LONG ISLAND CLASS II FINAL | SEAHAWKS 20, BLUE WAVES 6
Black Friday will forever have a different meaning to the Riverhead High School football team.
As extraordinary as this season has been for Riverhead, one couldn’t help but feel that a Long Island championship wasn’t in the cards for the Blue Waves on Friday. For one thing, Riverhead had lost the services of two senior starters, running back Jeremiah Cheatom and outside linebacker Taiheem McKay, because of academic ineligibility. At this final stage of the postseason, that would be a significant blow for any team.
Then again, that has been the way things have gone this year for the Blue Waves. They meet a challenge, and then prepare for the next one. So, what’s another obstacle?
Well, Carey, as it turned out, was quite a formidable one. Just ask Carey’s opponents in its previous 11 games, all wins by the Seahawks.
For the second year in a row, Riverhead’s quest for a second Long Island crown fell short in the Class II final. Carey, playing in its first Long Island final in team history, saw to that. The Seahawks scored all of their points in a span of 8 minutes 49 seconds in the second quarter and made it stand for a 20-6 triumph at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.
Afterward, it was the Carey players jumping for joy and hugging each other for having capped a perfect 12-0 season while the Riverhead players solemnly trudged toward their sideline.
“It was just an off day,” said Riverhead senior Jaron Greenidge.
This has been a magical season for Carey, which a week earlier defeated Garden City for its first Nassau County title since 1978. Considering what Carey has now accomplished, it was only logical to ask the team’s seventh-year coach, Mike Stanley, if this is the best team the Seahawks have ever had?
“We can say it now,” replied a grinning Stanley, clutching a giant plaque shaped like Long Island.
How much of a difference did it make not having Cheatom and McKay on the field?
“It’s hard when you have a leader like Jeremiah be at the heart of your running game, and you know Taiheem has been instrumental to us as the outside linebacker, but we’ve been doing it all year, replacing guys, next man up, next man up,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay, whose team is 1-3 in Long Island finals. “It was a little more difficult against a great team. Give Carey credit. This wasn’t us losing to Carey, this was Carey beating us.”
Cheatom’s absence was big, considering he ran for 1,742 yards and scored 18 touchdowns this year. Ryun Moore, a good-looking sophomore, started his third game of the season at running back in place of Cheatom, who missed the season-opening game because of academic ineligibility. Roger Foster started in place of McKay.
Asked about the impact of not having those two players, Moore said, “Honestly, it hurt us a lot.”
Although perhaps not as much as it might have, thanks a good deal to Moore, who also played outside linebacker. He ran for 126 yards on 20 rushes and made 7 tackles (5 unassisted), one for a loss.
Carey has been an offensive juggernaut, outscoring its opponents by 456-64. Its quarterback, senior Ray Catapano, put up video-game numbers, remarkable numbers this season: 36 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 2,163 yards.
So, imagine what went through the Seahawks’ minds when they completed the first quarter on Friday without having scored a point. “That never happened to us before,” said Catapano, who went 7 of 16 passing for 92 yards and was sacked three times.
For all of Catapano’s passing skill, it was his legs, not his arm, that brought Carey its first points. With the ball at the Riverhead 7-yard line, Catapano went back to pass. Seeing no one open, he scrambled first to his right before trekking back to his left and finding an opening into the end zone. He then made a 2-point pass to Nick Spillane for an 8-0 lead 1:34 into the second quarter.
With the Carey fans chanting, “Carey! Carey! Carey!”, the Seahawks wanted more. On the ensuing kickoff, Luke Spano scooped an onside kick that caught Riverhead (10-2) by surprise. Mike Catanese covered up the ball, giving Carey possession at the Riverhead 36.
No points came out of that drive, but Carey later went to the air to score on successive possessions. Catapano found Andrew Ris for a 24-yard scoring connection.
After Riverhead went into punt formation on its next series, a high snap to punter Dylan Pace forced Pace to tuck the ball and run for a two-yard loss on fourth down. That handed the ball over to Carey on the Riverhead 35, prompting the Seahawks to try some more trickery. On the first play after the botched attempted punt, Catapano lateralled to Ris, who threw to a wide open Spillane in the end zone.
“There’s no tomorrow, so we have to pull out everything that’s going to work,” said Stanley.
A fumble recovery by Raheem Brown set up the seven-play, 80-yard drive that brought Riverhead its only points of the game through a 14-yard pass from Cody Smith to Greenidge with 9:21 left to play. Smith went 21 of 32 passing for 161 yards.
Carey’s next drive ended when Moore forced a fumble that Tyrese Kerr recovered for Riverhead. The Blue Waves moved the ball on 12 plays before the drive stalled on the Carey 9. Carey then ran out the final 1:31 for the biggest win in team history.
“It’s unreal,” Ris said. “For the past couple of years we just wanted to get to this game and finish the season strong. No matter how we got here, we just wanted to finish it.”
What did this Carey team have that set it apart from others? Perhaps togetherness.
“It’s just a special night, a special season,” Stanley said. “We played a lot of young kids last year. They grew up fast and our commitment in the off-season was terrific, but this group cared about each other probably more than any other group we ever had.”
Catapano said: “I think our team defines the word family. The camaraderie on this team, you can’t find it anywhere else on the island. … There’s no other team I’d rather play for.”
Addressing his players after the postgame awards ceremony, Shay told them he didn’t want to see any tears or sadness.
“They should never hang their heads,” he told a reporter. “They’re Suffolk County champions. They’re back-to-back Suffolk County champions, and for everything that they’ve had to endure, the town should be very proud of these kids and they should be proud that the program is in a good place.”