BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y.— Playing with a target on your back is even harder than it sounds and defending state champion North Salem finally lost its second game of the year to host Briarcliff, 1-0, on a windy Saturday afternoon.

“We weren’t happy with the way we played today and for the last game (John Jay) either,” North Salem coach Ron Hendrie said. “We came out soft and are reminding ourselves that we are not the New York State champion team. That was last year. But we do carry around a target on our back and will have to bring our ‘A’ game every time.” 

Ecstatic after the victory, the Bears outhustled the Tigers to dictate field position for the majority of the contest.

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“We came out flat and didn’t match their intensity,” senior defender Anthony D’Innocenzo said. “As a team, we didn’t have our best game. Nobody was really on and it’s tough when that happens especially against a team that’s very skilled.”

The Bears made their mark when Jason Oppone tapped in a deflection off a save by senior goalie James Buzzetto in the 13th minute.

Speeding up and down the field, Briarcliff forced North Salem’s defense to chase it all the way until halftime.

Much of the same story happened in the second half, as Buzzetto made a gorgeous sliding save to his left on a counterattack by the Bears with under 10 minutes left in the game.

Clustered together and moving at a slower pace, the Tigers’ scoring chances were few and far between.

“We need to keep our composure a little bit more,” Hendrie said. “I was proud of the guys that in the beginning of the game, when we finally gained possession, we didn’t just boot it. We played it out and got a few shots on net. That’s a good team when they have the self-confidence to do that.”

But during the final two minutes, they switched gears and were knocking on the door.

Frankie DiGiacomo placed a corner kick in the center of the box, but Matt Schembri’s header was snagged by the goaltender before time expired. The Tigers were limited to five shots on goal, while Buzzetto blocked nine shots.

Michael Bossi, a key part of North Salem’s offense, was sidelined due to a sprained ankle.

Despite another sluggish start, the Tigers defeated host John Jay Cross-River, 1-0 on Oct. 5.

Midfielder Will Feniger scored on a pass from DiGiacomo during the 23rd minute. Buzzetto held the Indians off the rest of the way, making 10 saves.

The busy week rolled on for North Salem, who smashed rival Haldane, 6-0, a day before.

Adrian Figueroa led with two goals, while each Bossi, DiGiacomo, Schembri and Chase Littenberg scored one. Buzzetto did not even see a single shot on goal in the thorough victory.

North Salem (9-2-1) visited Irvington on Oct. 10 and will be on the road for a league showdown with Putnam Valley today at 4:30 p.m. It will also travel to Class B contender Blind Brook on Oct. 14 at 3 p.m.

“It’s always good when you’re on a long winning streak to get at least one loss before playoffs start as a wake-up call,” D’Innocenzo said. “It really shows that we’re not unstoppable and will push us to play better next game.”