While Riverhead braced for Hurricane Hermine, it first had to deal with another hurricane — the one from North Babylon. Those Bulldogs pack quite a punch, too.
It was North Babylon, a playoff team in six of the past seven years and a county semifinalist last year, against Riverhead, which entered the season with the best record in Suffolk County Division II over the past five years (36-15). The No. 4 seed against the No. 8 seed. These rivals have played some classics against each other.
Saturday was not one of them.
The high school football season did not start the way Riverhead would have liked, but given the Blue Waves’ inexperience, it was to be expected. Like Hurricane Hermine, one could see from a distance a disaster about to unfold at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field.
While “disaster” may be too strong a term, Riverhead took its lumps and was pounded, 43-0.
“It’s been a long time since we lost a game like this,” said coach Leif Shay.
Lack of experience was a big factor. Riverhead had only one player in the team’s new uniform who had played a varsity game before: tight end/linebacker Brian Moulton.
Adding injury to insult was the blow suffered by Riverhead wide receiver/defensive back Tommy Powers. Powers left the game after absorbing a hard hit to his upper body by Brandon Sobotker after trying to make a catch across the middle late in the first quarter. Powers’ left arm was held gingerly as he walked off the field. A sling was later applied and Powers was taken away from the field. Immediately after the game, Shay said it could be a shoulder or an arm injury, but he wasn’t sure.
Riverhead senior quarterback Kyle Kelly, making his first varsity start, faced a rough assignment. The lefthander was often under pressure and sacked five times (twice by Anthony Peters). Kelly went 4-for-11 passing for 32 yards and an interception before he was relieved by Jason Davis on the final play of the third quarter.
Kelly had been in competition for the starting job with senior Tristan Falisi, who Shay said quit the team.
North Babylon’s running game and tough defense made its imprint. The Bulldogs amassed 473 yards in total offense (399 on the ground) while limiting Riverhead to 30. The Blue Waves managed only four first downs and their punter, D.J. Chandler, was kept busy, punting eight times.
“It was definitely tough,” Kelly said. “We have a young, inexperienced team that’s just going to get better over the weeks, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
North Babylon’s vaunted ground-and-pound game is nothing fancy, but so effective in its execution. It helped the visitors to a 31-0 halftime lead. For the game, Sobotker ran for two touchdowns. David Estrella, Peters, Jared Zeigler and Greg Pimentel banged in one each. On his touchdown, Peters shook off a couple of arms, bursting straight up the middle for a 46-yard score. Sobotker’s second touchdown went for 70 yards. The senior finished with 133 yards from 10 carries.
North Babylon, which rarely passes, put the ball in the air only twice. On its first pass of the game with 5 minutes, 54 seconds left in the first half. Zeigler, with the ball at his hip, darted to his left and surprised the Riverhead defense, finding a wide-open Max Deitch for a 32-yard TD connection.
It was just that kind of day for Riverhead. Regardless, the Blue Waves looked at the positives.
“We did a bunch of good things that we’re going to grow and learn from and it’s going to make us better in the long run,” said Mike Woolley, who played right guard and defensive tackle. “Sometimes we didn’t execute, sometimes we did.”
It will not get any easier for Riverhead next week when it will host No. 2 West Islip, followed by a bye week.
“We have to keep our heads up and definitely don’t look at this as the end of the season,” Woolley said. “We have to just keep on pushing as hard as we can.”
Photo caption: Riverhead quarterback Kyle Kelly handing off to William Sanders during Saturday’s season-opening game against North Babylon. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)