SARANAC — Saranac’s offense did just enough to get a slim lead in the third quarter Saturday, and the Chiefs’ defense took control from there.
Bryce Smith’s 73-yard pix-six with 5:12 left in the fourth quarter highlighted a quality performance by the Saranac defense and sent the Chiefs to a 20-12 win over Moriah in Champlain Valley Athletic Conference football.
After Smith’s interception return, he grabbed his second pick of the day on the Vikings’ next drive, which would have been an 89-yard pick-six if Saranac was not flagged for a hit on a defenseless player during the return.
The Chiefs did give Moriah one more shot to tie the game, however, after going three-and-out and punting the ball back to the Vikings with 2:05 remaining in regulation.
Saranac’s defense stood strong and tackled Moriah quarterback Jeff Strieble in the backfield for a three-yard loss before forcing three straight incompletions to regain possession and ice the game.
“We lost some really great players from last year’s defense, but we know we still are just as good as last year,” Smith said.
“Our defense is what won us the game. There’s a lot of confidence on this team, and we are all here for each other and playing for each other.”
Conner Burns paced the Chiefs’ scoring attack with 145 passing yards and two touchdowns.
He connected with Smith on a 34-yard touchdown in the first quarter and then hooked up with Connor Recore for a 17-yard touchdown with 6:38 remaining in the third quarter to give Saranac a 13-12 lead.
“We knew we were not going to be as explosive on offense as we were last year,” Chiefs’ coach Dylan Everleth said. “We changed our offense up a little bit to see where they fit best, but we had so many returners coming back on the defensive end.
“Our goal each game, (because of our defense), is we have to start off hot on offense and put some points on the board and then settle in and let our defense take care of the rest.”
Moriah jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first quarter after Maddox Blaise, who rushed for a game-high 133 yards on 27 carries, punched in a three-yard run with 3:38 remaining.
Strieble found Matt Diehl for a 34-yard touchdown play with 1:06 left before halftime to give the Vikings their second lead of the matchup.
Moriah couldn’t get its offense to click in the second half, though, struggling to finish off drives and missing out on scoring opportunities.
“We had opportunities all game long,” Tesar said. “We should have had more than 12 points at half.
“We put ourselves in position to score on multiple occasions, and we had dropped passes and took bad penalties. Every drive, we killed ourselves with penalties.”
The Vikings limited Saranac to 31 yards on the ground, which will be something Tesar hopes his team can build off of as it gears up for a Week 2 clash against Peru at Linney Field at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13.
“I was really happy that we stopped the run pretty well on defense,” Tesar said. “They didn’t have a lot of rushing yards. We just have to step up in the secondary and play a bit tighter. We gave up some big third-and-long passing plays that kept drives going.”
Following their Week 1 win, the Chiefs travel to play Saranac Lake at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14.
Saranac plans to build off its early-season momentum.
“It’s always great to come out and play physical football against a tough team like Moriah,” Everleth said.
“You know what you are going to get from them every time. They fight hard, and they play right to the end. They are probably the toughest kids I have ever met, and we did a great job against them to fight back (Saturday).”
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