12/01/12 8:57pm
12/01/2012 8:57 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead’s Jeremiah Cheatom ran for 200 yards in the first half and 31 in the second half.

LONG ISLAND CLASS II FINAL | TROJANS 29, BLUE WAVES 16

A mere glance reveals that Garden City’s football team does not have much in the way of size. Scanning across the field at the Trojans, one will not find a single bulky lineman among the bunch.Yet, while the Trojans are undersized in stature, no one can question the size of their heart.

After posting come-from-behind wins over Carey and Wantagh in the Nassau County semifinal and final, respectively, Garden City pulled off another comeback on Saturday, this time for a Long Island Class II championship at Riverhead’s expense.

Brett Stewart passed for two touchdowns and then ran for two more as Garden City turned the game around in the second half for a 29-16 triumph at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. It was the fifth Long Island title for Garden City, which has played in 14 such finals.

Stewart, who recalled the pain of losing to Newfield in last year’s Long Island final, went from his worst football experience to his best in one year’s time. Clutching the championship trophy, he said, “I’ve never been happier than this moment here.”

It was a different feeling for Riverhead, which had lost to Garden City in a 2003 Long Island final. The Blue Waves, behind the impressive running of Jeremiah Cheatom in the first half, looked on the way to what would have been their second Long Island crown. Then, after a first half that ended with Riverhead ahead, 16-7, the game turned dramatically in Garden City’s favor. The Trojans (11-1) made adjustments, put eight players in the box and clamped down on Cheatom. Cheatom, who ran 24 times for 200 yards in the first half, managed only 31 rushing yards from nine carries in the second half. Meanwhile, Riverhead’s normally explosive passing game was limited to 104 yards.

“The way we played in the first half, the game was in our favor,” said Riverhead junior Michael Van Bommel, who was involved in nine tackles, including a sack. “We had it in our hands. The way they came out and played really shocked me.”

Garden City has been full of surprises this year. Even its revered coach of 28 years, Tom Flatley, said he would have been happy with a 5-3 record this year. Flatley said this year’s Garden City team surprised him more than any team he has coached in his 48-year coaching career.

“These kids were happy to play,” Flatley said. “Football is not a chore to them.”

Garden City has an offensive line with two sophomores who never played offensive tackle before, a 170-pound center who was a fullback one week before the season started, one guard who weighs 165 pounds and another guard who had never played on the offensive line before.

What the Trojans do have, however, are athletes.

“We get the ball in space to our playmakers and they score touchdowns,” said Stewart.

Stewart went 13 of 23 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, a 28-yarder and a 24-yarder, both to Ed Blatz (seven catches, 141 yards). But Stewart used his legs to put Garden City in front. The junior quarterback, who ran up 136 rushing yards on 27 attempts, scored the go-ahead touchdown on a naked bootleg around the left side from three yards out. Justin Guterding’s pass to Kyle Skramko for the two-point conversion made it 22-16 with 22.3 seconds left in the third quarter.

It was a quarter Riverhead (9-3) would prefer to forget, but then again, the fourth quarter wasn’t especially kind to the Blue Waves, either. On the second play of the fourth quarter, James Sullivan recovered a fumble, giving Garden City possession for a drive that ended with another three-yard touchdown run by Stewart.

That pretty much sealed things before Garden City’s postgame celebration.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Scott D’Antonio, who was in on a game-high 11 tackles for Garden City. “The stakes were so high here, and we got the job done.”

The first half was all about Cheatom, with the fleet-footed junior touching the ball on 25 of Riverhead’s 36 plays in the half. Cheatom set up the game’s first score, a six-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Bitzer to Jaron Greenidge with 4.5 seconds to go in the first quarter. Cheatom scored himself on a one-yard burst in the second quarter.

“I just kept the intensity up,” said Cheatom, who registered his fourth 200-plus-yard game of the season. “I wanted this thing so bad.”

Devrim Kucuk’s career-best 36-yard field goal made it 16-7 Riverhead with 1:16 left in the first half. That was before the momentum swung against the Blue Waves, who uncharacteristically struggled on offense. They went 2 of 11 on third-down plays.

Facing reporters after the game, Riverhead coach Leif Shay said: “I think we had a great season. We’re Suffolk County champions. We’re one of three teams that have been able to do that in Riverhead’s history, so we got to be proud of that accomplishment. We fell short of the Long Island championship, but we had a championship.”

Cheatom, speaking about the season, said: “It’s a great experience, but you know, everybody always wants to be a champion, so you never want to stop here. You always want to keep going.”

In the end, the day belonged to Garden City, It was a day the Trojans will talk about for years to come.

