BLUE WAVES 9, CLIPPERS 7
Soaking wet and shivering with mud splattered on his face, Raheem Brown had one final duty before he could finally retreat to a warm bus. Standing on the field, he answered reporters’ questions and spoke about what he and his Riverhead High School football teammates had just done: hand rival Bellport its first loss of the season.
It is because of Riverhead that Bellport will not enter the playoffs unbeaten. And it is because of Brown — not to mention a big helping hand from Troy Trent — that the Blue Waves were able to persevere under extremely difficult conditions.
Some hard running by Brown, filling in for Riverhead’s injured Ryun Moore, and a blocked field-goal attempt in the dying seconds enabled the Blue Waves to topple Bellport, 9-7, at the muddy, rain-soaked Joe Cipp Field in Brookhaven on Saturday.
After a short punt into a fierce wind gave Bellport the ball at the Riverhead 33-yard line, the Clippers advanced to the 5 and set themselves up for a potential game-winning 21-yard field goal with three seconds to go. But Nick Fountis’ kick came out low and Trent blocked it, securing the victory for the Blue Waves in their final regular-season game.
“Thank God he got that big paw up there and knocked it down,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay, who said he was arguing with an official about whether he had another timeout left at the time of the kick.
The victory assures Riverhead (6-2 in Suffolk County Division II) of a home playoff game. Shay said he expected his defending Suffolk County champions to receive at least the No. 3 seed, and possibly No. 2 for the playoffs.
The game was played in treacherous conditions, with steady rain and gusting winds that made passing all but impossible. Riverhead’s game plan was a no-brainer: run the ball again and again, and then run some more.
Both teams relied on their running game. Riverhead’s only pass was intercepted by Andrew Trent. Bellport’s Fountis completed only 1 of his 10 passes (ironically, a 14-yard touchdown reception by Andrew Trent with 5:31 left to play).
A low-scoring, slogging game was expected and materialized as both teams struggled with the conditions.
Riverhead’s top running back, Ryun Moore, must have expected a busy day. But it came to an early end for him when he went down with an injury on his 20th carry at 8:50 of the second quarter. Moore was seen holding his thigh as he walked off the field. He did not return. After the game, Shay told reporters he had not spoken to the trainer, and did not know the nature of Moore’s injury, other than to say the player’s leg was the problem.
“He didn’t look good at halftime,” Shay said. “We shut him down, and hopefully it’s something minor.”
The ball was then thrust into Brown’s hands.
“When we needed him he stepped up,” said Shay, who called Brown, pound for pound, the strongest player on the team.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Brown ran well, sometimes dragging tacklers along with him for additional yards.
“I had to step up for Ryun, [who] is one of our great backs,” Brown said. He added: “It wasn’t tough. It was just, like I said, stepping up. It’s a big thing. Even if I would have went down, I have like four other running backs that can run the ball as hard as I can. … We’ve got great backups.”
And Brown also had the luxury of running behind a fullback, Ethan Greenidge, who is 6-5, 320 pounds.
“He’s like a big refrigerator,” said Brown, who ran 22 times for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Brown’s running set up a 26-yard field goal by Nico Bossey for a 3-0 lead at 9:24 of the third quarter.
Brown then scored himself on a 2-yard plunge up the middle 1:29 into the fourth quarter. The extra-point attempt was blocked by Andrew Trent, leaving the score at 9-0.
“We had big Ethan as a fullback, and we figured we could pound them a little bit,” Shay said. “They haven’t seen a physical team all year. We thought we’d show them what Division II football is really all about.”
Riverhead’s defense was tough, too, holding Bellport to 103 yards of offense and only three first downs. The Blue Waves allowed only two runs of 10 yards or more.
And what about that dreadful weather?
“It’s brutal,” Shay said. “This is as bad a weather as we’ve had in a long time. It’s fun to play in these games, though.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Raheem Brown #34 rushes up setting up a field goal in the 3rd quarter. (Credit: Daniel DeMato)