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

09/07/12 8:00am
09/07/2012 8:00 AM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior Jeremiah Cheatom will take over as the starting halfback for the top-seeded Blue Waves this season.

In their three losses last season, including in the first round of the playoffs against Newfield, the Riverhead Blue Waves surrendered an average of 42 points per game. Even with a versatile offense capable of putting up big numbers, it was far too many points for the team to overcome.

To try to take the next step this season, in which Riverhead enters as the No. 1 seed in Division II, the team got back to the basics on defense.

“We simplified,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “We felt we had good athletes out there and we didn’t need to run complex coverages. We want to be simple and let our athletes cover the ground they can cover.”

The Blue Waves’ defense got overwhelmed last season against a stronger, bigger Newfield team in the running game. The Wolverines ran in seven touchdowns against the Blue Waves in their playoff win.

The Blue Waves return a more experienced group on the defensive line this year, the first step toward clogging up those running lanes.

Senior Joseph Napoli, one of three captains, will start at defensive end.

“He was a star for us last year,” Shay said.

Seniors Kyle McCabe and Kyle Harris will plug up the middle of the defensive line along with a newcomer, junior Jonathan Lee.

Shay said Lee can squat as much as 600 pounds.

The Blue Waves came into training camp with a strong core of linebackers all competing for time. Senior Nick Ross and junior Mike Von Bommel lead the group. Senior Vinny Brodeur will also see some time at linebacker along with junior Ryan Harkin, who’s been slowed by an ankle injury.

In the secondary the Blue Waves will rely on three guys who will play on both sides of the ball. Seniors Quinn Funn and Jeff Pittman will play cornerback and junior Jaron Greenidge will start at free safety.

“The key for us is our defense,” Shay said after the team’s first scrimmage last week. “We have to be locked down and can’t allow those big plays.”

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | An improved defense will be key for the Blue Waves to advance farther into the playoffs this season.

While the defense struggled at times last year, all too often it got put in a difficult position because of turnovers. If the Blue Waves are to take that next step this season, limiting turnovers will be a huge key.

It’s something third-year quarterback Ryan Bitzer is well aware of as he begins his senior season under center for Riverhead.

“Last year we had a bunch of turnovers against the top three teams,” Bitzer said. “Especially me. I have to protect the ball better. That’s what experience comes with. I got to learn to sometimes protect the ball, run it or throw it away. Turnovers is a big thing for us. We got to keep those down.”

Bitzer will lead an offense that has the potential to be equally as explosive through the air as on the ground. While the Blue Waves lost their leading rusher from last season in Charles Bartlett, they do return a pair of strong backs. Junior Jeremiah Cheatom got a lot of action last season and will start as the featured back. Shay described Cheatom as “a grinder,” the kind of player who can pick up tough yards and can also break a big run.

Sophomore R.J. Foster, who saw some time on varsity at the end of last season, will also have a prominent role in the running game. A speedy, shifty runner, Foster will also return kicks.

“He’s very elusive,” Bitzer said. “He sees the field very well, too. He’s definitely improved from last year. He’s learning he’s got to hit the holes right. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in the future.”

Shay said he expected the offense to be even more balanced than it was last year, aided by a more experienced offensive line.

Senior Stephen Powers returns at center along with Harris at right tackle. McCabe will play left guard and senior Eric Hulse at right guard. Ross is the only newcomer to the offensive line and will play at left tackle in addition to his defensive duties.

“They got a full season of experience under their belt,” Shay said. “They’re bigger, faster, stronger.”

Bitzer said the linemen spent the entire offseason working in the weight room.

“They were lifting weights, doing what they have to do to get better, working with each other, talking to each other after practice,” he said. “Just really communicating.”

In the passing game Bitzer will have several targets, led by returning receivers Pittman and Funn. Both players had big seasons last year and can present matchup problems for opposing defenses. Pittman has great speed, which he showed off in track and field as one of the top sprinters in the county.

Senior receiver Brian Funfgeld and tight end Andrew Kinard are both threats in the passing game as well.

“Not everybody has two great corners,” Shay said. “If you have one good corner, you can only take away one guy. That gives us an advantage from the outside-in. You’re going to have to defend the entire field.”

The Blue Waves play a fast-tempo offense, which they hope keeps the opposing defense on its heels. It also leads to plenty of big-play potential.

