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Football: Sluggish start for Riverhead’s offense in season-opening loss

Riverhead coach Leif Shay ripped the sunglasses off his face in frustration after calling an unexpected timeout late in the first quarter. He yelled for not only on the players on the field — 10 of them had just lined up on defense — but the entire team for a huddle. 

After nearly a month of preseason preparation, one quarter into the 2015 season, the mistakes quickly piled up for the Blue Waves, the preseason No. 2 seed in Division II.

West Islip had just taken the lead on a safety Saturday afternoon, giving the Lions a 2-0 lead as both teams struggled to move the ball. Four plays after Shay’s timeout, the Blue Waves got the ball back on offense with a chance to put the early mistakes behind them.

But things only got worse as back-to-back turnovers led to a pair of West Islip touchdowns, which was enough to lift the Lions to a 19-8 victory.

After pulling out a late-second victory over the Lions in the season opener in Riverhead a year ago, there were no late heroics this time.

West Islip led 19-0 at halftime and held Riverhead scoreless until late in the fourth quarter when quarterback Sharron Trent threw a 21-yard touchdown pass along the right sideline to sophomore Tommy Powers, who made a leaping grab just in front of the goal line.

“We made a season’s worth of mistakes,” Shay said after the game. “I think the game was moving too fast for a lot of our first-year players.”

The Blue Waves like to play at a fast tempo, often without a huddle. They abandoned the no-huddle early Saturday to help slow the game down.

“I think a live game, the kids froze a bit,” Shay said. “We had to slow it down as much as we could and let those guys have some success.”

Eight points scored was the fewest for Riverhead since the 2013 Class II Long Island Championship game against Carey when the Blue Waves lost 20-6. The stakes weren’t nearly as high in this game, but for the Lions, it was an important win based on last year’s season.

West Islip, after losing to Riverhead in Week 1 last year, went on to win just one game. Four losses were by single digits.

“When you win one game, it’s tough in a town like West Islip,” said Lions coach Steve Mileti. “Needless to say I didn’t sleep much up until this game. I have a ton of respect for Riverhead football. It’s always a great game.”

The Lions’ first touchdown came on a 34-yard run by Mike Lombardi in the second quarter. It was the first play after Matthew Ferrugiari intercepted Trent just as the Blue Waves were beginning to put together their first good drive.

The interception set up the Lions deep in Riverhead territory and they quickly capitalized.

On Riverhead’s next possession, Trent lost the ball on a fumble, giving the Lions back possession near midfield. After converting a fourth-and-1, the Lions scored three plays later through the air. Quarterback Conor Smith connected with tight end James McCorvery, who ran a straight route toward the end zone for a 33-yard pass play on third-and-12.

“Our offensive line has to improve,” Shay said. “That’s the first thing. If we can’t block, we’ll never move the ball.”

Trent carried the ball 14 times for 53 yards. He completed 5 of 11 passes through the air for 41 yards.

West Islip did most of its damage on offense on the ground. Five West Islip runners combined for 188 yards.

The Blue Waves got 38 rushing yards from Ryun Moore on 12 carries. Marcus Reid started the game at halfback and picked up 18 yards on 5 carries.

“They’re going to get better throughout the season, no doubt about it,” Mileti said of the Blue Waves.

West Islip scored its final points of the game on the last play of the second quarter. Riverhead punted deep in its own territory with 12 seconds left, giving the Lions two plays. Starting on the Blue Waves’ 35-yard line with 6.6 left, Smith raced up the left sideline to the Blue Waves’ 8, leaving just enough time for one more snap.

Kevin DiCapua converted the 25-yard field goal as time expired to make it 19-0.

Riverhead will return home next weekend to newly renovated Coach Mike McKillop Field to face another longtime Division II rival in North Babylon.

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