Football: Blue Waves return to title game

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer ran for a touchdown and threw for one more in Saturday’s semifinal win over West Babylon.

It’s been four years since a Riverhead football team could call itself a champion.

That might be about to change.

The Blue Waves, 30-14 winners at home Saturday over West Babylon, are headed back to Stony Brook. They’ll face North Babylon at noon next Sunday, Nov. 25, in the Suffolk County Division II Championship Game.

“Words can’t explain it,” said Riverhead wide receiver Quinn Funn, who caught a pivotal 74-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Bitzer on his team’s first possession of the second half. “Since ninth grade, I’ve been thinking about playing at Stony Brook my senior year. We did it. Now we need to keep winning.”

Blue Waves head coach Leif Shay called Funn’s touchdown a “watershed play.”

Before then the Waves (8-2) had held much of the momentum in the game, but they still went into halftime with just a 14-7 lead. Then the Eagles (5-5) came out of the locker room stopping two straight running plays. On third-and-14, Bitzer finally  let it fly.

“Quinn is one of the toughest receivers on Long Island,”the quarterback said. “It wasn’t the best ball I’ve ever thrown, but I knew he’d come down with.”

He was right.

“It was a little wobbly,” said Funn, who played the game with a head cold but still caught four passes for 104 yards and the score. “I said, ‘I’m gonna go get it.'”

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTOS | Riverhead wide receiver Quinn Funn hauls in a 74-yard touchdown catch off a pass from quarterback Ryan Bitzer. The score gave the Waves a 21-7 lead over West Babylon with 10:47 left in the third quarter.

The touchdown was Funn’s 12th of the year.

It was also the 17th passing touchdown off the right arm of Bitzer, a three-year varsity starter at quarterback, who was 12-of-17 passing for 202 yards and one touchdown Saturday. The Riverhead signal-caller was the first player to score in Saturday’s game, giving Riverhead a 7-0 lead with a 4-yard run in the first quarter.

Junior running back Jeremiah Cheatom, who rushed for 135 yards on 33 carries and scored twice Saturday afternoon, gave the Waves a 14-0 advantage in the second quarter. It was the eighth consecutive touchdown Riverhead had scored against West Babylon this season, after beating the Eagles 42-0 to open up the season at home Sept.8

This time, though, West Babylon answered back. Quarterback Clifton Melhado,  a senior who finished the season with 12 rushing touchdowns, scored on a 5-yard run midway through the second quarter to cut the deficit in half.

If Funn’s touchdown shifted the game’s momentum completely in Riverhead’s favor, it was a safety by linebacker Matt Hejmej that put the contest out of reach.

Facing a second and long from its own 2-yard line, West Babylon stuck with its spread offense and Hejmej was ready for the option.

“I saw it coming the whole way,” he said. “I knew he was going to pitch it.” The safety gave Riverhead a 23-7 lead and brought Stony Brook within sight.

“It’s definitely a great feeling to be going to Stony Brook,” Bitzer said. “That was our goal coming in. To get to Stony Brook and beyond.”

Jefferey Pittman recorded an interception for Riverhead and teammate Eric Hulse recovered a fumble.

Tailback Chris Lubin scored West Babylon’s second touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead running back Jeremiah Cheatom scored two touchdowns Saturday to bring his season total to 15.

Coach Lief Shay said his team’s losses to West Islip and East Islip toward the middle of the season have made the players stronger as the season progressed. As it turns out, they will not have to face either of those teams in the playoffs. West Islip became the first Long Island No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 8 seed when it fell to West Babylon, 20-19, last week. East Islip also lost at home, falling to North Babylon (7-3) Saturday.

The Blue Waves beat North Babylon 42-28 on Sept. 22.

It’s the third time Riverhead has made it to Stony Brook’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium since Coach Shay took over the program. The Waves won a county title there in 2003 and  county and Long Island championships in 2008.

“”We’re undefeated there,” said a smiling Coach Shay, who served as an offensive line coach for Stony Brook University in 1994. “It’s like going home in a way for me.”

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