“We push teams to the limit with our tempo,” Bitzer said. “They get worn out pretty quickly, which enables us to throw some big points on the board.”

In special teams the Blue Waves have senior Devrim Kuckuk as a kicker. A soccer player, Kuckuk will be a two-sport athlete in the fall.

“He’s got a real strong leg,” Shay said. “We haven’t had that in a long time.”

Shay said Kuckuk didn’t realize that the rules allowed him to play both sports.

The Blue Waves open the season Saturday at home against West Babylon. The Blue Waves were 5-0 last year going into their game at West Babylon when the Eagles put an emphatic end to the winning streak with a 41-6 win. Michael Richardson, the do-it-all quarterback/receiver who torched the Blue Waves last year, has graduated. West Babylon does return quarterback Clifton Melhado, who started the season last year before an injury opened the door for Richardson.

“They beat us up pretty well,” Bitzer said. “So we’re looking for a little revenge. It’ll be a good game. West Bab is always a good team.”

joew@timesreview.com

09/16/11 10:13pm
09/16/2011 10:13 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Charles Bartlett of Riverhead found running room against Hauppauge, picking up four touchdowns and 132 yards.

Coming off an intoxicating performance in which they passed the football for almost 400 yards, it was as if the Riverhead Blue Waves wanted to prove a couple of points. Firstly, they wanted to serve a reminder that they can run the ball, too (just ask Charles Bartlett and Jeremiah Cheatom). They also let it be known that they aren’t afraid to try an onside kick — even three times in a row.

Bartlett ran for a career-high four touchdowns — all in the first half — on a brisk Friday night as Riverhead ran its record to 2-0 in Suffolk County Division II with a 45-13 thumping of the Hauppauge Eagles. Cheatom ran for another Riverhead touchdown as well.

“No surprise,” Quinn Funn, who played wide receiver and cornerback for Riverhead, said afterward. “I knew how the game was going to come out. If we come out hard, that’s going to be like that every game.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Reggie Moore intercepted a pass in the first quarter.

The running game was a prominent feature. In their season-opening upset of the East Islip Redmen, the Blue Waves had 29 running plays against 38 pass plays. On Friday night they ran the ball 51 times and threw 23 passes.

The results were impressive. Bartlett and Cheatom both surpassed 100 yards as the Blue Waves totaled 278 rushing yards. Bartlett, a senior, consumed 132 yards on 19 carries, and Cheatom, a sophomore, collected 101 yards from 23 runs.

It was all part of a fine-tuned offense that produced 27 first downs and 459 yards in total offense. Riverhead put up 513 yards worth of offense against East Islip.

“We wanted to show teams that we are [multi-faceted], and can run and pass,” said Funn.

More running was part of the plan.

“We want to be a little more balanced in our attack, and we look at each game plan differently and try to take advantage of areas where they’re weaker,” Riverhead Coach Leif Shay said. “Yeah, we want to be a little more balanced. We have a dynamic back in Charles and a young guy in Jeremiah, so, we want to get those guys involved as well.”

Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer, who passed for a career-high 395 yards against East Islip, looked sharp again, throwing his fifth touchdown pass of the year, a 31-yarder to Mike Hinchy for the game’s only points in the first quarter. Bitzer went 14 of 22 for 181 yards and an interception.

That combination of offensive threats, operating out of a no-huddle offense that allowed Riverhead to control the tempo, gave Hauppauge (1-1) a lot to think about.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Tim Clement attempted to catch a pass, but Hauppauge's Matt Snyder broke the play up.

“They could pretty much offensively do what they wanted, and they had a good mix,” Hauppauge Coach Joe Patrovich said. “They do a very good job. They stretch you. First of all, they make you pack it in because of the two tight ends or that look. So you got to pack it in because they’re a very good zone team and a very good inside running team. And then when you pack it in, they have threats on the perimeter that they can throw it to. I just think they’re very impressive in what they do and how they scheme offensively.”

Funn scooped up a fumble and ran the ball 34 yards to the end zone for an apparent touchdown. It was nullified by a personal foul, though.

No matter, Riverhead kept moving the ball on that series until a four-yard run by Bitzer for his second touchdown of the season. Jeffrey Pittman’s point-after kick stretched Riverhead’s lead to 38-0 by the time the third quarter was 4 minutes 40 seconds old.

