WEST BABYLON 41, RIVERHEAD 6
The Riverhead Blue Waves arrived in West Babylon Friday night fully expecting quarterback Clifton Melhado to be leading the Eagles’ offense.
Instead, it was Michael Richardson, a senior wide receiver who’s normally been on the other end of the passing game. With Melhado sidelined with a knee injury, the electrifying Richardson slid over to quarterback and led West Babylon to a 41-6 win, a statement victory in a game that featured the last two unbeaten teams in Division II.
Whenever their backs have been against the wall this season, the Blue Waves (5-1) have found a way to come through. Against the Eagles, the magic ran out.
After going into halftime down 13-6 in front of a packed house at West Babylon Junior High, the Blue Waves imploded in the second half as the Eagles ran away with the game, and with it, the lead in the division. The 6-0 Eagles have Richardson and halfback/linebacker Reggie Robinson to thank.
Richardson rushed for three touchdowns and Robinson added another. Both played key roles in leading a dominant defensive effort that shut down the Blue Waves’ vaunted offense. The Blue Waves hadn’t scored fewer than 34 points in any other game this season.
“Our young guys were exposed,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “Some of our sophomores that were playing got a taste of a real competitive game. Those guys are going to get better. The final score is not indicative of how close the game was.”
The Blue Waves committed six turnovers, four of which came in the first half. After six plays from scrimmage, the Blue Waves already had three turnovers. By halftime they had four.
Through all the mistakes in the first half, the Blue Waves still trailed by just a touchdown going into the third quarter. West Babylon had the ball to start the third quarter and the Blue Waves forced the Eagles to punt. For the first time, the momentum seemed to be swaying back toward Riverhead. But with the Blue Waves backed into a third-and-long deep in their own end, quarterback Ryan Bitzer scrambled back while under heavy pressure up the middle. He tried throwing a short check-down, but Matt Ballone intercepted it and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown to make it 20-6.
The Eagles never looked back.
“All the mistakes we made are correctable,” Shay said. “You take away all the turnovers and it’s a very different game.”
Rain fell through most of the first half, which didn’t help the Blue Waves’ passing attack. Shay downplayed the effect of the weather and said it was more about mental mistakes.
“It was one of those games where we just weren’t clicking,” he said.
It was hard to imagine Richardson wasn’t the regular quarterback the way he effectively orchestrated the offense. The Eagles threw the ball less than they normally do and kept it mostly on the ground. Richardson ran out of the shotgun throughout the game or handed off to Robinson or halfback Unigue Ford, who had one touchdown.
Melhado injured the knee two weeks ago against Newfield. He came back last week to play but ended up re-injuring it, forcing him to sit out against Riverhead.
“I played [quarterback] my seventh, eighth, ninth grade, then I changed my sophomore year,” said Richardson, who’s a senior.
Richardson intercepted two of the first three Riverhead passes of the game. He nearly had a third interception as well. And he had another dazzling touchdown run on a fake punt just before the first half ended wiped away by a holding penalty that was nowhere near the play.
“The kid’s a stud,” Shay said. “There’s a reason those guys are as good as they are. They got great athletes.”
The Blue Waves opened the game by trying the same play that went for a touchdown against Hills West. They ran a reverse with halfback Charles Bartlett handing off to Michael Hinchy, who then threw the ball. This time, however, the Eagles weren’t fooled and had the coverage down field. Richardson made the play to pick it off.
“I had a feeling they were going to try something tricky on the first play,” Richardson said. “And I was right there for it.”
Riverhead’s only score came on a 45-yard pass play from Bitzer to Reggie Moore, who finished with four catches. Moore lined up on the right and ran a quick slant, caught the ball in stride and was off to the races. The score trimmed the West Babylon lead to 13-6 with 2:26 left in the second quarter.
The Blue Waves’ running attack never gained any momentum. Bartlett was kept out of the end zone for the first time this season. He rushed for only 40 yards on 13 carries. Sophomore Jeremiah Cheatom took most of the carries later in the game as the gap widened.
Riverhead returns home next week to play Copiague looking to maintain a firm grasp on the No. 2 seed in Division II going into the playoffs. Copiague is winless going into this week’s game.
“Obviously if you told me in August we’d be 5-1, we would have taken that,” Shay said.