Punt return TD brings Riverhead county crown

by |
11/23/2013 3:00 AM |
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Ryan Hubbard, shown returning the game's opening kickoff, scored all three Riverhead touchdowns, including the game-winner, an 84-yard punt return with six seconds to go.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Ryan Hubbard, shown returning the game’s opening kickoff, scored all three Riverhead touchdowns, including the game-winner, an 84-yard punt return with six seconds to go.

SUFFOLK DIVISION II FINAL | BLUE WAVES 20, REDMEN 14

Jaron Greenidge was probably one of the few people at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium on Friday night who didn’t see what may go down as the greatest special-teams play in Riverhead football history.

Greenidge, you see, was preoccupied on the Riverhead sideline. “I was too busy bowing my head, praying, hoping for a miracle to happen,” the tight end/free safety said, “and there it is.”

Indeed. There it is. Greenidge’s prayers were answered.

Just about everyone in the stadium was expecting the Suffolk County Division II final to go into overtime as time wound down. The only thing is, Ryan Hubbard and his Riverhead friends had other ideas.

With the score tied at 14-14, an East Islip drive stalled, and the Redmen punted. Hubbard caught the ball at his own 16-yard line, darted to his right before immediately cutting to his left. A block by Steven Reid guided him to an open lane down the sideline, and Hubbard’s speed took things from there as he sped to the end zone for an 84-yard return for a touchdown with six seconds left, giving top-seeded Riverhead a 20-14 triumph. Talk about dramatic endings.

“It’s one for the ages,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. He added: “It was just an amazing turn of momentum. Time stood still for me during that play.”

Riverhead tight end/linebacker Mike Van Bommel said: “We thought for sure we were going to overtime, and then Hubbard returns a punt [84] yards. Where did that come from?”

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Jeremiah Cheatom surges forward, bringing Riverhead yardage against East Islip.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Jeremiah Cheatom surges forward, bringing Riverhead yardage against East Islip.

As Hubbard scored his career-high third touchdown of the night, the Riverhead bench erupted in celebration. It was a rare trifecta for the senior, who scored an offensive, defensive and special-teams touchdown.

“My teammates just came over and started smacking me in the face and jumping on me and stuff,” Hubbard said. “It was crazy. I couldn’t even think. I was just jumping.”

On the kickoff that followed, Roger Foster made the tackle that ended the game. Riverhead helmets flew in the air as the Blue Waves raced toward each other on the field.

The victory gave the Blue Waves (10-1) their second county championship in a row and seventh over all.

“Words can’t even describe [it], you know,” Van Bommel said. “On the bus here, I was thinking to myself, ‘When am I going to wake up from this dream?’ And now that we won, it’s like the dream keeps going, you know. It keeps getting better and better.”

The dream has been extended another week. Riverhead earned the right to face Nassau County champion Carey in the Long Island Class II final on Friday at Hofstra Stadium.

This is the fourth county title Riverhead has won under Shay. “This one’s special because of what we’ve had to go through this year to get to this point,” he said. “It’s been a rocky road, just fighting, fighting, fighting. The resolve of our kids is just unbelievable.”

“Unbelievable” is a good word to describe Hubbard’s performance against No. 3 East Islip (8-3). He scored two touchdowns within nine seconds of each other in the second quarter. On the first one, Cody Smith zipped a 3-yard pass to Hubbard, who fell into the end zone for the score. On the next play from scrimmage, Hubbard stepped in front of a pass by Hugens Tranquille and returned the interception 22 yards for a touchdown. Nico Bossey’s extra point made it 14-0.

“The kid’s spectacular,” Van Bommel said of Hubbard. “The kid’s got moves and that interception was just crazy. He’s just a playmaker, you know.”

Hubbard, a wide receiver and defensive back, was humble afterward, crediting his teammates for his glory. “This is awesome,” he said. “This is probably the biggest game of my life. I’m just glad to be here.”

Riverhead is 18-3 against Suffolk teams over the past two years. Two of those losses came at the hands of East Islip, including a 50-36 defeat early this season.

This time, though, Riverhead’s defense tightened the screws considerably, with the aid of Ryun Moore, who made a game-high 10 tackles, 7 solo.

East Islip was held to 53 yards of offense in the first half, but came out strong in the second half. With nothing happening for East Islip in the air (the Redmen completed only two passes for 8 yards), it leaned heavily on the running of Erik Adon (26 carries, 121 yards). A 6-yard run around the right side by Matt Walter put East Islip on the scoreboard in the third quarter. Adon’s 9-yard scoring run, followed by Jake Piacenti’s kick, evened the score with 5:22 left in the fourth quarter.

Just like that, it was a new game.

“We were feeling it, you know,” Van Bommel said. “The game wears on you, and by the fourth quarter you got to dig deep, dig through that pain. We just dug deep, we stayed strong and got the job done.”

“There’s nothing like this feeling,” he added. “We’ve all had a great year. We don’t want this to end, but a Long Island championship would be pretty nice to end on.”

bliepa@timesreview.com