DIVISION II SEMIFINALS | COLTS 28, BLUE WAVES 13
A season that felt like a constant uphill climb, from Week 1’s last-second win over West Islip to a blocked field goal in the final seconds of Week 8 to defeat Bellport, came to an end Saturday.
The Riverhead Blue Waves’ quest for a third straight county championship — the first such feat for a Division II team since 1998-00 — was ultimately dealt a final blow in Dix Hills, as the Half Hollow Hills West Colts prevailed 28-13 behind the explosive running of halfback Ray Lyte.
Playing without starting running back/linebacker Ryun Moore, the Blue Waves’ offense generated little traction, putting all the pressure on their defense, which stood resilient at first, but buckled in the end.
On Friday at practice, the Blue Waves learned Moore — the team’s leading rusher — would be unavailable. Riverhead coach Leif Shay said Moore, who had practiced all week before Friday, informed the team he had a concussion.
He wore his jersey with sweatpants on the sideline Saturday for Riverhead’s Division II semifinal game at Half Hollow Hills West High School. Moore’s absence was the final blow for an offense that never seemed to click on all cylinders when compared to the past two championship teams.
Still, the Blue Waves fought their way into the semifinals, one of four teams still standing entering Saturday. The Blue Waves closed the season with a 7-3 record, two of their losses coming at the hands of the Colts, who will now face East Islip for the county championship next weekend at Stony Brook University.
“We have a lot to be proud of,” Shay said. “Any other normal year at a normal place, people would be like, ‘You had a great season.’ Here, we’re disappointed.”
The Blue Waves were the preseason No. 1 seed, but from the early moments of the season, it became clear Division II was going to be up for grabs between a number of teams.
East Islip defeated the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, Bellport, Saturday to get back to the finals where the Redmen will try to avenge last season’s heartbreaking loss to the Blue Waves. No team went undefeated in the division.
For the Blue Waves to get back to the finals, they faced a difficult task in slowing down a Hills West team that led the division in points this season. Riverhead gave up a season-high 42 points to the Colts in a Week 4 loss.
The Riverhead defense, much improved since then, was a bend-but-don’t-break unit for much of Saturday’s game. The Blue Waves gave up 200 yards of offense in the first half, compared to just 25 yards for their offense, which failed to register a first down until the third quarter.
Still, all the Colts (9-1) had to show for it was a 6-0 lead, thanks to a pair of short field goals.
“It was frustrating,” said Hills West coach Kyle Madden. “To not be able to convert inside the 20 three times in the first half was frustrating.”
The Colts maintained the minimal lead deep into the third quarter, when on a first-and-10 from their own 26, quarterback Anthony Lucarelli dropped back, looked left and fired a pass. Riverhead lineman Troy Trent spotted the ball, reached up with both hands and snagged it out of the air. He raced the ball down to the 5-yard line, just the kind of momentum swinger the Blue Waves needed to give themselves life.
On the next play, Raheem Brown, filling in at running back for Moore, ran the ball into the end zone. The extra point gave the Blue Waves a stunning 7-6 lead with 5:09 left in the third quarter.
“We had a little momentum shift there,” Shay said. “In the end, we were just down too many bodies. We just didn’t have enough firepower.”
The Colts got the ball back and immediately marched 60 yards for a touchdown, with Lucarelli dumping of a short pass to Lyte for an 8-yard score. A two-point conversion gave the Colts a 14-7 lead.
The Colts struck twice more in the fourth quarter, the final touchdown coming on a 48-yard run from Lyte.
Lyte rushed for 197 yards on 27 carries and caught three passes for another 35 yards. The Colts needed a big day from Lyte with their regular running back, Lucas DiGiorgi, out with an injury he suffered last week.
“Usually Ray’s a slot [receiver],” Madden said. “Lucas hurt his foot last week so we were down a guy.”
Lyte torched Riverhead with outside runs in the regular season. The Blue Waves did a much better job against that this week, but it still wasn’t enough.
“Ray was the guy,” Madden said.