Kurt Carter replaced Bitzer at quarterback later in the third quarter. The first and only pass he threw was picked off by Dominic Confredo and returned 54 yards for a touchdown with 3:16 left in the third quarter.

The Hauppauge fans who came out for their team’s home opener had something else to cheer about when C. J. Ciserano made a couple of nice moves that helped him to a 25-yard touchdown run 4:24 into the fourth quarter.

Pittman executed three straight onside kicks in the first half, the second of which was successfully recovered by teammate Anthony Chiaramonte, setting up a 12-yard scoring run by Bartlett.

Bartlett, a back with a reputation for being able to get the tough yards, also scored on a pair of two-yard runs and a five-yarder.

“I felt great about how we can pass the ball and also how we can run the ball,” said Bartlett, who already has five touchdowns to his credit this young season. “Also, our line did fantastic, gave me lanes to run through and, again, tough yards [are] really what won the game for us. Our mental toughness won the game for us.”

Hauppauge, a No. 11 seed that has only one starter on either side of the ball back from last year, was outgunned by No. 6 Riverhead.

“They’re what we thought they were,” Patrovich said. “I don’t know if they’re what the league thought they were coming in because their seed is not that high, but I think they’re a very talented team.”

Two games into the season, Bartlett has noticed a difference from last year’s Riverhead team. “Our mentality is win at all costs,” he said. “We didn’t have that last year and we have it this year.”

Shay said: “This is a team with a lot of heart, a team with a lot of pride. We’re not going to sit and rest on our laurels. We’re going to keep on pressing and try to win as many games as we can.”

Be it through the air or on the ground.

bliepa@timesreview.com

09/10/11 4:01pm
09/10/2011 4:01 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Quinn Funn of Riverhead tried to come down with the ball during his team's season-opening upset of East Islip.

For all of the passing that Ryan Bitzer did, it was his awareness and his legs that ultimately won the day, proving the doubters wrong and giving the Riverhead Blue Waves a major dose of confidence as the high school football season got under way.

The situation the Riverhead quarterback and his teammates faced was desperate. All the good work they had done in the first 46 minutes on Saturday was at stake, as well as the outcome of their season-opening game against the East Islip Redmen at Sal Ciampi Field at Boomer Esiason Stadium in Islip Terrace.

With East Islip leading, 35-32, Bitzer engineered a drive that started at Riverhead’s 35-yard line and reached the East Islip 4, thanks in part to a critical 25-yard pass to Mike Hinchy and back-to-back Redmen penalties. On an earlier play, Bitzer and his coaches noticed a gap in the East Islip defense, and Bitzer was instructed to exploit it if he saw it again. The play call on first-and-goal from the 4 was for a handoff to Charles Bartlett, but Bartlett never got the ball. As Bitzer stepped to the line of scrimmage, he saw an opening, decided to keep the ball himself, and powered forward for a quarterback sneak that took him over the goalline with 1 minute 38 seconds left in the game. A bad snap foiled the extra-point attempt, leaving Riverhead’s lead at 38-35.

“That was actually really scary that last drive,” Hinchy said. “We just had to execute every play flawlessly.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Kurt Carter (No. 16) managed to keep this pass out of an East Islip receiver's hands.

East Islip quarterback Pete Hanabergh then completed 3 of 4 passes before spiking the ball to stop the clock with 57.0 seconds to go, and the ball on the Riverhead 20. On the next play, though, Jeff Pittman picked off a Hanabergh pass at the 1. The sixth-seeded Blue Waves ran two plays and then celebrated. They had toppled East Islip, the top-seeded team in Suffolk County Division II, and they did it largely through their passing.

“I give our kids credit,” Riverhead Coach Leif Shay said. “I told them I was proud of them, not because we won the game. I was proud of them really just because they refused to quit, and that’s the spirit of Riverhead football.”

With Bitzer’s strong right arm and a cadre of sure-handed receivers, the Blue Waves put on an exceptional passing display. Bitzer’s passing was sharp, precise, surgical. And there was plenty of it.

Bitzer’s numbers spoke for themselves. They were staggering: a career-high 395 passing yards, 27 completions from 38 attempts, four touchdown passes and no interceptions.

“He’s a good fantasy player,” Shay joked with reporters afterward. “I hope somebody picked him up.”

Bitzer called it the best game of his career “by far.” Five receivers were on the other end of those passes, including Hinchy (11 receptions, 161 yards) and Reggie Moore (nine receptions, 137 yards), who had two touchdown catches each.

