As far as the Riverhead High School football team was concerned, this was homecoming heaven.
The Blue Waves had so many things to feel good about Saturday on sun-splashed Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field. Their offense seemed to move the ball at will, compiling 337 yards. Cristian Pace passed for two touchdowns and Albert Daniels ran for two more. Their defense turned around their play from a dismal showing a week earlier and posted a shutout, holding Deer Park to minus-seven yards in the first half and only 73 for the game (all on the ground). Contributions came from across the board, including substitutes who played in the second half.
And they did all this in front of a large crowd that packed the stands.
When all was said and done, Riverhead walked away a 41-0 winner in the Suffolk County Division II game, with a 2-2 record. The Blue Waves happily trotted to the adjacent Pulaski Street Elementary School and rang the victory bell.
Not bad for a day’s work.
“It was a great team win,” Pace said. “Everyone was playing their part. We had energy from the jump and everybody was making plays, having fun out there, and that’s what it’s all about. Not too bad.”
No, not bad at all.
Coming off a dismal 35-19 loss to Smithtown East in their home opener a week earlier, the Blue Waves turned things around in a big way. In that game, Riverhead’s defensive secondary looked confused and exposed, and its free safety and backup quarterback, David Squires, broke a fibula.
To help shore up the secondary, Pace, the first-string quarterback, volunteered to play free safety for the first time since he played in PAL. “Whatever the team needs, I don’t care,” he said. “I’ll do anything for us to win.”
Riverhead coach Leif Shay prefers not to play his quarterbacks on defense, “but sometimes necessity calls and we have to answer the call.” So Pace started on both sides of the ball.
Shay said Pace played a “phenomenal game.” The coach added: “He brought a lot of intelligence to the position. He settles everybody down and gives us that leadership that we need back there.”
Pace made one tackle. What was Pace’s take on his defensive play?
“I hadn’t played defense since like ninth grade,” he said. “I did alright. I didn’t really get much action. I missed my first tackle, but I had another tackle.”
On Riverhead’s final offensive play of the first half, Pace’s right hand jammed into a faceguard as he threw a 25-yard TD pass that Isaiah Barbieri came down with. That brought an end to Pace’s day. The right index and middle fingers on his right hand were taped together and he watched the second half from the sideline while sophomore quarterback C.J. Dorr, brought up from the junior varsity team, ran the offense.
Both Pace (6-for-10, 91 yards) and Shay didn’t think the injury was too serious.
But Riverhead’s play sure was.
The Blue Waves capped their first offensive series with Albert Daniels (15 carries, 79 yards — all in the first half) running 13 yards untouched into the end zone on his first touch of the game.
On the next series, Deer Park (0-4) was forced to punt. Derrick Parker blocked Jase McDermott’s punt and fell on the ball in the end zone.
Moments later, Barbieri recovered his own onside kick. That led to Daniels banging the ball in from a yard out, helping make the score 21-0 before the first quarter was over.
Riverhead was looking good and looked even better when a 31-yard run by Daniels set up Pace’s play-action pass to Anthony Marcello for a 19-yard TD.
Liam Egan’s fumble recovery preceded Pace’s second TD pass of the day, the play in which he hurt his throwing hand.
Riverhead converted its first five third-down plays into first downs or TDs. By halftime the score was 35-0, with Recep Kocan kicking all five extra points.
Deer Park didn’t manage a first down in the first half.
“If we play like we did today, then I feel like we’ll go far,” said Barbieri.
With 5 minutes and 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Dorr (5-for-8, 93 yards) threw his first career TD pass, a 44-yarder to Rayvon Moore on a slant. Dorr took a knee on the extra-point play.
“Today was definitely our best game,” said Riverhead wide receiver/defensive end Tyreek Parker, who made a game-high eight tackles, including a sack. “I think it sets the tempo for the rest of the season.”
After his players headed off to ring the victory bell, Shay said: “Ringing that bell is a memory that they’re going to cherish forever … That’s something that they really wanted, and we’re really happy for them.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Tyreek Parker (31) and his cousin, Derrick Parker (34), pressured Deer Park punter Jase McDermott. Derrick Parker blocked the punt and recovered the ball in the end zone. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)