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NYSPHSAA semifinals /Class C: MG/CL faces tough foe in team’s first final four

Who: Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake (11-0) vs. Chenango Forks Blue Devils (10-1).

When: noon, today.

Where: Sahlen’s Stadium, 460 Oak St., Rochester.

Tickets: $10.

Television: Time Warner Cable Sportsnet.

New York State Sportswriters Association Class C poll: Chenango Forks No. 1, MG/CL No. 2.

Where’s Chenango Forks? Nine miles north of Binghamton.

Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake in state semis: 0-0. As a merged program, this is the Thunder Dragons’ first final four. However, Maple Grove has a history in the state semifinals as it earned wins in 1998 (20-19 over III-Dolgeville) and 2008 (49-14 over IV-Walton) en route to state championships in Class D.

Chenango Forks in state semis: 7-3, with all 10 appearances in the last 13 years. The Blue Devils’ 11th state semifinal is by far the most of any program in the state. The defending state champions, Chenango Forks has lost in the state semifinals in 2006 (V-Geneva), 2009 (Southwestern) and 2012 (V-Hornell).

Coaches: MG/CL Curt Fischer, 24th season (190-41); Chenango Forks, Dave Hogan, sixth season (68-9).

Maple Grove/CL key players (and statistics): Sr. RB/CB Ryan Miller, 5-11, 190 (207-2168, 32 TDs); Jr. QB Michael Welsh, 5-7, 135 (18-27-204, 2 TDs); Sr. LB/QB A.J. Hulton, 5-11, 210 (117 tackles, 27 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 49-311 rushing, 3 TDs); So. LB Trevor Micek, 5-10, 170 (111 tackles, 29 TFL); Sr. LB/OL Chandler Baker, 6-2, 240 (85 tackles, 28 TFL, 6.0 sacks).

How they got here: The Thunder Dragons rolled over Section V champion LeRoy, 32-0, as Ryan Miller rushed for 208 yards and scored four touchdowns, including a 46-yard run during the third quarter to give MG/CL an 18-0 lead. Forks crushed Section III champion Utica Notre Dame, 57-14, using a superior running attack led by quarterback Jack Sherwood and running backs L.J. Watson and Ryan Bronson to reach this game once again.

Pre-snap read: This should be quite the interesting semifinal. Running and stopping the run sound cliche as a winning formula, but MG/CL proved it works last week. The winner of this game will likely prove it once again since both teams play a similar power-run style. This contest may come down to will power as well as interior line power in deciding who gets to play for the state title next weekend at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.

MG/CL’s Miller, a Connolly Cup finalist, averaged 9 yards a carry in last week’s Far West Regional win over LeRoy and is still averaging an eye-popping 10.5 yards per carry on the season. He is the Thunder Dragons’ main playmaker but as they showed last week, not the only one. Mitch Sandberg took one to the house on a 43-yard run as MG/CL rushed for all 371 of its yards last week, while holding LeRoy to just 95. Jonah Tanner returned a kickoff 87 yards to set up a short touchdown. He’s also one of many forces on an MG/CL defense that has only allowed 44 points and has six shutouts.

Still, Forks knows how to win, bringing a 21-game winning streak into the contest. The Blue Devils scored on six of their first seven possessions last week. They also trust Sherwood to throw to his receiving corps, so the Blue Devils may try to loosen up the Dragons’ defense with the pass. Still, Sherwood did score on runs of 18, 69 and 33 yards against Notre Dame. MG/CL did disguise some blitzes and mixed up its coverage in its regional win when LeRoy tried to pass, but its primary focus was stopping the run and letting everything else fall into place.

– Miguel Rodriguez