There was no time to call a play.
Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer grabbed his halfback Charles Bartlett as the Blue Waves raced to the line of scrimmage with every last precious second ticking away. Aces, Bitzer yelled to him, get ready for the ball.
“Only me and him knew the play,” Bartlett said.
As the clock hit zero the Blue Waves snapped the ball — the Half Hollow Hills West Colts already in celebration mode thinking the game was over — Bartlett took the handoff about four yards through the line and into the end zone to secure an incredible 43-42 victory for 3-0 Riverhead Saturday afternoon on Homecoming.
Replays indicated the snap may have come after the clock had already hit zero.
The Blue Waves weren’t about to apologize.
“The referees make the final call,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “We’ll take wins where we can get them. We’ve been on the short end of those quite a few times.”
Bartlett’s touchdown capped an 80-yard drive for the Blue Waves that took all of the 1 minute, 11 seconds that were available.
Hills West (2-1) appeared to have the game in hand after Devante McFarlane, the Colts’ do-it-all quarterback, scored from six yards out for his fourth rushing touchdown of the game with 1:11 left. He also threw for two, accounting for every Hills West score.
But the Blue Waves weren’t done yet. A shoot-out from the start, it appeared the game was destined to come down to whichever team had the ball last. And it was Riverhead.
The Blue Waves completed 11 plays on their final drive, and overcame what would have been a sure touchdown with under 40 seconds left when Reggie Moore saw a pass slip off his fingers in the end zone.
His teammates picked him up.
“You can’t give up,” Moore said, pointing to the slogan written on the back of his helmet: “I will triumph. I will conquer.”
On the next play Bitzer hit Quinn Funn with a 10-yard gain to set up first-and-goal.
The Blue Waves went back to Bartlett on the ground the next two plays, but he picked up only two yards. On third-and-goal with 14 seconds left Bitzer threw a quick pass to his left for Funn, but he couldn’t get into the end zone.
Out of timeouts, the Blue Waves had to sprint to the line to get off the next play before time ran out.
“I was just worried about our team not being set and getting a penalty,” Bitzer said. “It just worked.”
With the crowd in a frenzy, the Blue Waves pulled out the miracle win that left the Colts stunned.
“They thought the game was over and then about time I got to the goal line that’s when they reacted,” Bartlett said.
Only three games into the season the Blue Waves already have a pair of gut-wrenching victories. In Week 1 they won in similarly dramatic fashion with a late touchdown and defensive stand at East Islip to knock off the preseason No. 1 in Division II.
The Riverhead fans got treated to an even crazier finish in the Blue Waves’ home opener.
“Our offense is just too explosive for teams to handle,” Bartlett said. “At the end of games we keep going.”
It was back-and-forth game from the start. Neither team ever led by more than a touchdown.
“I told the guys I’m proud of them not because they won the game, I’m proud of them because they didn’t quit,” Shay said.
Tied at 21 going into the third quarter, the Blue Waves opened the second half with a nearly perfect eight-play drive that spanned 80 yards in under two minutes. Bartlett punched it in from two yards out for his second score of the game and the Blue Waves went ahead 27-21.
Bartlett scored four touchdowns for the second consecutive game.
“Charles was having a great day today,” Bitzer said. “He just carried us through this game.”
Most of his damage came in the second half. Before the third quarter started, an assistant coach for Riverhead spoke with Bartlett on the sideline. He told him how this was his time to shine.
The senior listened.
He scored three touchdowns in the second half and finished the game with 183 rushing yards on 28 carries, numbers reminiscent of another Riverhead player who used to wear No. 21.
“Last year I had a good season and my team didn’t,” Bartlett said. “That’s not what it’s about. If you have good stats your team should win games. And as a whole team we won this game.”
While Bartlett carried the load on the ground, the Blue Waves were exceptional through the air.
Bitzer threw for 288 yards and completed 20 of 30 passes. He spread it around to a bunch of different receivers. Funn caught a team-high eight passes for 111 receiving yards. Moore caught two touchdowns and finished with five catches for 148 yards.
“They made some huge catches for me,” Bitzer said. “I wasn’t my best today. They stepped up and helped me out.”
Hills West went ahead 28-27 after McFarlane blocked a punt as the Blue Waves tried kicking from their own end zone. The Colts needed only three plays to go 11 yards and McFarlane punched it in from two yards out.
For the first time, the defenses started to pick up for both teams. Riverhead had to punt on its next possession and Hills West gave it right back after failing to pick up a first down on a fourth-and-1.
That was it for the defense.
Riverhead came back and marched to the Colts’ 14-yard line but the drive stalled. The Blue Waves sent out junior Jeffrey Pittman to attempt a 31-yard field goal and he drilled it to make it 30-28 Riverhead.
The Colts came right back. In eight plays they drove 71 yards for the go-ahead score with 6:18 left in the fourth quarter. A two-point conversion made it 36-30.
Back came the Blue Waves, sprinting down to the Colts’ 5-yard line in just over one minute. But on first-and-goal from the 5, they fumbled on the snap and the Colts regained possession.
Riverhead forced a three-and-out and got the ball back with great field position. Bartlett busted a 36-yard run through a huge hole up the left side for a touchdown with 2:49 left. The extra point gave the Blue Waves a 37-36 lead.
McFarlane had a brilliant day, completing 13-of-18 passes for 272 yards. He also rushed for 115. Senior Deven Williams was his favorite target. He caught six passes and both of the touchdowns McFarlane threw.
Riverhead won’t have much time to celebrate. The Blue Waves get right back at it Wednesday against Half Hollow Hills East at Riverhead High School.
“I’m going to celebrate for this night and then after this my head’s focused on Half Hollow Hills East,” Bartlett said.