CLIFTON PARK — For the Warrensburg Burghers, disaster wore a white No. 1 jersey Saturday.
Striving for a score in the closing seconds of regulation in a tied game, Warrensburg went to the air on the final play.
But Moriah’s Matt Diehl jumped the route, picked off the pass and raced 85 yards the other way for the game-winning touchdown, as the Vikings pulled out a 28-22 victory in the Class D state football quarterfinal.
“I knew they were going to pass, and they don’t pass much — they had to, there was no time on the clock,” said Diehl, a junior cornerback. “I made the two plays before, I probably could’ve gotten the first pass I tipped. I saw it coming, clock was at zero, I caught it, made the cut and just went.”
The stunning turn of events crushed the hopes of the Section II champion Burghers, who were trying to reach their first state semifinal since 2004. Warrensburg, whose season ended at 9-2, had clawed back into the game after trailing 22-8 at halftime.
Moriah (7-3), last year’s state runner-up, advances to play Tuckahoe on Friday in Middletown.
“We’ve never been a team to give up, we pushed through, we tied the score,” said Burghers senior Jesse Griffin, who rushed for a game-high 122 yards on 15 carries to earn his team’s Offensive Player of the Game award. “They just made the handful of plays that we didn’t.”
“We said at halftime, ‘Don’t quit, things will bounce our way,’ and we clawed and scratched back in there,” Warrensburg head coach Mike Perrone said. “I said to the guys, ‘Lesser men would’ve given up at halftime’ — that’s not this group, that’s not Warrensburg football, that’s not these men over there. They gave everything they had, got it tied up 22-22, and unfortunately, the kid made a great play at the end.”
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For most of the first half, little went Warrensburg’s way. For the first 17 minutes of the game, the Burghers ran just five plays while Moriah opened a 14-0 lead on a pair of Braden Swan touchdowns.
Late in the second quarter, Mac Baker’s 9-yard quarterback keeper pulled Warrensburg within a score, but Swan’s touchdown on the final play of the half gave the Vikings a 22-8 halftime lead.
“We just knew that we could come back,” Griffin said. “Coach just reminded us that we’re a family, we’re a second-half team and it was up to us to make the plays.”
The Burghers’ fortunes turned around in the third quarter. On their first drive of the half, they converted two fourth downs, the second on Baker’s 17-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Tanner Dunkley — one of several North Warren students on the merged team — to pull Warrensburg within 22-14.
After an exchange of fumbles, the Burghers put the brakes on Moriah’s offense again, taking over at midfield. The Vikings held the ball for only nine of the 24 minutes after halftime.
Once again, Warrensburg converted a fourth down. This time Baker spun out of a sack attempt, threw to sophomore Andrew Beadnell in the left flat, and Beadnell outran the coverage for a 33-yard touchdown play. On the two-point conversion, Baker’s pass was tipped into the arms of Dylan Winchell — who was on the ground — to tie the score with 11:45 left in regulation.
“That’s some magical stuff,” Perrone said. “When you get those two breaks, you think, ‘Hey, the breaks are finally going our way when they didn’t in the first half.’”
The Burghers got another break a few plays later when freshman Tristen Hitchcock intercepted a pass near midfield, but the drive stalled. Neither team gained headway after that until Warrensburg’s final drive in a game that appeared destined for overtime.
With 2:02 left, the Burghers drove from their own 15 to the Moriah 24, getting two big runs from Griffin to set up three final shots at a score in the final 26 seconds of regulation — the last returned by Diehl.
“I’m sure we’ll look at a lot of things that we wish we could have back — one more tackle, one more catch, one more better call from me, one more anything in a game this tight,” Perrone said. “When you’re playing football with eight teams left in the state, it comes down to every little thing and unfortunately they made a play at the end of the game. Kudos to them, they’re a great program and they fought tough in this game.”