05/04/13 5:58pm
05/04/2013 5:58 PM

Like it or not, the Riverhead boys lacrosse team will have to wait more than a week before it learns whether it has clinched its first ever berth in the Suffolk County playoffs.

The Blue Waves certainly helped their cause with an 18-12 Division I victory over North Babylon at Mike McKillop Memorial Field on Saturday afternoon. Senior midfielder Ryan Bitzer led the way, tying the school record with a personal-best seven goals as the hosts improved their overall record to 10-5 and 8-5 in the division.

In many other high school sports, teams need to finish the regular season with a .500 record to reach the playoffs. In lacrosse, it is based on power ratings. Entering Saturday’s game, the Blue Waves were 12th among Division I teams with 111.870 points. The top 13 schools will reach the postseason.

Riverhead was followed by Half Hollow Hills West (107.32), Hauppauge (99.85), Walt Whitman (99.49) and East Islip (99.14).

“We’re still in the hunt in the playoffs,” Blue Waves coach Vic Guadagnino said. “If I can explain to you the power-rating system of Section XI, I would be a genius. I have no idea. We have a bye in our last game. We have a game on Tuesday and then we don’t play on Friday. So we’re not going to know until probably the following Monday if and when we’re definitely in. If this win definitely helped, I would be hard-pressed to say that we’re not in. But I will not commit and say we’re in until I see it officially on Section XI. Sorry, I wish I could say yes, but that’s not the case when you play with the power-rating system.”

The Blue Waves will play at West Islip in their regular-season finale on Tuesday.

On Saturday, the hosts enjoyed leads of 8-1 early in the second quarter and 12-3 early in the third period before North Babylon (4-10, 3-9) rallied with nine goals in the second half.

Dan Czelatka added two goals and six assists for Riverhead. Ryan Hubbard contributed three goals and three assists while Austin Fitzpatrick finished with three goals and one assist.

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.

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11/25/12 7:00am
11/25/2012 7:00 AM

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Riverhead receiver Quinn Funn makes a leaping grab against North Babylon’s Jake Conner in Week 3.

After Riverhead’s 42-28 win over North Babylon Sept. 22 in Week 3, Bulldogs coach Terry Manning said his team was still trying to find itself.

As the Bulldogs prepare to play Riverhead Sunday night in the Suffolk County Division II championship, it appears they’ve found what they were searching for.

The Blue Waves (8-2) will face their longtime rivals at 6:30 p.m. at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium to try to win their first county title since 2008. To do so, they must get past a North Babylon team that has been lighting up the scoreboard.

[Check back for live coverage tonight]

The Bulldogs, seeded 5th coming into the playoffs, have averaged 45.5 points in their last four games, including their first two playoff victories. North Babylon stunned No. 3 seed East Islip last weekend in a shootout, winning 52-41 on the road.

Under Manning, who’s coached 22 years at North Babylon, the Bulldogs have long been known as a run-first team. But as they showed in their victory over the Redmen, they can effectively pass the ball when they need to.

The Bulldogs (7-3) rarely line up with traditional receivers spread across the field. Nearly all their plays against East Islip began with a jumbo formation with two or three backs in close space in the backfield. The Redmen lined up six defenders across to try to negate the running game, but the Bulldogs continually sprung a receiver deep to counter the defense.

The Bulldogs would often send their tight ends, lined up at either end, out on pass routes. The Redmen defenders struggled to identify and pick up the receivers coming off the line, which allowed North Babylon to convert big plays through the air.

North Babylon’s first touchdown of the game came on a play-action pass from quarterback Jake Conner to tight end David Sonnenberg. Conner faked a handoff, rolled to his right as Sonnenberg — who lined up at the left end of the line — ran straight ahead past every defender to get wide open for a 37-yard touchdown.

The Bulldogs implement a lot of motion in the backfield, which adds to further confuse the defense. After striking through the air in the first half against East Islip, it only opened the running game even more in the second half.

Melijah Purvis takes the majority of handoffs for North Babylon and he’s surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground this season. Conner is a threat to run at quarterback and the Bulldogs have several other runners capable of carrying the ball.

The Bulldogs ran a quick reverse a few times against East Islip where Conner handed off to a back coming in motion. Purvis, lined up off the left edge, then got the ball snuck into his hands as he darted the opposite direction with the defense leaning the wrong way.

The Blue Waves will have their hands full, although their defense has been up to the challenge so far this season. Riverhead has allowed more than two touchdowns in a game only twice this season, against East Islip (24-14 loss) and against the Bulldogs (42-28 win). Most of the points Riverhead gave up in the game against North Babylon came late after the Blue Waves blew the game open.

Riverhead’s offense has been firing as well behind halfback Jeremiah Cheatom, quarterback Ryan Bitzer and receiver Quinn Funn. The Blue Waves have scored at least 30 points in their last three games. For the season the Blue Waves have averaged 30.1 points per game.

It should add up to plenty of fireworks Sunday night.

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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.”

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