Football: After one thrilling play, all downhill for Riverhead
SUFFOLK DIVISION II QUARTERFINALS | NEWFIELD 49, RIVERHEAD 19
In one exhilarating play, suddenly there was hope.
As Riverhead junior Jeffrey Pittman cradled the ball in the end zone after it flew directly into his arms on a Newfield fumble, maybe it seemed, this was going to be a different ending than a week ago. Just as it appeared Newfield was about to score, suddenly Pittman held the ball, his motor running as fast as it could, 102 yards all the way down the left sideline for a Riverhead touchdown.
A week after losing 37-0 to Newfield, the Blue Waves shockingly led 6-0 in the first round of the Division I playoffs Saturday afternoon against the Wolverines after one quarter.
A good omen, however, it was not.
Newfield, behind its bruising rushing attack that saw five different players score touchdowns, scored the next 35 points to blow the game open at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field. The Wolverines’ final score with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter made it 49-19 to end Riverhead’s season at 6-3. No. 5 Newfield (6-3) advances to play top-seeded West Babylon next week in the semifinals.
As thrilling a play Riverhead’s first score was after Ron Denig lost the ball for Newfield a feet away from crossing the goal line, it proved to be one of the only highlights for the Blue Waves. Riverhead turned the ball over four times in the first half, three of which came on interceptions. The final pick came on first-and-goal from the Newfield 3-yard line with under a minute to play for a back-breaking turnover. A touchdown would have cut the deficit to a one-possession game going into halftime, but instead Newfield led 20-6 and never looked back.
“They were better than us,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “We ran out of magic dust. Hats off to them. They were the better team today.”
A physical team with a lot of size up front, Newfield overwhelmed the Riverhead defense. The Blue Waves knew they needed to play more physical this week, and halfback Charles Bartlett said he thinks his team did that despite the loss.
“We had to match their physicality,” he said. “In my eyes I think we did. Then in some areas we actually played worse than we did last week.”
Bartlett rushed for a team-high 124 yards on 22 carries and scored one touchdown in his final game for Riverhead.
Coming off last year’s difficult season, Bartlett said he could still take pride in what his team accomplished this season.
“It feels good that we can actually say we had a successful season,” he said.
The Blue Waves had a lot of success early in the season throwing the ball, but struggled with the passing game the final few weeks. The first two passes of the game against Newfield from Riverhead junior Ryan Bitzer were picked off. He finished the game 8-of-22 for 76 yards.
Quinn Funn and Reggie Moore both had three catches for the Blue Waves. The longest pass play for Riverhead came on a fake punt when Bitzer threw to Moore. And still, a block in the back penalty took off 10 yards on the play.
“I think teams adjusted to us and our tempo and no-huddle,” Shay said. “The bottom line, late November, you got to be able to be physical and run the football and we weren’t able to do that.”
Newfield executed to near perfection on the ground.
Quarterback Mike Silva ran for two touchdowns and halfback Julian Santiago, who’s 6-foot, 225 pounds, rushed for 191 yards and a touchdown. Halfback Zach Powell scored on a 45-yard touchdown run. Denig had one score as did Joe Feliciano on a 37-yard run for the game’s final score.
Shay said coming into the season, the team’s slogan was “On our way back home.”
“We want to get back into the playoffs and we want to get back to being an integral part of Suffolk County football, and we did that,” he said. “Now we just got to get better and take the next step.”
The game featured some controversy early on as Shay tried in vain to argue that Newfield was using an illegal formation. The game wad delayed for several minutes with 1:40 left in the first quarter as the Wolverines were driving so the referees could get the rule book to try clarify their interpretation for Shay.
Shay said Newfield has two players who weren’t wearing lineman numbers, No. 4 (Tom Diubaldo) and No. 32 (Greg Baumgartner), playing guard and tackle. The Wolverines then used No. 77, Karl Rindfliesch, in the backfield.
Shay said the referee told him that as long as Newfield had five players with eligible numbers on the field, they can put No. 4 and 32 on the line. Shay didn’t agree with that interpretation, which comes from a punt formation.
“It’s deceptive,” he said. “They’re trying to skate around a punt rule by running this formation. But the referee didn’t see it that way. The rule is on a punt, if he’s more than seven yards back, then you can put skill kids on the line. But he’s not punting.”
The Blue Waves return a large portion of their team next season, giving the team plenty of reason to believe the playoffs will be a destination again.