“This is huge,” Stewart said. “This is the happiest day of my life. I’m happy that we proved the people who doubted us wrong. We’re Long Island champions.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Jaron Greenidge of Riverhead nearly intercepted a Garden City pass, but the ball popped loose when he hit the ground.

11/26/12 3:29am
11/26/2012 3:29 AM

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead’s Andrew Kinard recovered a North Babylon Fumble and returned it to the 1-yard line before being knocked out of bounds during the Suffolk County Division II Championship.

SUFFOLK COUNTY DIVISION II FINAL | BLUE WAVES 52, BULLDOGS 20

Perhaps nothing can prepare a player who has never played in such a game for what it feels like to step onto the field for a Suffolk County football final. The prospect of playing what might be the biggest game of a player’s life can be a daunting one, even for an accomplished player like Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer.

The full significance of the occasion might have struck Bitzer before his team walked onto the field for warmups before Sunday night’s Suffolk Division II final against North Babylon at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. “It was kind of unreal, just walking through that tunnel, seeing everybody, seeing the field,” Bitzer said. “It was crazy. I tried to control my emotions.”

It wasn’t long after that when Riverhead took control of the game and never loosened its grip.

For the second time in five years, Riverhead is on top of the Suffolk County football world. Facing a North Babylon team known for its running prowess, Riverhead’s high-octane offense produced a season-high point total by going to the air.

Bitzer, a senior, equaled his career-best with four touchdown passes as No. 1 seed Riverhead captured its sixth county championship and first since 2008 with a resounding 52-20 victory. Quinn Funn caught three of those passes as part of his four-touchdown game.

“Words can’t explain how I feel right now about this game,” Funn said. “We just do what we had to do and did what was planned, you know what I’m saying? It was a great game. Everybody played great, everybody played their role. That’s what happens, a great outcome.”

Jaron Greenidge, who was involved in six tackles and had half a sack for Riverhead, said, “This is a dream come true.”

The dream continues for Riverhead (9-2). On Saturday, the Blue Waves will play Garden City (10-1), winner of four straight Nassau County crowns, for the Long Island Class II crown at Stony Brook University. Riverhead won its only Long Island title in 2008.

“I’m really excited for these kids,” Riverhead coach Leif Shay said. “These guys really truly earned a spot here.”

No small thanks to Bitzer and Funn. Bitzer went 13 of 19 passing for 292 yards. Funn made a fine diving grab in the end zone for a 21-yard catch and later added scoring receptions of 29 and 6 yards. Bitzer also found Jeffrey Pittman open on the right sideline before Pittman shook off a defender and used his superior speed for a 60-yard scoring connection. It was his first touchdown since Week 1.

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead’s Jeremiah Cheatom breaking through North Babylon’s defense for a first down in the third quarter.

“They’re big players who came up big in a big game,” said Shay.

Bitzer, who has 21 touchdown passes this season, was unfortunate not to have added another one to his collection. He hit Funn with a pass that looked like a sure touchdown, but North Babylon’s Dean Cicciari caught up to the high-stepping Funn, who slowed down before being brought down at the 1-yard line for a 75-yard completion. “I deserved that,” Funn said. “It won’t happen again, though.”

Bitzer ran the ball in for a touchdown two plays later for a 28-6 lead with 3 minutes 12 seconds left in the second quarter.

Funn finished with seven catches for 156 yards. Pittman had five receptions for 127 yards.

“I kind of surprised myself,” said Funn, who has 16 touchdown receptions this year. “I didn’t know I was going to have that kind of a breakout game.”

Riverhead’s offense generated 412 yards to North Babylon’s 214. The Bulldogs didn’t help their cause, either, by turning the ball over five times, four times on fumbles. Andrew Kinard was the cause of two of them, with an interception and a fumble recovery.

Four North Babylon turnovers led to Riverhead touchdowns, none so dramatically, though, as the first one. North Babylon’s Connor Slane lost control of the ball on a first-quarter run. The ball popped loose and right into the arms of Funn, who ran it back 6 yards for a touchdown.

“Everything seemed to be going our way tonight,” said Bitzer.

No. 5 North Babylon (7-4) scored on the game’s first drive with a 21-yard run by Melijah Purvis. It was the first of two touchdown runs for Purvis, who has 17 this season.

Riverhead registered 28 straight points before North Babylon gained some momentum going into halftime. On the final play of the first half, North Babylon’s Jake Conner caught a punt by Anthony Chiaramonte and ran to his left. Then Conner stopped and threw a crossfield lateral to Slane, who took the ball in for the touchdown. Matt Grassa ran in the two-point conversion.

