GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Kurt Carter intercepted a pass at the Blue Waves' 2-yard line before being tackled by Newfield's Ron Denig on the final play of the first half.
WOLVERINES 37, BLUE WAVES 0
Aside from playoff seedings, some might have wondered how much meaning this final regular-season football game had. Those people evidently weren’t wearing Newfield uniforms.
Newfield and Riverhead knew beforehand that they are both headed to the postseason. The only thing is, now Newfield has a boost of confidence and perhaps a mental edge. Using their physicality and fine-tuned running game, the Wolverines hammered Riverhead, 37-0, on Sunday.
“That was the idea, send a message,” Newfield running back/linebacker Ron Denig said. “You want to be rolling going into the playoffs.”
And how is this for an interesting tidbit? It appears likely that these same two teams will return to Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field in Riverhead in six days for a Suffolk County Division II qualifying round game. Both head coaches, asked about the possibility of a rematch with a lot more at stake, didn’t have much to say.
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Julian Santiago, one of six Newfield ball carriers who totaled 279 rushing yards, was pursued by Riverhead's Nick Ross.
“It is what it is,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay.
Newfield coach Joe Piccinnini said, “Hey, look, at this time of the year, whoever you play, you play.”
If Newfield-Riverhead II does happen, Newfield (5-3) will have the satisfaction of knowing it not only beat Riverhead (6-2) once, but that it can run the ball against the Blue Waves. The Wolverines did it time and time again on Sunday.
The game had been postponed from the day before because rain had made the field unplayable. But Sunday’s weather also impacted the game. The wind and cold didn’t suit Riverhead’s passing game one bit. Meanwhile, bigger Newfield enjoyed great success with its running game. Six ball carriers ran up 279 rushing yards for Newfield. Four of those players — Denig, Zach Powell, Julian Santiago and Mike Silva — had touchdown runs. Silva also ran in a pair of two-point conversions and completed a pass to Santiago for another.
Denig (93 yards, 11 carries) and Powell (90 yards, 13 carries) led the way. Even Karl Rindfliesch, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound lineman, ran four times for 18 yards.
Newfield ran the ball 47 times and passed it only five times.
“We are who we are,” Piccinnini said. “We are a physical football team.” Speaking of his players, Piccinnini said. “They love to hit.”
Denig agreed. “That’s our bread and butter, hitting,” he said.
It’s a style that contrasts dramatically with Riverhead’s speed and finesse.
Although Piccinnini might have grimaced over the 110 yards worth of penalties his team was assessed from 12 thrown flags, he had to like the way Newfield moved the ball well, converting eight of 11 third-down plays for first downs.
But it was Newfield’s defense that supplied the fifth and final touchdown. Sangye Tsakorshiku collected a tipped pass by Ryan Bitzer and returned the interception 45 yards for a score with 3 minutes 45 seconds left to play.
Newfield might have struck for another score had not Riverhead’s Kurt Carter picked off a pass at his team’s 2-yard line on the final play of the first half.
“We’re going to use this as a wake-up call,” Shay said. “We’re not a very tough group of kids. We have to get tougher. We actually blocked pretty well at times. We just didn’t make plays when we needed to.”
Newfield’s defense surrendered only 144 yards to shut out Riverhead’s high-octane offense for the first time this year. The Blue Waves were 2 of 10 on third-down plays. James Manginelli made nine tackles and Tom Diubaldo had eight for Newfield.
Newfield, seeded No. 2 in the division before the season, is surely no pushover. The Wolverines went through a stretch in which they lost three straight games to West Babylon, East Islip and North Babylon, but have since righted the ship.
Was Newfield underestimated after those three losses?
“Underrated, overrated, I’m not really too sure,” Denig said. “We did have that three-game losing streak, you know, where I’m sure a lot of people lost faith. … Critics are always going to talk, though, say we’re not tough enough, we’re not big enough to win.”
The Blue Waves shouldn’t be among them, though, not after what they experienced.
“We had a bad day,” said Reggie Moore, one of Riverhead’s 22 seniors who were recognized during a pregame ceremony before their final home regular-season game. Moore, who was involved in a team-leading nine tackles, said, “It’s a little disappointing, but we’re going to keep our head up and keep fighting.”