Switching roles throughout the roster key to success for Cambridge/Salem football

CAMBRIDGE — When the Cambridge/Salem football team’s coaching staff began discussing things about preparing for the 2022 football season, they found themselves in discussions that seemed drastic.

Moving the team’s top two returning running backs to the offensive line, taking on the top returning lineman and moving to running back, switching the starting quarterback and top receiver to running back from 2021, and starting the season with an 8th grader as starting quarterback just aren’t the kind of conversations that Doug Luke and his collaborators envisioned, but those exact steps were suggested.

“It was the only way we felt like we had a chance, so we gave it a try,” Luke said.

Cambridge/Salem, who provided after seasons where the team finished 1-4 during the 2020 season in spring 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic and finished 6-4 last fall when the team missed the playoffs for making all the changes work well, won the Section II Class D last week with a 35-21 win over Chatham.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Broadalbin-Perth High School

When senior Evan Day was told he was transitioning from right guard to running back, the senior said, “I couldn’t believe it.”

“I thought with the loss of so many linemen from last year, new players needed to step up to fill those positions,” said Cambridge/Salem senior Mike Riche, who ran back in 2021. “I never thought I would have to be on the line. Coach came up to me and said, ‘Mike, you’re going to be our Warden this year.’ I said, ‘All right.’ It was time to step up and take action to fill the vacancy as best we could.”

Cambridge/Salem (11-0), playing in the state playoffs for the first time since 2018, next travels to Broadalbin-Perth High School to play in the Class D quarterfinals against Alexander (9-1), the section runner-up V, to begin at 3 p.m. Sunday. The game was postponed from Friday due to weather concerns.

“If someone had told me earlier in the year that we were going to win (the title in the section), I would have told them they were crazy,” Luke said. “Everything was new. Everything turned out much better than we expected.”

“It’s amazing to have an 11-0 season out of those 1-4 and 6-4 years, especially testament to all the people who thought we were going to get another tough year wrong,” Riche said. “It was an incredible season.”

The coaches and players had an inkling that the roster reconfiguration could pay off as Cambridge/Salem clinched a 40-6 win at Chatham in Week 1.

“I thought we would have a pretty decent team. We had a lot of guys who put in a lot of work in the offseason,” Riche said. “Earlier this year we thought Chatham was going to be one of the top teams. When we put 40 on them I was like, ‘Wow, we have a good team.’ “

“Everything really clicked after that,” Day said.

Day, who is also a standout wrestler who finished third in the Division II state championships at 285 pounds, leads the team with 137 carries for 1,105 yards and 23 touchdowns. Brice Burr, who played quarterback last fall, contributed 923 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.

Work from left Baxter Mattson, left tackle Andrew Clark, left guard Josh Harrington, center Zack Toleman, right guard Riche, right tackle Deacon Schneider and right Zack Price helped Cambridge/Salem reach 2,979 yards along with 508 yards, which pass by eighth grade quarterback Stephen Yakubec.

“Evan Day has developed into an extremely good back. He just runs over people,” Luke said. “If there was a big upset, I’d say it was Day. The other group that stood out is the offensive line. They started well and have gotten better game by game.”

When asked if he’d heard from a team that made all the moves that Cambridge/Salem made preseason and how he would react, Day said, “Yeah, it sounds crazy. I would say we all enjoyed it very much. We’ve been playing Pee Wees together ever since. We all work like one ghost.”

“It all sounded crazy. Honestly, I’m not going to lie. I love it,” said Riche, who had never played on the line. “It’s so much fun. It’s like a fight in every game. It was a great learning experience for me. I had a good time doing it.”

“There were years where we expected to do well. This is not one of those years,” Luke said. “It’s an absolutely amazing group of kids and it’s really been a fun season that has flown by for us. We are preparing for our 12th time and think where has the time gone? I’m not really having a good time. This was the opposite as many unexpected things happened and it happens to really good kids.

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