But Riverhead, aided by Devrim Kucuk’s 29-yard field goal and a 1-yard touchdown run by Cody Smith, pulled away.

“We came out and did what we had to do, right from the get-go,” Bitzer said. “They couldn’t really stop us offensively. That’s kind of our mentality. We don’t ever want to be stopped.”

Riverhead lost the services of one of its linebackers, Matt Hejmej, who left the game with 5:19 to go in the second quarter. It was later reported that he tore a labrum in his right shoulder.

During the game’s dying moments, Riverhead’s Nick Ross and Eric Hulse dumped the icy contents of water bucket over Shay’s head. It could not have felt good for the coach on this cold evening, but he didn’t complain afterward about the surprise ice-water shower. He said, “You got to take good with the bad.”

So far this season for Riverhead, though, life has been mostly good.

bliepa@timesreview.com

11/17/12 4:50pm
11/17/2012 4:50 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer ran for a touchdown and threw for one more in Saturday’s semifinal win over West Babylon.

It’s been four years since a Riverhead football team could call itself a champion.

That might be about to change.

The Blue Waves, 30-14 winners at home Saturday over West Babylon, are headed back to Stony Brook. They’ll face North Babylon at noon next Sunday, Nov. 25, in the Suffolk County Division II Championship Game.

“Words can’t explain it,” said Riverhead wide receiver Quinn Funn, who caught a pivotal 74-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Bitzer on his team’s first possession of the second half. “Since ninth grade, I’ve been thinking about playing at Stony Brook my senior year. We did it. Now we need to keep winning.”

Blue Waves head coach Leif Shay called Funn’s touchdown a “watershed play.”

Before then the Waves (8-2) had held much of the momentum in the game, but they still went into halftime with just a 14-7 lead. Then the Eagles (5-5) came out of the locker room stopping two straight running plays. On third-and-14, Bitzer finally  let it fly.

“Quinn is one of the toughest receivers on Long Island,”the quarterback said. “It wasn’t the best ball I’ve ever thrown, but I knew he’d come down with.”

He was right.

“It was a little wobbly,” said Funn, who played the game with a head cold but still caught four passes for 104 yards and the score. “I said, ‘I’m gonna go get it.’”

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTOS | Riverhead wide receiver Quinn Funn hauls in a 74-yard touchdown catch off a pass from quarterback Ryan Bitzer. The score gave the Waves a 21-7 lead over West Babylon with 10:47 left in the third quarter.

The touchdown was Funn’s 12th of the year.

It was also the 17th passing touchdown off the right arm of Bitzer, a three-year varsity starter at quarterback, who was 12-of-17 passing for 202 yards and one touchdown Saturday. The Riverhead signal-caller was the first player to score in Saturday’s game, giving Riverhead a 7-0 lead with a 4-yard run in the first quarter.

Junior running back Jeremiah Cheatom, who rushed for 135 yards on 33 carries and scored twice Saturday afternoon, gave the Waves a 14-0 advantage in the second quarter. It was the eighth consecutive touchdown Riverhead had scored against West Babylon this season, after beating the Eagles 42-0 to open up the season at home Sept.8

This time, though, West Babylon answered back. Quarterback Clifton Melhado,  a senior who finished the season with 12 rushing touchdowns, scored on a 5-yard run midway through the second quarter to cut the deficit in half.

If Funn’s touchdown shifted the game’s momentum completely in Riverhead’s favor, it was a safety by linebacker Matt Hejmej that put the contest out of reach.

Facing a second and long from its own 2-yard line, West Babylon stuck with its spread offense and Hejmej was ready for the option.

“I saw it coming the whole way,” he said. “I knew he was going to pitch it.” The safety gave Riverhead a 23-7 lead and brought Stony Brook within sight.

“It’s definitely a great feeling to be going to Stony Brook,” Bitzer said. “That was our goal coming in. To get to Stony Brook and beyond.”

Jefferey Pittman recorded an interception for Riverhead and teammate Eric Hulse recovered a fumble.

Tailback Chris Lubin scored West Babylon’s second touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead running back Jeremiah Cheatom scored two touchdowns Saturday to bring his season total to 15.

Coach Lief Shay said his team’s losses to West Islip and East Islip toward the middle of the season have made the players stronger as the season progressed. As it turns out, they will not have to face either of those teams in the playoffs. West Islip became the first Long Island No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 8 seed when it fell to West Babylon, 20-19, last week. East Islip also lost at home, falling to North Babylon (7-3) Saturday.

The Blue Waves beat North Babylon 42-28 on Sept. 22.

