RIVERHEAD 35, NORTH BABYLON 6
Coming off a county championship and featuring a roster loaded with underclassmen, the players on the 2013 Riverhead football team know they have big shoes to fill this season.
If Thursday’s season-opening win over North Babylon is any indication, the Blue Waves will be up to the task.
Riverhead scored three first half touchdowns, cruising to a 35-6 home victory.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Riverhead head coach Leif Shay, who noted that several academically ineligible and injured players have forced others into a larger role to start the season. “The young kids stepped up.”
Most notably among them were sophomore Ryun Moore, who started at running back for injured returning starter Jeremiah Cheatom, and junior linebacker Raheem Brown.
Moore, who admitted after the game that he didn’t lose the jitters until halftime, carried the ball 18 times for 112 yards and a touchdown. His longest run was a 35-yard carry early in the fourth quarter.
Coach Shay said Moore will continue to develop over time.
“He’s powerful and compact and he doesn’t even really know what he’s doing yet,” Shay said. “That’s the scary part. He’s built like a man, but he’s still a young kid.”
The same can be said about Brown, who recorded a pair of sacks in the game, and even carried the ball three times for 44 yards in the fourth quarter, setting up the Waves’ final touchdown — a 9-yard yard run by senior Taiheem McKay.
Brown and the defense, led by senior defensive lineman Ryan Harkin and linebacker Mike Van Bommel, forced two early turnovers and kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard for the game’s first 43 minutes.
The teams actually traded early turnovers after the Waves fumbled the opening kickoff.
Perhaps the biggest question for Riverhead coming into the season was how well quarterback Cody Smith could fill in for three-year starter Ryan Bitzer, who graduated in June. He quickly responded by completing his first 10 pass attempts. He finished the game 13 of 17 for 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also scored on a 1-yard run that put the Blue Waves ahead 20-0 with 7:59 to play in the second quarter.
“It was a little nerve wracking,” he said of his first varsity start. “But once you get on the field and you get that first play in, it just flies off you and you get in a zone.”
Smith’s first play Thursday was a 20-yard completion to the tight end Van Bommel, who would later add catches of 18 and 19 yards, the latter a fourth quarter touchdown.
Fellow tight end Jaron Greenidge caught Smith’s first touchdown pass, a 9-yard scoring strike to cap the Waves’ first offensive series. He finished with a team-high five catches.
Senior Daniel Czelatka led all receivers with 61 yards on four receptions.
The Blue Waves defeated North Babylon twice last season, including a 52-20 victory in the Division II championship game at Stony Brook University. Despite being the defending champion, Riverhead is ranked third this season and North Babylon slipped to No. 6.
Moore said the season-opening win is exactly what the Blue Waves needed.
“It’s real important,” the sophomore said. “It sets the tone for the season and let’s everyone know we’re playing no games this year.”
Coach Shay said next week’s road matchup against top-ranked East Islip made winning the opener, which he called a “confidence builder,” that much more important.
“We needed to get this one,” he said.
Cheatom said he expects to return next week, though Coach Shay said he must first show he’s physically able to play.