Football: Blue Waves secure home playoff game

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Jeremiah Cheatom of Riverhead ran for 100 yards on 19 carries against Walt Whitman.


Preseason rankings make a difference.

With the Suffolk County Division II football playoff seedings to be decided by the end of the day, the Riverhead Blue Waves delivered a home-field clinching knockout blow to the Walt Whitman Wildcats with a 42-8 victory on Saturday afternoon at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field.

With the win, the top-seeded Blue Waves (6-2) have the third-best record in Division II behind West Islip (8-0) and East Islip (7-1), but secured the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Riverhead will face Walt Whitman (4-4) in the first round. Whitman finished tied in power rankings with West Babylon and received the higher seed.

Riverhead’s seniors, accompanied by their parents, were honored before the game for the hard work and effort they have put forth in their time with the program. Coach Leif Shay, in a pregame speech, urged his seniors to “play with no regrets.”

Quarterback Ryan Bitzer elaborated on it afterwards, saying: “You don’t want to go out losing. In 15 years, you want to talk about how you won your senior game.”

Bitzer made it known to potential playoff opponents that Riverhead can pass the ball with accuracy. Completing all eight of his passing attempts, he passed for 193 yards.

“I feel like I’m back to my old self,” he said. “It comes easy when everything is going right.”

Bitzer was involved in five touchdowns, including four passing. Three of those ended up in the hands of Quinn Funn, who amassed 163 yards on five catches.

“I wanted to have a breakout game because it was my senior game,” said Funn.

Funn, utilizing his juke move to full effect, made defenders look silly, scoring on touchdowns catches of 25, 34 and 50 yards. He almost had a fourth touchdown as he dove toward the end zone following a 44-yard gain that ended up being spotted at the 1 yard line.

The 50-yard touchdown catch involved some in-the-moment communication between Funn and Bitzer. On a play that was supposed to be just a simple hitch, Bitzer made a hand motion, directing Funn to go deep. Because the route sucked in the cornerback, Funn made a dart at the end zone, eventually catching a clean, spiraled pass without a defender in sight.

The offensive line allowed the Blue Waves total freedom to do what they pleased. The linemen opened up gaping holes for Jeremiah Cheatom (100 yards on 19 carries) to run through and they didn’t surrender a sack.

As much as the offense was clicking, it is hard to look past the effort made by the Blue Waves defense. In addition to leading the team with eight tackles, junior Jaron Greenidge scored a defensive touchdown. Walt Whitman halfback Nykwon Harrison had trouble securing a pitch, and before he got the bobbling under control, he was leveled by middle linebacker Mike Van Bommel and the ball popped free. Greenidge then picked up the ball before running it back 63 yards for a touchdown.

All eight of Walt Whitman’s points came in the first quarter. “It didn’t feel like they only scored eight points, they were really tough,” said Van Bommel.

The Blue Waves came out in a 5-3 defense as opposed to the standard 4-4 they usually go with. They added an extra defensive lineman and took away one linebacker in an attempt to stop the run.

“It gave us the ability to stop the dive more efficiently,” said outside linebacker Matt Hejmej.