For the most part, you win some, you lose some in high school football. Riverhead experienced both a big win and a big loss on Saturday.
The win was a 21-0 shutout of Sachem North at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field in Riverhead. Riverhead’s defense excelled, holding the Flaming Arrows to 114 yards of offense and seven first downs.
Riverhead (2-1), seeded last in the 12-team division, has already equaled its win total from last year in this, its first season ever in Suffolk County Division I.
But this victory came at a price, a heavy price. Steven McDonald, a two-way senior starter at tight end and linebacker and one of the team captains, was carted off the field after going down with an apparent injury to his left leg late in the first quarter. He did not apply any pressure to the leg as he was helped onto the cart.
After the game Riverhead coach Leif Shay said he didn’t know the precise nature of the injury. “I’ll find out later,” he said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to the trainer, but he’s a leader, you know. He’s a good football player. Hopefully he’s going to be healthy.”
Shay added: “You got to do next man up. We can’t bemoan what we don’t have; we got to worry about what we do have.”
Riverhead defensive tackle Lamarion Hopkins said losing McDonald is “really a blow, but we can always bounce back.”
The Blue Waves missed McDonald in the second half of their previous game after he was lost because of leg cramps. Their game proceeded to go south in a 52-35 loss to Brentwood.
This time was different, though. Riverhead’s defense remained stout.
“We were tough today,” Shay said. “We weren’t going to allow them to out-tough us.”
Despite three first-half turnovers by Sachem North (1-2), Riverhead held only a 7-0 lead by halftime, courtesy of Albert Daniels lunging over the goal line while defenders grabbed his legs at the conclusion of a 22-yard run. Two of those turnovers gave Riverhead the ball at the Sachem North 35- and 10-yard lines. Those two series ended with a punt and a blocked field-goal attempt. (It was the first of two field-goal attempts by Recep Kocan that Sachem North blocked).
The first half was such a defensive battle that Sachem North had only 67 yards by halftime and Riverhead mustered a mere 59.
“It was a war,” said Riverhead’s Tyreek Earl Parker (five tackles).
The score remained 7-0 for most of the rest of the way. Then Riverhead tacked on a pair of touchdowns within four scrimmage plays in the game’s final 2 minutes and 45 seconds. Daniels (27 carries, 143 yards) ran for his second TD of the game and ninth of the season. Then Riverhead’s defense supplied a TD. Rayvon Moore intercepted a pass, saw open space in front of him and returned it 38 yards for a score.
“Man, it was like we had to come back,” said Moore (six tackles, one forced fumble). “You know, last week we took a tough loss, so I was just playing my heart out on defense. When I [saw] the ball in the air, I did what I had to do and I scored.”
Riverhead’s defense was fortified by Christian Doroski’s two interceptions. Aaron Gaines-Bullock (eight tackles, one sack, one pass defensed) recovered a fumble as did Parker. “We all played together and played smart, and it led us on top,” said Hopkins, who was in on eight tackles.
Shay said the Riverhead defense returned to fundamentals. “Our defense did a great job today,” he said. “They were a little embarrassed last week by giving up 52, and they didn’t want that to happen. So, to go from 52 to zero is a huge turnaround.”
Riverhead’s defensive line has three sophomores — James Foster Jr., Deontae Sykes and Hopkins — who don’t play like sophomores. “They’re good football players,” Shay said. “… They’re working hard and they believe in what we’re doing, and that’s going to help.”
When it was all over, the Blue Waves trotted to nearby Pulaski Street School to ring the victory bell.
“That sounds so sweet,” Hopkins said. “Ringing that bell, oh, it feels really good.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Lamarion Hopkins (75) and James Foster Jr. (65) bring down Sachem North’s Justin Wank for a two-yard loss. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)