It’s the third time Riverhead has made it to Stony Brook’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium since Coach Shay took over the program. The Waves won a county title there in 2003 and  county and Long Island championships in 2008.

“”We’re undefeated there,” said a smiling Coach Shay, who served as an offensive line coach for Stony Brook University in 1994. “It’s like going home in a way for me.”

gparpan@timesreview.com

10/13/12 6:48pm
10/13/2012 6:48 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer runs up the left side for a 33-yard touchdown to put the Blue Waves ahead 7-0.

BLUE WAVES 17, WOLVERINES 7

The memory was etched into the minds of every Riverhead player. It wasn’t just that Newfield beat the Blue Waves twice on their home field last year, including the playoffs, it was the way the Wolverines tried to embarrass them.

In the two games Newfield outscored Riverhead 86-19, a shellacking that fueled the Blue Waves throughout the offseason.

“That was fresh in our mind,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “We wanted to show them how we can win with class.”

“We came out and had to show them who Riverhead is,” added linebacker Nick Ross.

Mission accomplished.

In a defensive battle, the Blue Waves rode their hard-hitting defense to a 17-7 win on homecoming at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field before a packed house on a cool, sunny afternoon. The pivotal Division II matchup gave the Blue Waves (4-2) a much needed boost in the standings with Newfield entering the game with an identical 3-2 record and one spot behind them in the power rankings.

“We needed this game,” Shay said. “If we have any postseason aspirations, we really needed this game. And I think our kids sensed that, too.”

The Blue Waves expected a physical game from the Wolverines and they were up to the task on both ends of the ball. While the Wolverines did tally 322 yards of offense, Riverhead’s defense held strong when it needed to at the most critical times.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead linebacker Nick Ross brings down Newfield halfback Terrell Perryman.

The Wolverines got the ball late in the fourth quarter trailing by a touchdown. After picking up one first down to advance to their own 43-yard line, the Blue Waves’ defense came through with a huge stop to force Newfield to turn the ball over on downs.

On fourth-and-3 from midfield, defensive end Joseph Napoli and linebacker Matt Hejmej converged on running back Terrell Perryman as he took a toss to the left.

Riverhead halfback Jeremiah Cheatom (196 yards on 21 carries) marched the Blue Waves down inside the 10, setting up Devrim Kuchuk’s 23-yard field goal to ice the game with 1:02 left.

It was the field goal of the season for Kuchuk, who had an earlier attempt blocked.

“I figured I had to give him another shot,” Shay said. “I’m happy for him that he did it on homecoming.”

In six games now the Blue Waves are giving up 12.8 points per game, a stark contrast to last season when opposing teams racked up 31.7 per game.

“We’re more controlled,” Ross said. “We do what we’re taught to do. We don’t do extra to make ourself look better. We play as a team and as a group.”

Newfield presents a unique challenge for a defense with the number of players the team can throw out there. Nine different players carried the ball against Riverhead and the Wolverines rotated two quarterbacks, both of whom could throw or run at times.

Perryman was the main carrier out of the backfield and rushed for 83 yards on 20 carries.

“The key defensively was our outside linebackers to stop their run,” Cheatom said. “We did a great job.”

Shay said the defense came down to preparing for three basic plays: toss, blast and trap.

“We tell them, everything else is just bells and whistles,” he said. “It doesn’t matter all these shifts. It’s toss, blast and trap.”

Linebacker Mike Von Bommel had a big game and delivered the hit of the game when he leveled a Newfield receiver on a third-and-long to force an incomplete pass late in the third quarter.

The Wolverines were forced to punt, setting up a Riverhead touchdown.

The Blue Waves took over on the Newfield 46. Cheatom got the carry on first down and found space in the middle by cutting back twice to elude defenders. He rushed the ball all the way into the end zone and with the extra point, the Blue Waves had a 14-0 lead in the final seconds of the third quarter.

“I made a mistake earlier in the game fumbling the ball, but I put it in the past and did an excellent job the next drive,” Cheatom said.

Riverhead got off to a slow start, tallying only seven yards of offense in the first quarter. But the offense got rolling in the second quarter, although it didn’t lead to any points. The Blue Waves got deep into Newfield territory twice in the quarter without converting.

To start the second half Riverhead received the ball and finally broke through with a 33-yard touchdown run from quarterback Ryan Bitzer. On fourth-and-3, Bitzer faked a handoff and ran a bootleg up the left sideline for the score to put Riverhead ahead 7-0.

The only score for Newfield came on a 13-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Joe Feliciano scored on a three-yard run for the Newfield touchdown.

With all the hoopla surrounding homecoming, the week leading up to the game is often coaches’ nightmare.