“There were unbelievable,” Bitzer said. “They were catching everything I threw at them.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer used his legs to pick up some yards on this play, but he had a superb passing day.

But it really was Bitzer’s day, an impressive one to say the least for the junior and second-year starter. He made it almost look easy at times, as if he was playing catch with his receivers.

“Certainly, it puts him up there with some of the better quarterbacks in the conference,” Shay said. “We always knew he was good. … He’s so calm under pressure, and his poise is his greatest attribute. He doesn’t let things rattle him at all.”

That quality sure came in handy on Saturday.

East Islip, which trailed by 32-14 after Bitzer found Moore for a 30-yard scoring connection (and Pittman’s extra point) 4:28 into the third quarter, excited the home crowd with a near comeback. Hanabergh, who didn’t have a bad game himself, going 16 of 34 for 287 yards, found Kyle Moller, who shook a defender and raced 46 yards for a go-ahead touchdown with 2:36 to go in the game. It was Hanabergh’s second touchdown pass of the game (his first was a 30-yarder to Joe Modica earlier in the quarter). Tyler Rigo ran in a two-point conversion, making it 35-32 East Islip.

Overshadowed by Bitzer’s play were exceptional performances by Hanabergh and Rigo, who ran for three touchdowns and 106 yards. Moller was Hanabergh’s favorite receiver, making five grabs for 122 yards.

It was an offensive explosion, with both teams combining for 42 first downs and 956 yards in total offense.

The game’s first points came courtesy of Bartlett, who found his way around the left side from 10 yards out for a 6-0 Riverhead lead on the game’s opening series.

But six of those first 10 plays by Riverhead were passes. With East Islip holding a size advantage on the line, Riverhead felt compelled to take the aerial route.

“We knew we could throw the ball, but I didn’t really expect this,” said Hinchy, whose two touchdowns helped Riverhead to a 19-7 lead in the first quarter.

Shay said he would have to review the game film before giving Bitzer a grade on his performance, but regardless, it sounded like he is going to keep his young quarterback’s feet on the ground.

“Certainly, there’s no such thing as a perfect game,” Shay said. “We expect big things out of Ryan, but we’re not going to let him think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, either. He’s going to continue to work hard and develop.”

That could be a chilling thought for the rest of the division.

bliepa@timesreview.com

09/06/11 10:04pm
09/06/2011 10:04 PM

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Charles Bartlett was Riverhead's leading rusher last season, picking up 773 yards and four touchdowns from 138 carries.

Who said you can’t go home again? The Riverhead Blue Waves are going to try their darnedest to do just that.

And home, in this case, would mean the playoffs. In recent years, the playoffs have become an expectation more than anything else for the Blue Waves. They had reached the postseason four years in a row before missing out on the party last year.

Hence, the team’s theme for the new season: “On Our Way Back Home.”

It certainly looks as if the Blue Waves have the tools to do it. They may be eager to leave their 2010 season — and the 2-6 record that came with it — in the past. Sure, they were 2-6, but the record is a little misleading. Four of Riverhead’s losses came by a total of 14 points. They ended up in 10th place in Suffolk County Division II despite outscoring opponents by 163-144.

“We couldn’t make that critical play when we had to,” said Leif Shay, who takes a 70-43 (.619) career record into his 14th season as the team’s coach. “It was frustrating. It was something that we’re not used to. It leaves a little bit of a bitter taste.”

Fortunately for the sixth-seeded Blue Waves, they have players like Charles Bartlett, Ryan Bitzer and Reggie Moore to help sweeten things in 2011.

Moore, a senior H-back and linebacker, was an all-league player last season. He led the team in tackles (73) and sacks (5 1/2).

Bartlett, a senior running back/linebacker, was the team’s rushing leader, gobbling up 773 yards from 138 runs (5.6 yards per carry) and bolting for four touchdowns.

“I was trying to get to a thousand [rushing yards], but this year I’m hoping to have a lot more,” Bartlett said. “It’s definitely going to be difficult for a defense to stop us with our running game.”

Bitzer got valuable experience starting at quarterback as a sophomore last year. He completed 64 of 138 passes for 974 yards and nine touchdowns against six interceptions.

Four of Bitzer’s touchdown passes went to Mike Hinchy (10 receptions, 133 yards), who enters his senior season.

