Football: Defense carries Riverhead to homecoming victory

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Ryan Hubbard intercepted two passes and caught a 56-yard reception in Saturday’s win over Walt Whitman.


Dylan Pace briefly played quarterback during his younger days in P.A.L. Now as a junior on the Riverhead varsity, Pace is listed as an offensive lineman and defensive end, although his niche has been on special teams as a kicker.

In Saturday’s homecoming game against Walt Whitman, Pace’s role expanded to punter after the Blue Waves lost Dan Czelatka to an injury last week during their win over Smithtown West.

Over the last few weeks, the Blue Waves have practiced a fake punt play over and over, waiting for just the right time to unveil it. After two stalled drives to start Saturday’s game and the Blue Waves facing a fourth down in Whitman territory, Riverhead coach Leif Shay decided it was time.

Pace took the snap deep in punt formation, grabbed the ball with his right hand and fired a pass to Jaron Greenidge, who scampered 40 yards for a touchdown that stunned the Wildcats and put Riverhead ahead 14-0.

“I don’t even know how I threw it,” Pace said. “I wouldn’t call it lucky,” but I can throw it pretty good.”

Pace’s first varsity touchdown helped the Blue Waves roll to a 28-0 win over Whitman in front of a packed house at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field.

The Blue Waves notched their second straight shutout to improve to 5-1 in Division II.

SEE ALSO: Photos from homecoming parade

After Pace threw the touchdown, he didn’t have time to celebrate. The Blue Waves needed him to kick the extra point. Then, he had to kick off.

“I’m just glad I threw a touchdown and got my first touchdown,” Pace said.

Even the coaches were pleasantly surprised.

“Dylan’s really stepping up as an athletic kid,” Shay said. “We didn’t know he could throw that well.”

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Jaron Greenidge makes one of his team-leading four catches against Whitman.

Pace has gotten better and better kicking extra points for Riverhead after the Blue Waves opened the season unsure who could kick. Shay said earlier in the season that it was important for the Blue Waves to be confident in kicking extra points.

Pace has now made his last seven kicks over the past two games.

“Toward the beginning of the season I was struggling with my extra points and kickoffs,” he said. “I’ve been practicing more and got better and better.”

Pace doesn’t consider himself an “actual kicker,” but said if the team needs him, he’s ready.

Senior Ryan Hubbard, who also had to step up in the absence of Czelatka, had a big day with two interceptions. He got the Blue Waves on the board in the first quarter with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown. Late in the second quarter he picked off another pass.

“He’s been great for us all year,” Shay said. “He’s stepping up because Czelatka’s down, but he’s always been solid for us.”

Riverhead’s defense carried the load on a day where the offense didn’t generate the same spark it has in some earlier games. The Wildcats, despite a 1-5 record, made life difficult for the Blue Waves on offense.

Senior Jeremiah Cheatom still churned out 116 yards on 18 carries. He scored the Blue Waves’ final touchdown on a 12-yard run in the third quarter.

“They did a good job of presenting us some fronts that we hadn’t seen yet,” Shay said.

Riverhead’s defense didn’t allow much of anything. Whitman mustered just 53 yards of offense.

“Defensively we knew they were quick,” said Riverhead linebacker Mike Van Bommel. “No. 10 (Jaron Batts), small, shifty, we knew we had to corral him.”

The Blue Waves limited Batts to only 10 yards on 10 carries. The Blue Waves’ defense produced seven tackles for a loss.

“We finally started meshing,” Van Bommel said. “Playing as a team, we’re playing good responsible football.”

The Blue Waves scored two of their touchdowns on fourth down plays. Pace’s touchdown in the first quarter and then quarterback Cody Smith threw a 32-yard pass to Andrew Kinard in the second quarter on fourth-and-eight. That put the Blue Waves ahead 21-0. Kinard snatched the ball right out from under Terhon Legros, who was in disbelief that he let the ball go right past him.

Riverhead’s win sets the stage for what should be a good one next week against West Islip. The teams came into this week in a three-way tie for first place along with Smithtown West.

Before the season, one of Riverhead’s goals was to win “two out of the three W’s,” Van Bommel said, eluding to Smithtown West, Walt Whitman and West Islip.

So far, the Blue Waves are two-for-two.

“We would definitely like to go three-for-three,” Van Bommel said.

NOTES: A moment of silence was held before the game in honor of Benjamin Goodale, a Riverhead police officer who died suddenly Oct. 15. Mr. Goodale graduated from Riverhead in 1990 and played football during his high school years.

Riverhead senior Taylor Burgess, the 2013 Riverhead Idol winner, sang the national anthem prior to kickoff.

[email protected]