“I hope people had a great time, but I’m glad it’s over,” Shay said.

joew@timesreview.com

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead halfback Jeremiah Cheatom races 46 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0.

10/06/12 8:00pm
10/06/2012 8:00 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead cornerback Jeff Pittman tries to break up the pass play in front of East Islip receiver Hugens Tranquille.

REDMEN 24, BLUE WAVES 14

The stat line alone hardly jumps off the page: 99 rushing yards on 31 carries for an average of 3.2 yards per carry.

East Islip senior halfback Andre Deegan, at 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, may not be among the flashiest of runners on Long Island. A methodical grinder, Deegan never broke a run for double-digit yards against Riverhead Saturday afternoon at East Islip High School.

Slowly but surely, Deegan helped wear down the Blue Waves’ defense, softening the pass coverage to allow East Islip to strike through the air.

And when it was over, Deegan had a pair of touchdowns, both on 1-yard runs, to propel the Redmen past Riverhead 24-14 in a game the Blue Waves never led.

“They controlled the clock,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “They controlled the game and we weren’t able to answer.”

East Islip remains unbeaten at 5-0 as does West Islip, which knocked off Copiague Saturday. The loss, dropping Riverhead to 3-2, all but eliminates the Blue Waves’ chances of finishing the regular season atop Division II.

With another tough game looming next weekend against Newfield, the focus now for Riverhead is trying to secure a playoff spot and possibly a top-four seed for a home game in the first round.

East Islip and West Islip do not play each other, so both could run the table and finish the regular season undefeated.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead linebackers Ryan Harkin (57) and Nick Ross try to bring down the East Islip runner.

The Redmen controlled the line of scrimmage against Riverhead, allowing quarterback Casey Nolan plenty of time to sit in the pocket and find receivers. He got off to a rough start by misfiring on his first four passes. But he connected on nine of his next 15, including a 49-yard touchdown pass to Mike Lee that gave East Islip the first score of the game in the second quarter.

For Riverhead, the running game never got on track as the Redmen were able to bottle up halfback Jeremiah Cheatom. He had three big runs for 20+ plus yards, including a 24-yard touchdown run that made it 21-14 early in the fourth quarter. The three big runs accounted for the majority of Cheatom’s 112 rushing yards.

“I thought we were going to be able to move the ball a little bit better,” Shay said. “I don’t know that Jeremiah read the zone very well at times.”

Shay said the Redmen didn’t do anything defensively that they hadn’t seen on film.

“They were physical up front,” he said. “They did a nice job of bend but not break.”

After Cheatom’s touchdown cut East Islip’s lead to seven, the Riverhead defense forced East Islip to punt on its next possession after picking up one first down.

The Blue Waves got the ball back at their own 20 with 9:02 left, needing to drive the length of the field, something they hadn’t done all game. Both of Riverhead’s touchdowns came on a short field.

The Blue Waves picked up a pair of first downs to get near midfield, but Paul Dondero halted any momentum by picking off a pass from quarterback Ryan Bitzer, one of four interceptions on the day (the first came on a long pass at the end of the first half that wasn’t returned).

“The linebackers were really bailing out to take away some of the routes,” Shay said. “He needs to be a little more patient.”

Junior Jaron Greenidge led the Blue Waves with six catches for 64 yards. He caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Bitzer on the Blue Waves’ first drive of the third quarter to make it a 14-7 game.

Bitzer’s top target this season, Quinn Funn, was never able to break free for big plays. He did finish with four catches for 61 yards.

“Obviously they were keying on him,” Shay said. “They were bracketing coverage on him.”

Shay said they need to be more patient and look for more receivers in the passing game.

Senior Jeff Pittman had the most game action since his Week 2 ankle injury. But he wasn’t a big factor on offense with three catches for 32 yards.

Cheatom was the only back to carry the ball for Riverhead. Bitzer scrambled three times to account for the only other rushing yards.

East Islip made it a two-possession game with a 22-yard field goal with under five minutes to play in the fourth. Riverhead turned it over again on its next possession when Steve Walsh picked off Bitzer.

“We’ve got to get smarter as a football team and stop making mental errors,” Shay said. “Execute drives and be patient. The key to beating us right now is to just be patient and smart and we’ll make a mistake.”

joew@timesreview.com

09/29/12 8:00pm
09/29/2012 8:00 PM

BILL LANDON PHOTO | Riverhead halfback Jeremiah Cheatom rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns Saturday against Half Hollow Hills West.

BLUE WAVES 42, COLTS 9

In his first year as a varsity player, Riverhead junior Daniel Czelatka came into the season expecting to play mostly on special teams. Maybe in a blowout, he’d get a chance to play offense or defense.

