On the final day of the high school football regular season, the Smithtown East Bulls christened their beautiful, new turf field, and the Riverhead Blue Waves unveiled a new running back. Afterward, the Blue Waves looked happier.
Jeremiah Cheatom, a freshman playing in his first varsity game, ran for two second-quarter touchdowns as Riverhead beat Smithtown East, 40-13, at sparkling Nicholas Schroeder Field on Saturday. Cheatom had 64 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Both Suffolk County Division II teams went into the game having already been eliminated from playoff contention. They played for pride and one final memory for their seniors, 22 on Riverhead ‘s side and 12 with Smithtown West.
Riverhead (2-6), which had reached the playoffs the last four years, finished with its first losing season since 1998 when the Blue Waves went 2-6 in Coach Leif Shay’s first year in charge of the team.
“We played our best game the last game of the season, which shows improvement,” Shay said. “Obviously, we didn’t have a lot of luck this year. We lost a lot of tight games.”
Indeed, Riverhead dropped four games by a total of 14 points, including a season-opening loss to the Half Hollow Hills West Colts in overtime. The Blue Waves outscored their opponents, 163-144.
“It was rough because we are a good team,” Cheatom said. “We just didn’t finish through.”
On Saturday, though, the Blue Waves took care of business. One of Riverhead ‘s seniors, Rodney Rollins, scored two touchdowns on big plays. He caught a 51-yard pass from Ryan Bitzer (5 of 6, 100 yards) and returned a kickoff 89 yards for another score.
“It was a wide open hole, so I took it, got a touchdown,” said Rollins, who made four receptions for 85 yards.
Charles Bartlett ended 2010 on a good note as well. The junior provided Riverhead with 125 yards from 12 carries. That included a four-yard touchdown run. His longest dash of the day went for 52 yards.
Riverhead , which took a 20-0 lead by the time the second quarter was 5 minutes 47 seconds old, also received a nine-yard touchdown run by Mario Carrera for the game’s final points early in the third quarter.
“As far as a coaching staff breaking down the film, we knew that they obviously had athletes,” said Smithtown East Coach Jim Saladino, whose team ended up with a 3-5 record. “We knew they were better than 1 and 6. I don’t know if the kids knew that.”
Smithtown East’s scores both came in the second quarter. Mike Buono hit P. J. Connelly for a 39-yard touchdown pass, and Brendan Canese broke away for a 53-yard run to the end zone.
Buono played in place of Smithtown East’s regular starting quarterback, Grant Gaska, who suffered a kidney injury two weeks earlier in a game against the Bellport Clippers. He was one of three regular starters the Bulls were missing.
“We did the best that we can with what we have,” said Saladino, whose team was seeded 12th before the season started. “The truth of the matter is we won the games that we felt we should have won. It would have been nice, obviously, to overachieve.”
This season Riverhead found that it has a promising quarterback in Bitzer, a sophomore who has had good moments as well as some not-so-good moments. Now it has found that it also has a young running back in Cheatom, who should be able to help next year.
Cheatom, who scored 23 touchdowns for the junior varsity team this season, said he was nervous when he was told three days ago that he was being brought up to the varsity team for the final game.
“Wow, it’s crazy,” Cheatom said. “Think of the things you could do, the things that could happen.”
Cheatom said he followed the advice of teammate Kevin Klerk and ran hard.
Shay said Cheatom’s on-field vision reminds him of a former Riverhead running back, Chris Harris. “He sees things other backs don’t,” the coach said. “He’s going to be a special player.”