This was just what the doctor ordered for the Riverhead High School football team. Or at least the Section XI schedule-maker.
Struggling Riverhead, scoreless and winless through its first four games, was desperate for something positive.
Enter Copiague, Riverhead’s homecoming opponent on Saturday at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field. The Eagles entered the game at the bottom of the 13-team Suffolk County Division II standings. Then again, Riverhead was only two notches ahead.
Fittingly for Spirit Week in Riverhead, the Blue Waves lifted their spirits with a dramatic come-from-behind thriller. Kyle Kelly’s nine-yard touchdown run, followed by Alec Buczynski’s extra point with 45 seconds left to play, brought Riverhead its first win of the season, 27-26.
After the ensuing kickoff, Copiague had 36.3 seconds to do something. The Eagles advanced to the Riverhead 49-yard line before Jawaine Rayford’s long pass downfield was swatted aside by Riverhead’s Noah Krey as time expired.
Blue Riverhead helmets flew in the air as the joyous Blue Waves swarmed onto the field as if they had won a championship. Then, for the first time this year, the Blue Waves rang the victory bell at nearby Pulaski Street School.
What Riverhead won for the 11th straight year was the right to hold onto the Blue/White Cup, the cherished piece of hardware that goes to the winner of the game between the two schools that share the same blue and white colors.
Kelly’s touchdown run was a designed pass play, but as the senior quarterback rolled to his left, he saw the pass wasn’t there and took off toward the end zone, diving for the score. Buczynski, who had earlier had an extra point blocked and saw another attempt fall short, then gave Riverhead its first lead since the Blue Waves scored on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Riverhead snapped its scoreless string when Jason Davis took a pitch and found the streaking D.J. Chandler (three catches, 106 yards) for a 73-yard touchdown pass.
But repeated penalties hurt Riverhead. Copiague (0-6) worked its way in front with J’Quan Brown (13 carries, 114 yards) shimmying his way in for a four-yard touchdown run, his first of two for the game, and Joseph Gomez floating a 17-yard pass in the corner of the end zone to Joshua Olivo for a 12-6 lead with 8:51 left in the second quarter.
Three Riverhead penalties didn’t help the Blue Waves during a 20-play drive that brought them to the Copiague 1-yard line. The Eagles turned in a gutsy goal-line stand, with Hilario Minaya stopping Riverhead’s Albert Daniels (33 carries, 147 yards) for no gain on fourth down 7.4 seconds before halftime.
Riverhead was charged with nine penalties in the first half alone, costing it 90 yards.
Daniels tied the score for Riverhead at 12-12 on a three-yard burst with 38.6 seconds left in the third quarter.
Yet, before the quarter was over, Copiague was in front again. A line-drive kickoff by Buczynski shot off a Copiague player and a Riverheader touched it before Copiague’s Kory Corkins fell on the ball at the Riverhead 47. It took only two plays for Gomez to connect with Tyrone Brown for a 29-yard score.
J’Quan Brown’s 27-yard touchdown run and Ronald James Jr.’s run for the two-point conversion extended the Copiague lead to 26-12 with 7:16 to go in the game.
Riverhead bounced back, though. With 5:21 remaining, Josh Maccagli caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Kelly that was set up by Maccagli’s 58-yard reception to start the drive. Kelly passed to Konstantinos Koukounas for two points, cutting the Copiague lead to 26-20.
Copiague was forced to punt on the next series, and Chandler blocked a Sean Walsh punt for the second time. Riverhead’s Brian Moulton came up with the ball at the Copiague 34, setting up the game-winning drive.
Riverhead’s John Anderson saw his first action of the season, starting at left guard and also playing defensive end. An elbow injury during the early days of preseason had kept Anderson on the sideline.
Photo caption: Riverhead quarterback Kyle Kelly (8) celebrates after scoring the game-tying touchdown with 45 seconds left. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)