That quickly changed in Week 2 after wide receiver/cornerback Jeff Pittman went down with an ankle injury, catapulting Czelatka into the lineup on both ends of the field. Against North Babylon last week and Half Hollow Hills West Saturday afternoon at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field, Czelatka earned his first varsity starts.

“One guy went down and I stepped in and did what I had to do,” Czelatka said.

The Blue Waves discovered Czelatka can do more than play special teams. He helped lead a stellar defensive effort against the Colts in a 42-9 win that improves Riverhead’s Division II record to 3-1 at the midway point of the regular season.

BILL LANDON PHOTO | Riverhead junior Daniel Czelatka returned an interception for a touchdown.

Czelatka delivered the exclamation point with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown, the first defensive score for Riverhead this season. He picked off Hills West quarterback Cody Clarsen — filling in for the injured Jake Klose — along the right sideline and had nothing but daylight in front of him.

“[The receiver] ran a hitch the first play and for some reason I was expecting another hitch,” Czelatka said. “So I read it right and picked it.”

Riverhead coach Leif Shay described Czelatka as the model for second-string players.

“He’s a guy who’s been working hard in practice,” Shay said. “We gave him a shot and he’s certainly taken advantage of his opportunities.”

Czelatka had one catch on offense in the third quarter when he hauled in a 31-yard reception along the left sideline from quarterback Ryan Bitzer. It helped set up a 6-yard touchdown run from junior Jeremiah Cheatom for his second touchdown of the afternoon, capping a stellar effort.

Cheatom ran for 212 yards on 18 carries and had an 80-yard touchdown run called back by an illegal block in the back penalty.

“He’s always exciting to watch run, Czelatka said. “He always breaks those arm tackles.”

The offensive line did an outstanding job creating holes for Cheatom as he busted 11 runs for 10 or more yards.

The 0-4 Colts, who lost a controversial last-second game at Riverhead last year, had no answer for the Blue Waves’ rushing attack. And they weren’t much better against the pass.

Bitzer was 7-for-10 passing for 80 yards. He threw two touchdowns to receiver Quinn Funn, who’s become the main threat in the passing game with Pittman sidelined. Funn caught four passes, the final three all for touchdowns.

His second score came early in the second quarter on a trick play. Backup quarterback Cody Smith came into the game and took a handoff from Bitzer. He rolled right with the ball, before pulling up and throwing deep to a wide open Funn.

Before the extra point was even completed, Smith was already wearing the head-set on the sideline, ready to resume his play-signaling duties.

“In any other year if he didn’t have a great player in front of him, Cody would be our starting quarterback,” Shay said. “We don’t lose a lot by putting Cody in.”

The Blue Waves led 21-6 at halftime. Unlike last week when the Blue Waves allowed North Babylon to climb back into the game, they opened the second half with a flurry.

Bitzer hit Funn on a play-action pass for a 13-yard touchdown with 9:34 left to make it a 28-6 game. The defense forced a turnover on downs the next possession for Hills West and Riverhead got the ball back at the Colts’ 41. Four plays later Cheatom ran up the gut for a 6-yard score to make it 35-6.

The Blue Waves needed less than five minutes for their two third-quarter scores to put the game away.

“We talked about it as a coaching staff that we would keep the pedal to the medal and we weren’t going to do wholesale substitutions,” Shay said. “We tried to get everybody into the game, but we wanted to make sure we put the game away, too.”

Coming into the day Shay said they were worried about linebacker Randy Davis for Hills West, but he did not play because of an injury. Klose, the quarterback, went down with an injury in the second quarter, forcing the Colts to go with Clarson, who was a mixed threat of running and passing.

Halfback Jobe Basiru got banged up on the final play of the game as well, at which point the referees called the game (the fourth quarter was played without the time running on the scoreboard).

The lone bright spot for the Colts was kicker Willie Holmquist. The senior kicked three field goals, from 43, 21 and 48 yards.

Pittman did get some action for Riverhead, but only on a handful of plays. The Blue Waves expect him to be back near full strength next week.

Riverhead travels to East Islip next Saturday.

joew@timesreview.com

09/22/12 6:25pm
09/22/2012 6:25 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Jeremiah Cheatom, trying to find a way past North Babylon’s Eric Marzocca, scored three touchdowns for Riverhead.

BLUE WAVES 42, BULLDOGS 28

Teams visiting the dog pound, the unofficial name for the home field of the North Babylon High School football team, have known for years what to expect from the Bulldogs: ground and pound.

