses and plenty of quality athletes.
“They’re similar to us,” Luke said. “We have several weapons, so do they, so that gives us a pretty good challenge.”
“We played them last year and they took us to our limit, and I expect the same this week,” senior running back Jonas Butz said. “They’re tough kids and very skilled, so we just have to prepare hard and do our jobs in the game.”
While Maple Grove will be seeking to finish some business Friday, Red Dragons head coach Curt Fischer said this is a “totally different team” from last year’s club.
“Nobody in the world thought we’d be back here,” said Fischer, in his 25th season at the Dragons’ helm. “We had a couple of huge upsets during the season to get us here. We had a little more speed last year, but we were banged up (in the state final). We’re younger than we were last year, but this is a team of overachievers.”
Fischer also said he was concerned about Maple Grove’s football future, as he may have as few as 19 players next season. Other schools around them have merged programs.
The Red Dragons are led by 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior tailback Nick Fabrizio, who scored all three of their touchdowns in last year’s state championship game. Fabrizio has rushed for 1,288 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“He’s normally a tight end — he didn’t start playing tailback until we had the injuries last year, so that gave him a head start on this season,” Fischer said of the Hamilton College-bound Fabrizio. “He’s the guy we need to have a great game for us.”
Junior quarterback Easton Tanner and senior Nash Nelson are also running threats for Maple Grove.
Like Cambridge, Maple Grove avenged its only loss of the season — beating Franklinville-Ellicottville 26-15 in the Section VI final, then romped past then-top-ranked Clyde-Savannah 61-28 before pulling out a 32-27 victory over Tioga in the state semifinals last week — the Dragons’ eighth straight win.
“I’m still amazed that we beat Tioga,” Fischer said. “They’re a big, strong, physical team, but we didn’t turn the ball over at crucial times, and they did, and we had a punt that changed the momentum of the game for us. When you get this deep in the playoffs, you need luck as much as skill.”