For the brave fans who sat in the bleachers Friday night at Smithtown West High School, the strong gusts of wind, heavy downpour and chilly temperatures made for one miserable night.
For the players on the field, specifically the Riverhead Blue Waves, it couldn’t have been any more fun.
“You complain about the cold, but by the time the game starts, you’re in it and it’s fun,” said Riverhead senior Tyrese Kerr.
The nasty weather came at a perfect time for Riverhead. It turned what could have been a high-scoring game into a sluggish grind, the kind of play that favored the Blue Waves against the previously unbeaten Bulls.
Behind a pair of second-half touchdowns from Kerr, the Blue Waves propelled themselves back into the mix in Division II, winning 16-6 against Smithtown West in front of a sparse crowd to even their record at 2-2.
In a sloppy game that featured plenty of turnovers — and even a quick kick by the Blue Waves — the weather played as big a factor as anything. Heavy wind blowing in one direction made it far more advantageous to drive toward the south end zone rather than the north. Field position became so key, that on a third down while backed up deep in their own end in the first quarter, the Blue Waves punted with a quick kick.
“It was real tough,” said junior quarterback Tristan Falisi. “We were getting a feel for each other and fortunately we learned how their defense works and we picked it up and scored a couple touchdowns.”
The Blue Waves finally broke through late in the third after taking over with great field position following a poor punt by the Bulls (3-1) into the wind.
On a night where attempting to pass was an adventure in itself, the Blue Waves picked the perfect opportunity to try a play-action pass. On their first play of the drive, Falisi faked a handoff and dropped back looking to pass. He found Kerr, his tight end, streaking down the middle without a defender in sight.
He lobbed a perfect pass to Kerr, who hauled in the reception and took it into the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown that put the Blue Waves ahead 9-0.
“I talked to my coach during halftime and he said, ‘It’s going to be coming soon,’ ” Falisi said. “He called it and it worked. Tyrese made a great catch for a touchdown.”
Both players were shocked at just how wide open Kerr had gotten.
“I thought I was going to overthrow it or something,” Falisi said.
Kerr had another thought: don’t drop the ball.
“Especially in weather like this,” he said.
Kerr, whose role on offense seems to include a bit of everything, seemingly put the game away when he broke a 40-yard touchdown run with 2:55 left in the fourth quarter. The extra point from Nico Bossey — who earlier in the game put Riverhead ahead 3-0 on a 26-yard field goal — gave the Blue Waves a 16-0 lead.
But the Bulls weren’t done just yet. After a Riverhead turnover, the Bulls got on the board when Daniel Caroussos rolled right on a first down play and connected with Joseph Garibaldi for a 26-yard touchdown with 2:07 left.
The Blue Waves got a stop on the two-point conversion, a critical play to keep the game a two-possession game.
The Blue Waves nearly let the Bulls get another chance after turning it over on another fumble. But four straight incomplete passes from Caroussos gave the ball back to Riverhead with :43.7 left, leaving two kneel downs to win the game.
The Bulls struggled passing the ball all game in the poor weather. Caroussos threw three interceptions and finished the game 5 of 23 for 34 yards.
To prepare for the wet conditions, Falisi said the coaches would dump the balls in water during practice.
“We practiced all week throwing a wet ball around,” he said.
Still, the conditions were unlike anything Falisi has faced before on a football field, he said.
The game was eerily similar to the Blue Waves’ dramatic 9-7 win over Bellport in Week 8 last year that was also played in a heavy downpour. Luckily this time, the game was on a turf field, so the player’s uniforms came out looking much nicer than last year’s muddy mess.
“As it looks so far, I guess we do,” Kerr said when asked if the team seems to prefer these cold weather games. “I think it’s really more on our team digging deep and going hard and getting the win.”
Photo Caption: Riverhead quarterback Tristan Falisi carries the ball against the Bulls Friday night. (Credit: Bill Landon)