Riverhead has two other senior starters back in wide receiver/free safety Kurt Carter and lineman Shawn Yarborough. Meanwhile, senior left tackle Anthony Stimpfel is expected to play a big role on the offensive line.

The defensive unit will have all new starters.

Good things are expected from Jeremiah Cheatom, a sophomore running back/outside linebacker who ran for 22 touchdowns for the junior varsity team last year and then scored two more in his varsity debut on the final day of the regular season.

Among the bunch of newcomers who could find themselves on the field are center Stephen Powers, right tackle Kyle Harris, right guard Kyle McCabe, left guard Nick Ross, tight end Vinny Brodeur, cornerback Jeff Pittman, cornerback Quinn Funn, outside linebacker Eric Gevinski, outside linebacker Jaron Greenidge, defensive end David Napoli and defensive end Josh Blom.

“We have a lot of young guys who are hungry,” Shay said. “I like their intensity.”

Sure, the Blue Waves have a lot of youth, but they also have good speed at the skill positions.

“Very good talent,” Moore said. “We have a lot of speed on this team, and we’re going to see what we can do with it this year.”

Moore sounded anxious for his third varsity season to kick off.

“Very exciting,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this. This is my last year. This is my sport. This is my time to shine.”

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy quarterback Keith Schroeher was named to the all-division second team in 2010.

Tackling woes continually haunted the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs (2-6) last season, and they were reflected in the statistics. Damning statistics.

The Monarchs gave up more than 51 points in a game on three occasions and 46 or more points five times. Their opponents rang up an average of 38.9 points per game against the Monarchs. Tightening up that defense is one of the top priorities for the team’s new head coach, Jeff Doroski.

“Our biggest problem is the physical nature of this game and what it means to be a physical football team,” said Doroski, who took over from Joe Read, who resigned in January after four years in which the Monarchs went 10-23 and reached the playoffs in 2008 for the first time in 16 years.

Talking about the tackling issue, Doroski said: “It’s tough and it’s not a fixable thing overnight. We hope it’s sooner than later. It’s a process. I think it will get better. It can’t get worse.”

As Doroski, a former player and assistant coach for the Monarchs, tackles his new job, he has brought changes with him. The Monarchs have adopted a new zonal blocking scheme and can be expected to play more of a field-position game than they did under Read.

“We want to try to control the tempo of our game with our game,” said Doroski, whose team is seeded 12th among Division IV’s 14 teams.

With the start of the new Doroski era, comes excitement.

“Everyone’s been working in the off-season, which hasn’t always been the case in years past,” said Pat Stepnoski, a senior running back and outside linebacker who has never been to the football playoffs and wants to change that. “Everyone’s excited, ready to go. Everyone wants to do well this year.”

Stepnoski, who was an all-county selection last year, is a big part of the team’s plans along with Keith Schroeher, a senior quarterback and outside linebacker who was named to the all-division second team.

The Monarchs will rely on their other returning starters as well: offensive tackle/defensive end Anthony Heppner, offensive tackle/defensive tackle Ray Ellis, wide receiver/defensive back Junior Paul, defensive end/H-back Bernie Schrage and guard/middle linebacker Jack Strnad. Also returning to the team are linemen James Edmonds and Mike Donnell. Among the new additions are center/defensive tackle Chris Butler, wide receiver/defensive back Mario Burriesci and guard/middle linebacker Pat Morelli.

“They come to work,” Doroski said. “We don’t have a lot of rah-rah guys who are jumping up and down and yelling and screaming. We have a lot of guys who come out every day and do their job.”

With nine two-way starters, depth and injuries are an issue to be concerned about.

Game 1 on Friday night at Center Moriches High School will carry special significance for Doroski in a number of ways. Not only will he be making his debut as a varsity head football coach, but he will be facing two familiar faces across the field from him. The Red Devils’ coach, Steve Failla, is the godfather of Doroski’s son, Christian, and was the best man at Doroski’s wedding. And that isn’t the only connection. Failla and one of his assistant coaches, Craig Rupprecht, are both former McGann-Mercy coaches themselves who were teammates of Doroski’s when they all played for the Monarchs.

“We want to obviously improve on a 2 and 6 record,” Doroski said. “I think the way our schedule sets up, we’re capable of doing that. We also want to be able to come week in and week out and compete. We have the talent and the physical makeup to come out and be a competitive team. We have to decide to do that.”

