After Riverhead’s 42-28 win over North Babylon Sept. 22 in Week 3, Bulldogs coach Terry Manning said his team was still trying to find itself.
As the Bulldogs prepare to play Riverhead Sunday night in the Suffolk County Division II championship, it appears they’ve found what they were searching for.
The Blue Waves (8-2) will face their longtime rivals at 6:30 p.m. at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium to try to win their first county title since 2008. To do so, they must get past a North Babylon team that has been lighting up the scoreboard.
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The Bulldogs, seeded 5th coming into the playoffs, have averaged 45.5 points in their last four games, including their first two playoff victories. North Babylon stunned No. 3 seed East Islip last weekend in a shootout, winning 52-41 on the road.
Under Manning, who’s coached 22 years at North Babylon, the Bulldogs have long been known as a run-first team. But as they showed in their victory over the Redmen, they can effectively pass the ball when they need to.
The Bulldogs (7-3) rarely line up with traditional receivers spread across the field. Nearly all their plays against East Islip began with a jumbo formation with two or three backs in close space in the backfield. The Redmen lined up six defenders across to try to negate the running game, but the Bulldogs continually sprung a receiver deep to counter the defense.
The Bulldogs would often send their tight ends, lined up at either end, out on pass routes. The Redmen defenders struggled to identify and pick up the receivers coming off the line, which allowed North Babylon to convert big plays through the air.
North Babylon’s first touchdown of the game came on a play-action pass from quarterback Jake Conner to tight end David Sonnenberg. Conner faked a handoff, rolled to his right as Sonnenberg — who lined up at the left end of the line — ran straight ahead past every defender to get wide open for a 37-yard touchdown.
The Bulldogs implement a lot of motion in the backfield, which adds to further confuse the defense. After striking through the air in the first half against East Islip, it only opened the running game even more in the second half.
Melijah Purvis takes the majority of handoffs for North Babylon and he’s surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground this season. Conner is a threat to run at quarterback and the Bulldogs have several other runners capable of carrying the ball.
The Bulldogs ran a quick reverse a few times against East Islip where Conner handed off to a back coming in motion. Purvis, lined up off the left edge, then got the ball snuck into his hands as he darted the opposite direction with the defense leaning the wrong way.
The Blue Waves will have their hands full, although their defense has been up to the challenge so far this season. Riverhead has allowed more than two touchdowns in a game only twice this season, against East Islip (24-14 loss) and against the Bulldogs (42-28 win). Most of the points Riverhead gave up in the game against North Babylon came late after the Blue Waves blew the game open.
Riverhead’s offense has been firing as well behind halfback Jeremiah Cheatom, quarterback Ryan Bitzer and receiver Quinn Funn. The Blue Waves have scored at least 30 points in their last three games. For the season the Blue Waves have averaged 30.1 points per game.
It should add up to plenty of fireworks Sunday night.