garret meade PHOTO
Michael Curaba (No. 26), Savaun Eure (No. 3) and Reggie Moore (No. 2) led Riverhead onto the field for its home-opening game Saturday against Centereach.
Starting the high school football season with an 0-2 record is not something the Riverhead Blue Waves have been accustomed to in recent years. So, after a discouraging loss to the Newfield Wolverines in its second game, what was Riverhead’s week of practice like? Was there concern? Worry? Alarm?
Hardly. It was described more as determination and focus.
“A lot of teams at 0 and 2 would have packed it in,” said Leif Shay, who is in his 13th year coaching the team. “Our guys, it was probably the hardest I’ve seen a team work since I’ve been here at Riverhead. To their credit, they weren’t going to let their season slip away.”
Riverhead really needed a win, and it got one. Ryan Bitzer threw for four touchdowns as the Blue Waves broke into the win column Saturday with a 45-7 rout of the Centereach Cougars in Riverhead’s home opener at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field.
“We just wanted to show that those [first] two games, that wasn’t us,” said Riverhead senior Rodney Rollins, who caught one of those touchdown passes. “We needed a full, complete game, and that’s what we got today.”
Bitzer threw two of his scoring tosses to Michael Hinchy after connecting with Rollins and Kurt Carter for the first two. The sophomore quarterback, who had a rough game with four interceptions against Newfield, bounced back in a big way. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 192 yards and did not throw an interception.
“Four picks last week, four touchdowns this week,” Bitzer said. “It feels a lot better this week.”
Riverhead (1-2 in Suffolk County Division II) took a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter and the lead was never threatened.
Riverhead also received a 15-yard interception return by lineman Curtis Conklin and a 70-yard punt return by Reggie Moore in the fourth quarter. Three more Riverhead points were provided by Esteban Aarp, who booted a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
“Our offense was clicking today,” Bitzer said. “We started rolling and we didn’t stop the whole game.”
Riverhead totaled 370 yards worth of offense, more than twice as much as Centereach (1-2). Charles Bartlett ran for 133 of those yards on 11 carries. The Blue Waves also earned 15 first downs to six for their opponents. And they did all of this without one of their top players, tight end/linebacker Owen Keupp, who was out with an ankle injury.
“We didn’t lose our mind just because we were 0 and 2,” Moore said. “I was not worried at all. I have a lot of faith in this Riverhead football team. We had a good week of practice and we just came out and got it done.”
Centereach received its touchdown on a 36-yard run by Kyle Connor with 56.7 seconds left in the first quarter.
On the defensive side of the ball, Riverhead was led by Kevin Klerk’s nine tackles.
“Riverhead is always a dangerous team,” Centereach Coach Charlie McMillen said. “They’re traditionally a strong team in Division II, and you never take any team in Division II lightly.”
Like a cornered animal, a team coming off a disappointing loss can be a dangerous one. But Centereach’s quarterback and outside linebacker, Dan Brown, said that is irrelevant. “You have to be on guard every week,” he said. “They’re a good team. They’ve been a good team forever.”
Riverhead’s sharp preparation helped it eliminate the sort of mistakes it had made in its two previous games. Even so, could Rollins have expected 45-7?
“I had no predictions on this game,” he said. “We wanted to come out there, play our best and see what happens. Forty-five to seven, I’ll take that.”