The biggest news coming out of Shoreham-Wading River’s first scrimmage, a multi-team exhibition at Smithtown West last Thursday, was every player walked away from it healthy.

For a team as banged up as the Wildcats were last season, they know there’s little wiggle room for any starters to go down. Under their second-year coach, Matt Millheiser, the Wildcats are anxious to move on from an 0-8 season last year and in their first taste of live competition, the players came out hitting.

“It was the scrimmage we went to last year and last year we took it on the chin a little bit,” Millheiser said. “This year the kids were ready to go. We fared well. At times Smithtown West had a little size on us and they pushed us around a little bit, but I think our kids responded to that. They scored on us and our kids responded and we were able to march the ball downfield and score on them.”

Points were hard to come by for the Wildcats last season. They were shut out four times and scored a total of 30 points on the season, punching the ball in the end zone four times. In contrast, every team they played scored at least 32 points against the Wildcats.

The Wildcats will rely on their running attack to try to move the chains this season. Senior Dylan Bates, a tight end last year, will get the majority of handoffs in a new role this season at halfback. One of the most versatile athletes on the team, a player who can line up in multiple spots, Bates proved early in training camp that he could be the team’s top runner.

“We had him back there a couple times just running the ball and realized he was our best runner, our hardest runner,” Millheiser said. “He was going at game speed and he gave us the best opportunity to run the ball well.”

Senior Joe Longo returns at fullback. He also plays defensive end. And the Wildcats have another young runner who could see some action running the ball in Tyler Anderson, a sophomore who saw time on varsity last year.

The Wildcats feature two players still vying for playing time at quarterback. Junior Kevin Kelley saw some time at quarterback last year behind Brandon Warner, who graduated. He’s fighting for time along with another junior, Sean Logan.

Millheiser said both players have played well at times, but haven’t had the consistency to win the starting job outright.

“If we have to go with two of them in the season and go with the hot hand so to speak, we’ll do that,” Millheiser said. “And if somebody decides to take control and win the job outright I have no problem putting him in for all the snaps.”

When the Wildcats look to pass, they’ll have a big target in Chris Mahoney, a 6-foot-3 receiver. He caught a fade for a touchdown against Babylon in the Wildcats’ scrimmage.

“Having a kid like that out there is going to force teams to keep that safety out of the box and let us run the ball more effectively,” Millheiser said. “When they want to bring [the safety] up we’re going to have to put it up there and let Chris go make some plays.”

The Wildcats return some experience on the line with center Jason Ambrosini, a junior, and seniors Mike Savino and Dylan Gorman, who both play guard on the offensive line. Savino and Gorman also lead the defense at linebacker.

“Offensively we’re going to pull our guards, get them moving and we’re going to run behind them,” Millheiser said. “So those two guys are important on offense.”

Logan (free safety) and Mahoney (strong safety) will both anchor the secondary on defense. Millheiser said there are a few players battling for the cornerback spots.

On special teams, Zach MacAuley, a sophomore soccer player, returns to do the kicking duties.

“He’s grown a lot since last year,” Millheiser said. “He’s bigger, stronger and kicking the ball farther.”

The 10th seed in Division IV, after playing in Division III last year, the Wildcats will open the season against Southampton.

Joe Werkmeister contributed to this article.

bliepa@timesreview.com
joew@northshoresun.com

08/26/11 3:58pm
08/26/2011 3:58 PM

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Jeremiah Cheatom scored 22 rushing touchdowns for Riverhead's junior varsity team last year and then ran for two more in his varsity debut.

Twenty-two rushing touchdowns in a season is quite a feat, but it wasn’t all those touchdowns that Jeremiah Cheatom rang up in seven games for the Riverhead High School junior varsity football team last season that marked the highlight of his freshman year. No, it was the two touchdowns that Cheatom ran for in his varsity debut that he liked best.

Three days before the Blue Waves’ final game of a 2-6 season, Cheatom received word that he was being pulled up to the varsity team to be given a look.

“I was excited, but also nervous,” he recalled, “but I was ready.”

There was no doubting that.

The Blue Waves took a peak into their future and liked what they saw. Cheatom, the touchdown maker, proved to be a handful that day, spoiling things for the Smithtown East Bulls, whose new field turf was christened with a 40-13 loss to the Blue Waves. The young running back bolted for a pair of second-quarter touchdowns and finished the day with 64 yards from 11 carries.

