When it comes to dynamic high school football players, consider Darnell Chandler.
Chandler is about as complete a player as they come, and that all works to Riverhead’s benefit.
“Darnell has been a horse for us all year,” coach Leif Shay said. “There’s no quit in him, a lot of hustle. He sacks the quarterback. He catches balls. He does a lot of things.”
Chandler was a force majeure in Riverhead’s 34-20 homecoming win over Copiague Saturday. The senior wide receiver/defensive end did a lot. He caught four passes for 23 yards. He made five tackles, with 2 1/2 sacks, including one for a safety. He recovered a fumble that was forced by Tyjon Hawkins’ hit on quarterback Zymir Jackson. That set up Cristian Pace’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Konstantinos Koukounas for a 20-6 Riverhead lead with 1 minute, 11 seconds left in the second quarter.
Without a doubt, though, Chandler left his mark on the Suffolk County Division II game.
“He does it all,” said Joe Stimpfel, who plays offensive tackle and defensive tackle for Riverhead.
Chandler also kicks off and punts for the Blue Waves. Does he ever come off the field?
“Once in a blue moon,” he said.
He doesn’t seem to mind. He said, “It keeps me busy.”
• Early-game gambles fail
Riverhead had a couple of surprises for Copiague in the first quarter. Neither of them worked out in Riverhead’s favor, though.
First, the Blue Waves opened the game with an onside kick by Darnell Chandler, but Copiague’s Skyler Brown covered it up.
“We had a lot of confidence in our defense and we felt that we could steal one from them because their front line guys bail really quick,” Leif Shay said. “Film study said we could do it.”
Then, after Riverhead failed to pick up a first down on its first series, Chandler lined up in punt formation with the ball on the Riverhead 10-yard line on fourth-and-six. Instead of punting, though, Chandler tucked ball under his arm and took off. He only picked up four yards. Five plays later, Copiague had a 6-0 lead on the first of Zymir Jackson’s three touchdown passes, a three-yarder to Keenon White.
The final result spoke for itself.
“Our kids worked hard today,” Shay said. “We had a little adversity in the beginning. We didn’t come out playing as well as we should, but the kids really played hard today. They came out and got the victory.”
• You want to talk playoffs?
Don’t talk about playoffs. Playoffs? Are you kidding me?
With apologies to former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora, whose famous playoff rant lives on in YouTube videos, we are talking about playoffs. Riverhead’s two high school football teams, which both went 1-7 last year, are in the playoff hunt.
The top eight teams in each of Suffolk’s four power-rated divisions qualify for the postseason. Riverhead (3-3) currently sits in ninth place in Division II. Bishop McGann-Mercy (4-2), with its 14-7 win over Hampton Bays Friday, is eighth in Division IV. Both teams have two games remaining on the schedule.
Leif Shay doesn’t sound as if he’s thinking too much about the playoffs right now. “We’re just worried about the next game, to be honest with you,” he said. “For us, it’s just about improving, getting better and rebuilding the program, so if we make it, that’s great, but if we don’t, we want to be better than we were last year.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Darnell Chandler (88) joins teammate Tyjon Hawkins in pressuring Copiague’s Zymir Jackson into a fumble that led to a safety. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)