The Riverhead Blue Waves received a pleasant reminder that they have one of the top running backs in Suffolk County. Unfortunately for them, though, they now have to wonder if they still have one of the top quarterbacks in the county.
Charles Bartlett ran for a career-high five touchdowns and nearly 300 yards as the Riverhead High School football team ran its record to 4-0, but the Blue Waves may have lost their quarterback on Wednesday.
The sight of Riverhead’s junior quarterback, Ryan Bitzer, struggling to make his way into the locker room on crutches following the Blue Waves’ 47-35 win over the Half Hollow Hills East Thunderbirds had to be concerning for the Riverheaders. Bitzer, who has been enjoying a tremendous season, suffered an injury to his right knee early in the fourth quarter of the Division II game. After being sacked by Ryan Coyle and Michael Dwoskin, Bitzer remained lying on rain-soaked Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field and had to be helped off with no pressure placed on his right knee. After the game, Bitzer and Riverhead Coach Leif Shay said they did not know the extent of the injury.
Meanwhile, Bartlett, a senior, had quite a day. Rain, including a couple of torrential downpours, fell during the second half, but it didn’t seem to bother Bartlett, a mudder if ever there was one.
“I love playing in the rain, just because it’s so hard to tackle somebody in the rain because your footing might slip,” Bartlett said. “Anything can happen in the rain.”
Bartlett rushed for 294 yards from 36 carries, including those five touchdown bursts. He shot forward up the middle to score from 10 yards out. He zig-zagged his way to the end zone on an 18-yarder. He broke loose for a 39-yarder. He scored on a seven-yard run. Finally, he shook off tacklers on his way to a 54-yard gallop for his 14th touchdown this season.
“It was middle school Charles,” Riverhead outside linebacker Eric Gevinski said. “That’s how he ran in middle school. He was breaking everything, touchdowns everywhere.”
A teammate, Reggie Moore, said Bartlett has the speed, the footwork, the strength and the moves — not to mention an offensive line in front of him — to make things happen. He has seen it before.
“I’ve been playing football with Charles since I was 6 years old, and it’s no different,” Moore said. “He’s been running the ball hard ever since I knew him, ever since we’ve been playing football, so I expect that from him, honestly.”
Bartlett wasn’t the only player with a No. 21 jersey who had a big day. Rasheed Williams ran for three Hills East touchdowns, covering 34, 11 and 21 yards.
The thing with Williams, a 5-foot-6, 155-pound junior who can fly, is a defender must be able to find him before he can tackle him, and that wasn’t always easy. Williams finished with 132 yards from 17 carries.
Following a 28-28 halftime score, Riverhead pulled away with three third-quarter touchdowns for a 47-28 lead. Bartlett’s final two touchdowns that quarter were sandwiched around a 12-yard run by Bitzer for his second touchdown of the game. That run came one play after Jeremiah Cheatom recovered a fumbled kickoff.
It was Bitzer who put up the game’s first points in the first quarter. On a fourth-and-inches play, he went on a quarterback sneak and found an opening that he shot through for a 47-yard dash to the end zone. (Bitzer went 6 of 15 passing for 133 yards. He also picked up 67 yards from five runs.)
That was the first of seven straight possessions in which either team scored a touchdown. Both sides had trouble stopping the other in the first half. It was a half that saw Hills East quarterback R. J. Nitti (18 of 32, 236 yards) run the ball in from one yard out for a score and later find Brandon Brightman for a 26-yard touchdown pass.
“You know what it is?” Shay said, referring to the shabby first-half defense. “I think they’re playing flag football in gym class now.”
Riverhead’s defense showed more fire in the second half, and not even the rain was able to stamp it out.
With a little over four minutes left in the game and Riverhead holding a 12-point lead, Hills East (2-2) advanced the ball to the Riverhead 5-yard line before Williams was stopped for no gain by Moore on a fourth-down play.
Later, Hills East took over possession on the Riverhead 33, but failed to advance the ball. On fourth down, a Nitti pass was tipped in the secondary by Gevinski, and Jeffrey Pittman made a nice diving grab for the interception with 3 minutes 7 seconds remaining, essentially sealing the victory.
Riverhead registered 501 yards in offense, with 368 of those yards coming on the ground.
Moore said, “Towards the end of the third quarter, the rain started coming down really hard, and I’m telling the O-line, ‘It’s time to grab your guns; we got to run the football.’ ”
Coming off a big win over the Half Hollow Hills West Colts four days earlier, a letdown would have seemed a real possibility for Riverhead. The Blue Waves have until next Thursday before their next game at Walt Whitman High School. By then they will have a clearer idea of what they are facing in terms of Bitzer’s injury.
If Bitzer isn’t able to play, Shay said, Riverhead will turn to Cody Smith, a strong-armed sophomore who entered the game with 4:13 left.
“We’re going to recover like we do with anything,” Gevinski said. “You have people go down all the time. We have to bounce back. Hopefully he’ll come back. If he doesn’t, we just have to move on.”