North Babylon runs the ball, and runs it well. Passing is something of a rarity for the Bulldogs. It’s the sort of approach one might expect from a former C.W. Post lineman like Terry Manning, who is in his 22nd year as North Babylon’s head coach.

“That’s what we do,” said Manning.

And what Riverhead does offensively is nothing like it. The Blue Waves utilize a spread out, uptempo attack that isn’t afraid to use the aerial route for first downs and touchdowns.

The two contrasting offensive styles couldn’t be much more different, and that made Saturday’s game all the more intriguing. But what made it even more interesting still was the Bulldogs’ refusal to retreat to their doghouse, lay down and call it a day after falling behind by 27 points in the third quarter. North Babylon pulled to within six points of visiting Riverhead before the Blue Waves closed out a 42-28 win with a late touchdown run by Jeremiah Cheatom, his second of the half.

Asked if he grew concerned when he saw North Babylon chomping away at his team’s lead, Riverhead coach Leif Shay said, “My hair has been gray since the beginning of the season.”

Cheatom had three touchdowns on the day, two of them coming on runs. He rushed for 146 yards from 23 carries. On the Suffolk County Division II game’s first play from scrimmage, Cheatom was on the receiving end of a 64-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Bitzer.

Riverhead (2-1) removed some of its starters, including Bitzer, from the game after Cheatom’s six-yard touchdown run and Devrim Kuckuk’s extra point gave the Blue Waves what looked like a commanding 34-7 lead with 7 minutes 38 seconds left in the third quarter.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead’s Quinn Funn using one hand to pull in a pass, despite the efforts of North Babylon’s Jake Conner, for a 62-yard touchdown reception.

“The first quarter and a half, we pretty much were nonexistent,” Manning said. “We just were sleeping out there.”

It looked like the game was virtually over, but it wasn’t.

Jordan Myers of North Babylon (2-1) ran for two second-half touchdowns, the second of which was set up by Danny Gambardella’s successful onside kick, which Daquan Faulk recovered for the Bulldogs.

North Babylon, known for rarely passing, made things interesting with a touchdown pass, of all things. Jake Conner evaded defenders before finding Eric Marzocca for a seven-yard pass to the end zone with 3:44 to go in the game. Gambardella’s kick cut Riverhead’s lead to 34-28.

But the Blue Waves responded to the challenge. On the next play from scrimmage, Cheatom shook off tacklers up the middle and bolted for a 52-yard gain, giving Riverhead first and goal at the North Babylon 4-yard line. The next play saw Cheatom follow Matt Hejmej’s block into the end zone. Bitzer completed a pass to Jaron Greenidge for the two-point conversion and a more comfortable 14-point lead with 2:52 remaining.

“We just needed to put the nail in the coffin,” said Quinn Funn, who played wide receiver and cornerback for Riverhead.

The result was pretty much sealed when Greenidge intercepted a pass on North Babylon’s first offensive play after that. Riverhead picked up a first down and then ran out the clock.

Bitzer had a super game. He went 16 of 21, passing for 283 yards, 242 of them coming in the first half. In addition to his 64-yard touchdown pass to Cheatom, he also had a 62-yard scoring connection with Funn, who made a nifty one-handed catch before taking off toward the end zone. In addition, Bitzer ran for two touchdowns himself.

Bitzer may have thought his day was done when he was pulled from the game with a 27-point lead. But then he was reinserted when things started getting dicey for the top-seeded Blue Waves, who generated 432 yards of offense.

“It’s a hard place to win at,” Bitzer said. “It’s definitely a hard place to come in and [win]. A ground-and-pound team like them, you definitely have to keep fighting all four quarters.”

Riverhead’s defense received seven tackles apiece from Nickolas Ross and Hejmej. Ross might have had the biggest hit of the day, and probably the loudest, when he delivered a crunching blow on Myers in the third quarter.

Melijah Purvis ran the ball 17 times for North Babylon, picking up 100 yards. Connor Slane had nine tackles and a sack for the Bulldogs.

In this age of open offense, even North Babylon is adjusting. The Bulldogs threw the ball 10 times and ran it 41 times.

“Leif does a great job over there,” Manning said. “We’ve had some great battles with them over the years. For us this year, we’re still a team that’s trying to find ourselves a little bit. There’s a lot of new kids who haven’t played before, so it was a challenge for us to come out and play a quality team like this.”

What did it mean for Riverhead to finish the game strong?

“I think it just shows we have a lot of resolve,” Shay told reporters. “We’re not going to quit. We’re going to keep fighting.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

09/08/12 5:53pm
09/08/2012 5:53 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Jeff Pittman races into the end zone for a touchdown Saturday against West Babylon.

