Riverhead was in blue and white heaven.
Plenty of blue and white was on Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field Saturday for the latest in the Blue-White Cup series between Copiague and Riverhead, the high school football teams located the furthest west and furthest east in Suffolk County that wear blue and white school colors.
Not only was it a vital game for Riverhead as far as its playoff chances are concerned, but it was also the Blue Waves’ homecoming game. They fed off the energy from the large home crowd and took care of business with a 34-20 win to ring the victory bell at nearby Pulaski Street Elementary School and even their record at 3-3 in Suffolk County Division II.
“Homecoming’s a special thing, especially out in Riverhead,” coach Leif Shay said after his team defeated Copiague (0-6) for the sixth straight time. “They want to ring that bell in front of their fans.”
Cristian Pace threw for three touchdowns while Lawrence Bishop (19 carries, 124 yards) and Albert Daniels (16 carries, 109 yards) each surpassed 100 yards and Bishop ran for a TD. Riverhead generated 420 yards in offense.
“A big crowd came out here,” Pace said. “You had to give them a little show.”
Coming off losses to Half Hollow Hills East and Newfield, Riverhead got back on the winning track.
Nothing provides energy like a homecoming game, and Riverhead brought energy.
Joe Stimpfel, a senior who played offensive tackle and defensive tackle, liked the intensity he saw. “From the start we were ready to go,” he said. “Everyone was making hits, making blocks, everything. We were ready.”
Riverhead forged a 34-12 lead 2 minutes, 50 seconds into the third quarter after Pace (9-for-14, 125 yards) hit Thomas Powers (five catches, 26 yards) for a TD. That duo then connected again for the two-point conversion.
Copiague responded by keeping its slim hopes alive with freshman Zymir Jackson’s third TD pass of the day. He found Joshua Olivo on a 26-yarder. Nasheem Nero then caught a two-point conversion pass, pulling the Eagles to within 14 points with 6:16 left.
Jackson Bright’s ensuing onside kick was covered up by Riverhead’s Konstantinos Koukounas. Riverhead advanced the ball to the Copiague 5-yard line before turning it over on downs. The Eagles moved 35 yards on six plays before time ran out on them.
“We actually played really well,” Stimpfel said. “The line blocked good. The wide receivers caught everything, the tight ends caught everything and Cristian Pace played really good.”
Pace said: “Everybody played their part. That was the best part about it.”
Riverhead opened the game with an unsuccessful onside kick. That left Riverhead’s defense with its back to the wall for much of the first quarter. After the Blue Waves stopped an 11-play Copiague drive at the Riverhead 6, they gained their first possession. But a fake punt by Riverhead’s Darnell Chandler fell short of the mark, giving Copiague the ball at the 14. Five plays later, Copiague was in the end zone, courtesy of a 3-yard pass that Jackson (14-for-22, 231 yards) darted to Keenon White.
Riverhead ran only seven offensive plays in the opening quarter, and three of them came in the final 37.2 seconds of the period.
Riverhead made its mark in the second quarter. Pace followed his center, Andrew Gallo, on a 1-yard quarterback sneak, Chandler sacked Jackson in the end zone for a safety and Pace lofted TD passes of 31 yards to Chandler and 35 yards to Koukounas for a 20-6 lead.
But Copiague wasn’t done. With 50.8 seconds left before halftime, Jackson got off a 77-yard TD pass to Giuseppe Dattolo just before getting hit.
Chandler, who had 2 1/2 sacks and recovered a fumble, said Riverhead played “a lot better than what we’ve been playing for the last two weeks.”
Riverhead has two regular-season games remaining: at Huntington Oct. 21 and at home to Smithtown West Oct. 28.
What are Riverhead’s playoff chances?
It doesn’t sound like much of a question to Stimpfel. “Yeah,” he said, “we will definitely be in the playoffs.”
No one’s singing the blues in Riverhead these days.
Photo caption: Riverhead quarterback Cristian Pace gets a pass off before Copiague’s Joshua Olivo can get to him. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)