CLIFTON PARK — Matt Diehl was angry with himself for deflecting a pass instead of trying to haul in an interception in the closing minute of a tied game Saturday.
Moriah had seen a 22-8 halftime lead against Warrensburg evaporate into a tie by the fourth quarter, and the Burghers were threatening in Vikings territory with a ticket to next weekend’s NYSPHSAA Class D football semifinals on the line.
Diehl timed his jump perfectly on the final play for the interception, and the junior avoided two tackles as he raced down the sideline for an 85-yard walk-off touchdown that lifted Moriah to a 28-22 win in the regional final at Shenendehowa High School.
“It’s just a great finish to a great football game,” Moriah coach Don Tesar said. “The play before I was a little upset — he batted it instead of picking it, but I’ll take it for the last play.”
Diehl, who said he ran so hard he puked after scoring, was mobbed in a dogpile by teammates who now return to the semifinals for the second year in a row. The Vikings won that game before falling in the final.
“We’re going to the final four, what can I say? It’s the greatest feeling – we’re going back,” Diehl said.
Moriah (7-3), ranked 11th in the state, will play Section I’s Tuckahoe 5 p.m. Friday at Middletown High School. The winner will meet either Clymer Central/Sherman/Panama or Tioga in the championship on Nov. 29 at the Carrier Dome.
“It’s amazing, but the main goal in mind is to get back to the Dome,” said Braden Swan, who scored all three of Moriah’s offensive touchdowns and was honored as his team’s Outstanding Defensive Player.
Swan opened the scoring on an 11-yard run late in the first quarter, set up by his sideline catch between two defenders to convert a third-and-15; Swan added a 2-point conversion run to make it 8-0.
Moriah caught Warrensburg (9-2) off guard on the ensuing kickoff, and Diehl scooped up an onside kick.
Nine players later, Maddox Blaise found Swan for an 11-yard touchdown throw off a halfback option pass that put Moriah up by two scores.
“We’ve been working up some stuff to catch people off guard,” Swan said.
Blaise, named Moriah’s Outstanding Offensive Player, had a team-high 79 rushing yards and added 39 receiving on two receptions. Swan finished with 112 combined rushing and receiving yards and added a 24-yard completion to Blaise.
At that point, it seemed like it would be a similar outcome to last year’s regional semifinal that saw Moriah beat Warrensburg, 34-16. But the Burghers proved far more formidable this year.
Warrensburg marched 80 yards on nine plays — including a 37-yard keeper by quarterback Mac Baker — and Baker capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run to pull within 14-8 with 1:48 left in the half.
“I thought they were a very good team,” Tesar said. “They are like us — they run a few plays, and they run them very well.”
Moriah’s next drive seemed doomed after a personal foul call and false start pushed the Vikings from just inside Warrensburg territory back to their own 35. But with some adept read-option work from Swan and Blaise — an offensive wrinkle Tesar just recently added — the Vikings converted the first down and got down to the Burghers' 29 in the final 30 seconds of the half.
Mason Spring’s heave down the middle of the field initially ended up in the hands of a Warrensburg defender, but Diehl popped it loose and Blaise hauled it in for a 24-yard gain to the five. The Vikings spiked the ball in time for one final play.
Swan broke a tackle and crossed the goal line as time expired. Two penalties backed Moriah up to the 19 on the extra-point attempt, where Swan, under heavy pressure, launched a strike that Diehl grabbed in the back of the end zone to make it 22-8.
“Braden made something happen on that play,” Tesar said.
Jesse Griffin, the Section II Class D Overall Player of the Year, opened the second half with a big return to Moriah’s 46-yard line. Warrensburg converted a fourth down and was aided with a 15-yard personal foul call against Moriah to get into the red zone.
Baker found a wide open Tanner Dunkley down the seam for a 17-yard touchdown to make it 22-14.
Griffin, who missed last year’s regional final due to injury, earned Outstanding Offensive Player honors for No. 7-ranked Warrensburg after running for a game-high 122 yards on 12 carries. Jaron Griffin was named Outstanding Defensive Player, routinely coming up with big stops for the Burghers.
Baker added his second touchdown pass – his only two completions – when he escaped a sack and hit Andrew Beadnell in stride for a 33-yard score early in the fourth quarter. The Burghers tied it at 22-22 when Dylan Winchell went low to grab a tipped pass from Baker for the 2-point conversion.
“We had the guy sacked in the backfield; he got away from two people and people probably thought the play was over,” Tesar said.
Moriah’s final possession ended in a three-and-out, but a line-drive punt backed Warrensburg to its own 15-yard line with 2:02 left. Jesse Griffin ripped off a 40-yard run on the first play, and the Burghers had a second-and-4 at the 24 with 26 seconds left.
Diehl batted away the first pass attempt, and the second ended up out of bounds. Diehl hauled in the third and was off to the races.
“Our defense rallied, and we just came back and played as one — played great,” Swan said. “The defense really came together.”
Moriah 28, Warrensburg 22
Moriah 8 14 0 6 – 28
Warrensburg 0 8 6 8 – 22
M- B. Swan 11 run (B. Swan run), :28
M- B. Swan 11 pass from Blaise (run failed), 7:19
W- Baker 9 run (Je. Griffin run), 4:21
M- B. Swan 5 run (Diehl pass from B. Swan), :00
W- Dunkley 17 pass from Baker (run failed), 8:34
W- Beadnell 33 pass from Baker (Winchell pass from Baker), 11:45
M- Diehl 85 interception return, :00
M- Blaise 28-79; B.Swan 12-60, 2 TD; Diehl 2-17; Spring 3-3; Malbon 1-2. Totals: 46-161, 2 TD.
W- Je. Griffin 15-122; Baker 8-58 TD; Winchell 11-32; Ja. Griffin 4-11. Totals: 38-223, TD.
M- Spring 3-6-1-56; B.Swan 1-2-0-24; Blaise 1-1-0-11, TD. Total: 5-9-1-91, TD.
W- Baker 2-8-1-50 yards, 2 TD.
M- B.Swan 3-52, TD; Blaise 2-39. Totals: 5-91
W- Beadnell 1-33, TD, Dunkley 1-17, TD. Totals: 2-50, 2TD.
W- No. 63.