BLUE WAVES 36, WILDCATS 13
Superstorm Sandy might have knocked their power out and left their families unable to heat their homes. It might have also turned their school into a shelter, forcing a couple practices to be canceled and the playoff opener to be delayed.
But there’s one thing Sandy and her wicked wind gusts couldn’t keep the Riverhead football team from doing when it finally took the field again Saturday: It couldn’t stop them from winning.
The Waves, who entered the playoffs on a three-game win streak but hadn’t played since Oct. 27 due to the storm, scored three touchdowns in the first 18 minutes en route to a 36-13 Division II playoff win over Walt Whitman Saturday.
“You always worry whenever you’re forced to break from routine and your team can’t practice as normal,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “But these kids prepared well. They took it all in stride and went out and played some good football today.”
It didn’t take long for things to return to normal on the football field at Riverhead High.
After a quick three-and-out for Whitman (4-5) on the game’s first series, the No. 2-ranked Waves (7-2) took advantage of good field position on their first possession, moving the football 42 yards on 10 plays before scoring the game’s first touchdown. Tight end Vincent Brodeur caught the 4-yard scoring pass from quarterback Ryan Bitzer, who then converted a two-point conversion run for an 8-0 Riverhead lead midway through the first quarter.
It was a sign of things to come for Bitzer, a three-year starter, and his Blue Waves teammates.
The quarterback, who Coach Shay said has really taken his game to the next level as this season has progressed, seemed to have an answer for everything the Wildcat defense threw at him. He used the run, mostly from tailback Jeremiah Cheatom, to set up his passing game. And when receivers weren’t open, he used his legs to pick up the first down.
Bitzer would finish the game with 150 passing yards and two touchdowns, while scrambling for 38 more yards and his team’s final score.
After Whitman answered Riverhead’s first touchdown with one of its own, Bitzer found wide receiver Quinn Funn open for a 13-yard scoring strike and a 15-6 lead with 9.1 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Cheatom then put the game away with a pair of second quarter touchdown runs, the first from 5 yards out and the second on a 3-yard run.
“We lost two days of practice, but we worked really hard on the days we did have it,” said Cheatom, who finished the game with 159 yards and the two touchdowns on 22 carries and one catch. “The coaches did a great job of having us prepared.”
Cheatom pointed out that not only did the team have to contend with the storm’s aftermath, but also with the challenge of having to play the same team two games in a row. The Blue Waves defeated Whitman 42-8 in the regular season finale.
Whitman quarterback Mitchell Bermudez threw one touchdown pass and ran for another in the loss.
Riverhead will now host West Babylon (5-4) in the semifinals next Saturday after the Eagles shocked previously unbeaten and top-seeded West Islip, 20-19. Teams are re-seeded after the first round, so the Blue Waves are now the No. 1 seed, playing the No. 4 seed in West Babylon. The Blue Waves opened the season with a 42-0 victory over the Eagles.
Bitzer said he expects he and his teammates to be ready to go when the game kicks off at 1 p.m. next Saturday.
“We need to watch film and fix our mistakes,” he said. “If we can work out what we did wrong, it will all work out for us.”
The winner of next week’s game advances to the Suffolk County Division II Championship at Stony Brook University. That game has been moved to noon on Sunday, Nov. 25.