Football: Given an opportunity, Riverhead’s Czelatka seized it

09/29/2012 8:00 PM |

BILL LANDON PHOTO | Riverhead halfback Jeremiah Cheatom rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns Saturday against Half Hollow Hills West.

BLUE WAVES 42, COLTS 9

In his first year as a varsity player, Riverhead junior Daniel Czelatka came into the season expecting to play mostly on special teams. Maybe in a blowout, he’d get a chance to play offense or defense.

That quickly changed in Week 2 after wide receiver/cornerback Jeff Pittman went down with an ankle injury, catapulting Czelatka into the lineup on both ends of the field. Against North Babylon last week and Half Hollow Hills West Saturday afternoon at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field, Czelatka earned his first varsity starts.

“One guy went down and I stepped in and did what I had to do,” Czelatka said.

The Blue Waves discovered Czelatka can do more than play special teams. He helped lead a stellar defensive effort against the Colts in a 42-9 win that improves Riverhead’s Division II record to 3-1 at the midway point of the regular season.

BILL LANDON PHOTO | Riverhead junior Daniel Czelatka returned an interception for a touchdown.

Czelatka delivered the exclamation point with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown, the first defensive score for Riverhead this season. He picked off Hills West quarterback Cody Clarsen — filling in for the injured Jake Klose — along the right sideline and had nothing but daylight in front of him.

“[The receiver] ran a hitch the first play and for some reason I was expecting another hitch,” Czelatka said. “So I read it right and picked it.”

Riverhead coach Leif Shay described Czelatka as the model for second-string players.

“He’s a guy who’s been working hard in practice,” Shay said. “We gave him a shot and he’s certainly taken advantage of his opportunities.”

Czelatka had one catch on offense in the third quarter when he hauled in a 31-yard reception along the left sideline from quarterback Ryan Bitzer. It helped set up a 6-yard touchdown run from junior Jeremiah Cheatom for his second touchdown of the afternoon, capping a stellar effort.

Cheatom ran for 212 yards on 18 carries and had an 80-yard touchdown run called back by an illegal block in the back penalty.

“He’s always exciting to watch run, Czelatka said. “He always breaks those arm tackles.”

The offensive line did an outstanding job creating holes for Cheatom as he busted 11 runs for 10 or more yards.

The 0-4 Colts, who lost a controversial last-second game at Riverhead last year, had no answer for the Blue Waves’ rushing attack. And they weren’t much better against the pass.

Bitzer was 7-for-10 passing for 80 yards. He threw two touchdowns to receiver Quinn Funn, who’s become the main threat in the passing game with Pittman sidelined. Funn caught four passes, the final three all for touchdowns.

His second score came early in the second quarter on a trick play. Backup quarterback Cody Smith came into the game and took a handoff from Bitzer. He rolled right with the ball, before pulling up and throwing deep to a wide open Funn.

Before the extra point was even completed, Smith was already wearing the head-set on the sideline, ready to resume his play-signaling duties.

“In any other year if he didn’t have a great player in front of him, Cody would be our starting quarterback,” Shay said. “We don’t lose a lot by putting Cody in.”

The Blue Waves led 21-6 at halftime. Unlike last week when the Blue Waves allowed North Babylon to climb back into the game, they opened the second half with a flurry.

Bitzer hit Funn on a play-action pass for a 13-yard touchdown with 9:34 left to make it a 28-6 game. The defense forced a turnover on downs the next possession for Hills West and Riverhead got the ball back at the Colts’ 41. Four plays later Cheatom ran up the gut for a 6-yard score to make it 35-6.

The Blue Waves needed less than five minutes for their two third-quarter scores to put the game away.

“We talked about it as a coaching staff that we would keep the pedal to the medal and we weren’t going to do wholesale substitutions,” Shay said. “We tried to get everybody into the game, but we wanted to make sure we put the game away, too.”

Coming into the day Shay said they were worried about linebacker Randy Davis for Hills West, but he did not play because of an injury. Klose, the quarterback, went down with an injury in the second quarter, forcing the Colts to go with Clarson, who was a mixed threat of running and passing.

Halfback Jobe Basiru got banged up on the final play of the game as well, at which point the referees called the game (the fourth quarter was played without the time running on the scoreboard).

The lone bright spot for the Colts was kicker Willie Holmquist. The senior kicked three field goals, from 43, 21 and 48 yards.

Pittman did get some action for Riverhead, but only on a handful of plays. The Blue Waves expect him to be back near full strength next week.

Riverhead travels to East Islip next Saturday.

joew@timesreview.com