Grit, determination and resilience propelled Riverhead into the victory column Friday night as the Blue Waves earned a 23-16 victory over the Smithtown West Bulls.
With Smithtown West beating previously unbeaten East Islip last week, Riverhead (5-2) arrived in town hoping to acquire precious power ranking points to secure home field for the first round of the Division II playoffs.
Riverhead’s non-existent passing game, costly penalties, and untimely defensive letdowns let the Bulls (3-4) hang around, but the physical, yet crafty running of junior Jeremiah Cheatom put the game away.
Cheatom finished the game with a career-high 262 yards on 18 carries while scoring two touchdowns, including the decisive score in the fourth quarter.
“In my state of mind, I wasn’t going down,” Cheatom said.
Cheatom tantalized the Bulls defense, but refused to take all the credit.
“My offensive line does an excellent job and I am so proud of them,” he said. “I give all the credit to them. All I have to do is run hard.”
Cheatom said his running came down to “finding the right cutbacks and taking full advantage.”
Midway through the third quarter, the Blue Waves saw their 14-point halftime lead shrink to just one following two unanswered Smithtown touchdowns. On the extra point attempt to tie the game, Riverhead senior Jeffrey Pittman came off the edge untouched to block the kick, preserving Riverhead’s lead at one. It was the second straight game Pittman blocked a kick. He swatted down a ball on a short field goal attempt against Newfield last week.
Following Smithtown’s touchdown, the first play on offense for the Blue Waves was halted by a false start, one of nine penalties on the night for the Blue Waves.
The next play Cheatom ran a zone to the right. Putting his head down into a huddle of defenders, a second or two passed and he somehow emerged out of the crowd and sprinted off into the distance. Evading defenders and hugging the sideline he gained 37 yards. He would later score his second touchdown on a 33-yard run to make the score 23-16 (the extra point was missed) and give the Blue Waves a little breathing room.
“I cut it in, read my blocks, and bounced it outside,” Cheatom said.
Following an empty offensive possession for both teams, the game was up to the defense. The Blue Waves had already intercepted a pass (Pittman), sacked the quarterback twice (Nick Ross, Matt Hejmej) and forced three fumbles throughout the game.
With three minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bulls started a drive at their 15 yard-line following an effective punt by Anthony Chiaramonte. Smithtown West committed a holding penalty trying to hold back the Blue Waves’ pass rush and that placed the Bulls on the 4-yard line. Faced with a third-and-20, Smithtown West successfully ran a screen play gaining 29 yards. But the magic ended there as the drive stalled a few plays later with an interception by cornerback Quinn Funn.
Linebackers Mike Van Bommel and Hejmej led the defense with eight tackles each.
Cheatom put the Blue Waves ahead in the first quarter with a 47-yard touchdown run. Riverhead added 10 more points in the second quarter. Quarterback Ryan Bitzer threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Funn and kicker Devrim Kucuk connected on a 38-yard field goal that put the Blue Waves ahead 17-3 before halftime. It was his second field goal in as many games.
The Blue Waves close out the regular season next Saturday at home against Walt Whitman.