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Reggie Moore, a senior H-back, is one of several ball-carrying options for Riverhead.

Cheatom may have opened some eyes — at least those of outsiders — that day, but his teammates knew what he could do.

“I knew about Jeremiah Cheatom,” Charles Bartlett, a senior running back and middle linebacker for the Blue Waves, said. “I knew him for a long time. I knew he was good, and I knew that was going to happen. He’s going to be a good running back. I told him just to go play his game, and he did that.”

Riverhead’s junior quarterback, Ryan Bitzer, said: “I heard all the coaches talking about him. I saw some of his games on the JV, and he was tearing it up there, too.”

With no playoffs to look forward to for the first time in five years, the Blue Waves could at least take comfort in knowing that they had another capable ball carrier in their corral. Now it looks as if the Blue Waves will hit the ground running with their running game in 2011.

On the same day that Cheatom began his varsity career, Bartlett banged out 125 yards and a touchdown on 12 rushing attempts. He finished the season as the team’s leading rusher with 773 yards from 138 carries (5.6 yards per carry) as well as four touchdowns.

Bitzer has other weapons at his disposal. In addition to Bartlett and Cheatom, junior Jeff Pittman is another viable starter at tailback. Bitzer can also place the ball in the hands of Reggie Moore, a senior H-back who has already made a name for himself as a scoring threat.

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer is anticipating a more consistent running game this year.

All of them offer speed and elusive moves, enough to give opposing defenses cause to shudder.

“We have a lot of speed back there,” Coach Leif Shay said. “Last year’s running game was sporadic. We had days when we ran the ball well, and we had days when we struggled a bit. This year’s running game is still a work in progress. We have some big guys up front, but they haven’t worked together. We certainly have the running back depth and speed this year.”

Bitzer said: “Last season we had a lot of speed, but we weren’t really consistent, so I think it will be a lot different this year. I think we’ll be faster, stronger, and more consistent, and I think the line will be a little better, too.”

What’s more, Shay said the offense has more balance.

Shay said Cheatom, who runs a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, reminded him of Chris Harris, a former standout running back for Riverhead. In at least one aspect, Bitzer sees a similarity with Miguel Maysonet, the former Hansen Award winner for Riverhead who now plays for Stony Brook University. “He’s fast, he’s strong, and he sees the field good like when Miguel did when he was here,” said Bitzer.

Through offseason workouts in the weight room, Cheatom is stronger, but he said he is also smarter than he was a year ago. His path has been helped by Bartlett, who has given him the benefit of his knowledge.

But part of what Cheatom does on the football field is instinctual.

“He has a great forward lean,” Shay said. “He gets you that extra five yards. He’s got great vision. He sees cutback lanes where other kids can’t, so he definitely has the potential to see and do a lot of things.”

Cheatom said: “When I’m in the backfield, it’s sort of like slow motion. I can see the play before it’s going to happen.”

Playing the role of prophet, Cheatom said: “We’re a solid running team. We’re going to get a lot of yards this year.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

08/18/11 2:33pm
08/18/2011 2:33 PM

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Riverhead Coach Leif Shay and his coaching staff pay attention to details in preseason training camp.

This isn’t summer camp, that’s for sure.

That is one of the things players learn very quickly. True, it is a camp held in the summer, but that is about where the similarities end.

Preseason training camp for the Riverhead High School football team isn’t so much about fun and games. It’s about players toiling and sweating under the glaring sun, pushing themselves to exhaustion, fighting for positions, and preparing for the upcoming season. It will not be mistaken for life at a holiday resort, that’s for sure.

Welcome to Camp Shay.

Like all camps, Coach Leif Shay’s camp has rules, rules that place a premium on discipline.

Cardinal Rule No. 1: Thou shalt not cut corners.

A reporter learned that lesson a few years ago when, following a preseason practice, he walked across the corner of an athletic field while the team headed for the locker room. Shay made the reporter turn back and walk around the corner of the field, and that was someone who was not a team member!

“No cutting corners, no coming late, very disciplined,” Reggie Moore, a senior middle linebacker and H-back, said following the team’s first preseason practice on Thursday morning. “He’s a very disciplined man, and that’s how we’re going to be as a team.”