BLUE WAVES 42, EAGLES 0

Being the No. 1 seed in Suffolk County Division II is one thing; living up to that high seeding is something else.

Receiving the top seed in the preseason coaches poll is a nice honor, but Riverhead coach Leif Shay knows full well that it evaporates the instant the first football is kicked off in the new season. Teams prove themselves on the field, just like the Blue Waves did on Saturday.

Riverhead opened its 2012 season in impressive fashion, shutting out No. 7 seed West Babylon, 42-0, at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field. Jeremiah Cheatom, a junior running back, broke free for touchdown runs of 62 and 61 yards, and senior quarterback Ryan Bitzer was directly involved in three touchdowns himself. Bitzer connected on scoring tosses of 46 yards to Jeff Pittman and 24 yards to Quinn Funn in addition to running for one touchdown himself on a naked bootleg from three yards out.

While the Riverhead offense generated 504 yards and didn’t turn the ball over once, the Blue Waves showed themselves to be good tacklers, too. The defensive unit forced five turnovers by West Babylon, and the Eagles never moved the ball closer than within 30 yards of the Riverhead goal line. Four West Babylon passes were intercepted, including two by the ball-hawking Jeff Pittman. Matthew Hejmej recovered a fumble and picked off a pass. Michael Von Bommel led Riverhead with seven tackles.

In short, all facets of the game were working for the Blue Waves.

“It was pretty much picture perfect, even to the punt team,” Bitzer said, referring to punter Nickolas Ross, who delivered a pair of 44-yard punts and pinned West Babylon on its own 9-yard line on another effort. “We just went out there and did our thing.”

And there was a little magic in the air on this windy afternoon. Riverhead’s first offensive play of the game was called by someone who had won a raffle to benefit Christopher Timpone, an Aquebogue Elementary School student with cancer. That play call proved to be the right one. Bitzer lofted a pass for Pittman, who was wide open, executing a stop-and-go pattern down the left side for the game’s first points 2 minutes 9 seconds into the first quarter.

“It worked,” said Shay.

Three turnovers set up three Riverhead touchdowns in the first half, which ended with the score 28-0 and the result safe in hand for the home team.

West Babylon was not at full strength. The team had been hit by injuries, and more of them followed on Saturday.

“They have a lot of injuries,” Shay said. “If you look at their sideline, it looks like a triage unit.”

Perhaps the injuries were too exasperating for West Babylon coach Al Ritacco to talk about in any sort of detail. “We just got hurt,” he said. “I just about lost my entire backfield.” Then, without any explanation, Ritacco walked away from the reporter he was speaking to, ending an interview that lasted less than 30 seconds.

By the time Riverhead’s offense took to the field 5:23 into the third quarter, Bitzer was standing on the sideline with a headset on and victory secure. His backup, junior Cody Smith, threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Hubbard for Riverhead’s final touchdown with 5:20 to go in the game.

“We kept pushing, we kept driving,” Pittman said. “We just kept doing what we had to do today.”

Riverhead had made a bold statement to anyone paying attention that it is a team to be taken seriously.

“We’re number one, we had to make a statement,” said Cheatom, who ran the ball 11 times for 159 yards. “Everybody believed in themselves.”

Bitzer, who completed 7 of 12 passes for 147 yards, expected a high-caliber performance from his team and got one. “We just wanted to come out today and prove ourselves, prove ourselves to the community, letting them know that we’re here for real, and everyone else in our division, too,” he said. “I think we did a good job with that today.”

As well as Cheatom played, Shay indicated that better days are ahead for Riverhead’s top running back. “Jeremiah doesn’t know how good he’s going to be yet,” the coach said. “He’s still learning. He’s still got to learn to read the zone properly. He has explosiveness [and] ability, but he has to learn how to just do it consistently. I wasn’t happy with a lot of two-yard runs, three-yard runs. I need four- or five-yard runs out of him. He’s got to work on that part of his game.”

One bright spot for West Babylon was the running ability of quarterback Clifton Melhado, who gained 129 yards on 25 carries.

But the light shined on Riverhead most of all. The Blue Waves showed that there is some substance behind their preseason ranking.

“It’s not a fluke at all, but it’s only the first week,” Pittman said. “We still have another seven games, the playoffs. You have to actually show what your team is made of.”

This is the third top-seeded team Shay has coached during his 15 years in charge of Riverhead. He knows that things can go south rather suddenly and he knows better than to make too much out of one game. For Week One, though, it wasn’t a bad step.

Said Cheatom, “This is the best start we could have hoped for.”

bliepa@timesreview.com