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Football: Wild start to the 2018 season for Riverhead

The bleachers on the home side of Nick DeCillis Field at Newfield High School began to thin out as the big crowd at Friday night’s Division II season opener headed toward the exits. On the visitor’s side, a jubilant Riverhead sideline began to celebrate what appeared to be a thrilling victory.

Mere seconds separated the Blue Waves from a Week 1 victory.

But in a wild affair that featured an entire game’s worth of highlights in the final five minutes, the ending was far from settled.

After scoring two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes and 44 seconds to go ahead 34-27, the Blue Waves kicked off with just 15 seconds left on the clock. The coaches directed the team’s kicker, freshman Recep Kocan, to place the ball high in the air toward the left sideline on the kick-off, and he did precisely that. But the rest did not go as planned.

Newfield’s kick returner caught the ball cleanly at about the 27-yard line, ran straight up the middle and found an open seam toward the right sideline. He brushed aside one last attempt at a tackle by the kicker around the 50-yard line and then raced untouched the rest of the way for a crushing touchdown.

But the game still wasn’t over. The Blue Waves still led by a point. And Newfield elected to go for a 2-point conversion to win the game rather the kick the extra point for overtime.

The Wolverines lined up in an I-formation and quarterback Max Martin handed off to senior halfback Chad Blaszky, who ran straight up the gut for the game-winning score.

Just like that, Newfield had escaped with a 35-34 win.

The kick-off return that went for a touchdown in the final seconds Friday night. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

“It was a wild one tonight,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “Games like this only happen in the first week of the season. Just wild stuff that goes on.”

The game featured a bit of everything: spectacular catches, strong running, trick plays, 2-point conversions. The Blue Waves even scored a touchdown at the end of the first half after after a running a play with zero seconds on the clock.

“I love games like that,” said Riverhead quarterback Cristian Pace. “I love competing. I’ll do anything I can to get a win. Just came up a little short.”

Martin, a strong-armed, versatile quarterback, unleashed havoc on the Blue Waves (0-1) in the middle of the game as the Wolverines scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions. Martin threw a 47-yard touchdown, scrambled for a 32-yard score, ran in a 1-yard keeper and then scrambled for a 15-yard score.

The final touchdown put Newfield (1-0) ahead 27-19 early in the third quarter. Both teams traded possessions until the Blue Waves took over on their own 22-yard line with 4:44 left and down by eight. The combination of Pace and halfback Albert Daniels quickly moved the Blue Waves down field. Pace, who doesn’t typically look to run, scrambled 19 yards for a touchdown with 1:22 left.

“I didn’t really show I could run in the first half, so there were a lot of open running lanes and I just took advantage of it,” Pace said. “Everybody was just playing their part.”

Tight end Liam Egan celebrates the touchdown that put Riverhead ahead with 15 seconds left. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

On the 2-point conversion, Pace kept the ball himself on a naked bootleg and crossed untouched into the left side of the end zone to tie the game.

“Sold the run real nice,” he said.

Riverhead’s defense forced a quick three-and-out on Newfield’s ensuing possession and a big punt return by David Squires set the Blue Waves up to potentially win the game. Four plays later, Pace connected with senior Liam Egan on an 8-yard pass play for a touchdown to put the Blue Waves ahead.

The Blue Waves got a huge effort from Daniels on the ground. The junior rushed for 170 yards on 24 carries. He opened the game a 51-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage. Squires also had an impressive varsity debut, hauling in two touchdowns, including a spectacular one-handed grab. He caught a 10-yard pass from Pace by grabbing the ball with his right hand as his arm stretched out into the end zone. He added a second score on the final play of the first half, making a leaping catch between two defenders at the 3-yard line and then spinning into the end zone.

Riverhead wide receiver David Squires hauls in a one-handed touchdown catch against Newfield. (Credit: Michelle O’Kula)

“Phenomenal catches for Egan and Squires,” Shay said. “Those guys have been working with Cristian in the offseason and doing a lot of work.”

Shay said the tough defeat to open the season could be a turning point for the team, which will bounce back to play at Copiague next week.

“They played with their hearts,” he said. “They played the entire game as hard as they could. I was actually happy they were upset because it meant that they cared.”

Top photo caption: Albert Daniels breaks tackles on his way to a first quarter touchdown. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

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