And there are other no-nos, the violation of which has consequences — essentially more work for the offender and possibly his teammates. Jumping offside during a drill is discouraged by extra pushups or getups (in which players fall to the ground and then quickly hop to their feet) as punishment. If a player shows up late to practice, the team does extra running. Practice concludes with a series of 40-yard sprints run by players grouped by their class. Ten sprints must be deemed acceptable by the coaching staff. If a player takes off before a whistle, steps on the starting line or doesn’t run hard enough, that sprint must be run over again.

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Riverhead senior Kurt Carter made a catch during the team's first preseason practice.

“You step on a line, you got to go back to zero,” said Kurt Carter, a senior free safety/wide receiver in his fourth preseason camp under Shay. “You jump offsides, you go back to zero. If you don’t know what grade you’re in, you go back to zero.”

That isn’t all.

“Don’t take your helmet off, I’ll tell you that much,” Carter said. “They’ll get on you for that.”

A good rule of thumb for players to follow is that once they walk onto the practice field at Riverhead High School, they’re on. That brings us to another Camp Shay rule: no walking.

“Don’t walk anywhere,” Carter said. “You don’t walk on that football field. The only time you can walk is if you’re off the field and you’re getting water. That’s just about it.”

Moore, an all-county player who led the team with 75 tackles and four and a half sacks last year, said, “It’s all business when you walk on the field.”

There is a method to the madness. With attention paid to the smallest details, the hope is that it will eliminate bad habits, reinforce good ones, and help the team in games.

“When kids get tired, the first thing that goes is their mental focus, and we want to make sure that they’re always focused, even when they’re exhausted,” said Shay, who is in his 14th year as Riverhead’s head coach. “A method to the madness? I don’t know. It’s madness, that’s for sure.”

And an education for young players new to the scene and unaccustomed to the ways of high school football.

“It’s a little bit of a culture shock,” Shay said. “The coaches are getting after you.”

Not all players are happy campers, though. Shay said two players left the team less than 10 minutes into the first practice after they showed up late and the whole team was punished for it. “I never had it happen that quick,” he said. “It usually takes a day or two, so, yeah, that is a record.”

Who is to argue with Shay’s methods? He is a proven winner. His career record speaks for itself: 70-43 (.619).

Last year the Blue Waves went 2-6 — their first losing season since 1998, Shay’s first year in charge of the team — and saw their string of four straight playoff appearances snapped.

Shay knows full well the value of preseason training camp, which he said is the most important part of the season. “You’re establishing your foundation,” he said. “It’s like building a house. If you don’t put together a good foundation, the thing’s going to collapse.”

The Blue Waves will hold two-a-day practices for 10 days. Shay expects hitting to start on Monday.

All of this is being done with upcoming dates in mind. On Aug. 31 the Blue Waves will participate in a four-way scrimmage with the Westhampton Beach Hurricanes, the Center Moriches Red Devils and the Sachem North Flaming Arrows. On Sept. 2 they will have a game scrimmage at Sachem East. This all leads to Sept. 10, when the seventh-seeded Blue Waves will face the top-seeded team in Suffolk County Division II, the East Islip Redmen, in their season opener.

Between now and then a great deal will be done. “A lot of learning, a lot of tears, a lot of hurt feelings, a lot of blood and sweat,” Shay said, “but in the end we’re all going to come together and give it a great year.”

The Blue Waves have about 20 seniors, but not a lot of playing experience. They do have more experience in the skill positions than they had last year, though. Players like quarterback Ryan Bitzer, tailback Jeremiah Cheatom and outside linebacker/tailback Charles Bartlett help. That is why the team plans to make best use of the speed that it has.

“We got to know that we can press the tempo,” Shay said. “We got to utilize our strength, which is our speed this year. We have to know that we can do things very fast and do them correctly with no discipline problems.”

Anthony Stimpfel, a senior offensive tackle and defensive tackle, said: “The new guys got to understand that they got to work hard if they’re going to be out here. It’s tough, but we work for a reason, to get better. This is really important, training on a mental level as well as a physical level.”

“We have to become a team,” he continued. “We have a lot of stars, but we have to come together and become a team. We definitely have some good talent out here.”

During two-a-days, the team practices in the morning, and players have several hours to rest and recover before returning for the evening practice session. But it isn’t the first day of practices that is as telling as the second one, said Carter. “Tomorrow morning, you’ll see who’s tough and who’s not,” he said. “We’ll find out.”

Carter did have advice for newcomers: “Come back tomorrow morning ready to work.”

bliepa@timesreview.com