Three hours before kickoff time on Saturday, Harrison Downs received the word. Riverhead High School football coach Leif Shay pulled Downs aside and told him that he was the emergency backup quarterback that day.
Downs usually plays fullback or tight end on offense, but because one of Riverhead’s two quarterbacks was academically ineligible, he was next on the depth chart should anything happen to starter Kyle Kelly.
Something did happen to Kelly. He was assessed a double unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the final play of the first half — a 22-yard touchdown pass from Centereach’s Jay Morwood to Rob Montgomery. With that came an automatic ejection.
Just like that, Kelly was out and Downs was in.
Downs, a senior who last played quarterback when he was about 9 years old, playing in the Police Athletic League, at least has an interesting memory to take from the final high school game of his career. He was Riverhead’s quarterback for the entire second half of the 33-7 loss in the Suffolk County Division II game.
Centereach (5-3) booked itself a playoff berth for the first time since 2002, according to coach Adam Barrett.
An injury-plagued season came to a merciful end for Riverhead (1-7).
That touchdown catch by Montgomery, one of the seniors recognized in Centereach’s Senior Day ceremony before the game, made the score 27-7.
A pair of touchdown runs by junior Alec Kiernan (20 carries, 108 yards), who also ran in a two-point conversion, capped Centereach’s first two series.
Kelly (5-for-11, 62 yards) scored Riverhead’s touchdown 3 minutes, 55 seconds into the second quarter. With the ball on the Centereach 4-yard line, Kelly rolled to his right, looking for an open receiver. Then he spun back to the left and outraced the defense to the corner of the end zone.
But Centereach scored on its last two possessions of the half, through a Brandon Cunha touchdown run and Montgomery’s catch, in which he rose high above a crowd and came down with the ball with no time left in the half.
Downs spent part of halftime on the field with Kelly and others, taking snaps, practicing handoffs and throwing passes to prepare for the second half.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Downs stepped back and fired a nice pass to D.J. Chandler, who dropped it. Downs’ second pass was knocked away by Jesse Distasio and his third was almost intercepted by Kevin Amaya.
On the first play of Riverhead’s third series of the quarter, though, Downs hit Konstantinos Koukounas on an out for a 3-yard gain. It was his only completion of the game. He finished 1-for-6 with his last two passes intercepted.
Centereach’s quarterback, Morwood, went 6-for-11 for 85 yards. He was intercepted once, by Darelle Spruill.
Shawn McFarland flung himself high in the air over the goal line to complete a 5-yard run for Centereach’s final touchdown with 6:04 left in the third quarter.
Riverhead’s offense struggled, managing only 95 yards from scrimmage.
Photo caption: The scoreboard in the background told the tale as Riverhead and Centereach players shook hands following Saturday’s game. (Credit: Bob Liepa)