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Football: Sun shines on Patriots in dominant win against Riverhead

The challenge facing the Riverhead Blue Waves in their home opener Saturday was already going to be daunting. Then add in another wrinkle from Mother Nature: a sweltering afternoon with a bright sun heating up the field.

It added up to a long, long day for Riverhead.

Playing their first game at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field since late 2019, the Blue Waves welcomed a Ward Melville team hungry for its first win after falling in Week 1 to Commack. The Patriots entered the season as the preseason No. 6 seed, a team with a lot of size of up front that can move the ball on the ground and through the air.

They showed it all Saturday, blowing out a worn down Blue Waves team, 41-0.

The Blue Waves (1-1) had plenty of good vibes coming off last week’s season-opener against Patchogue-Medford, but the reality of their situation was unavoidable. The Blue Waves were down three players from the start of the season, further stretching an already thin roster.

With nearly every starter playing on both offense and defense, the hot weather served as a massive hurdle.

“We knew heat was going to be an issue for us just because of the fact we just don’t have the numbers,” Coach Leif Shay said. “Our kids haven’t played. We didn’t have a budget. This is the punishment you get for not passing the budget.”

Early in the fourth quarter, with the game already all but over, Shay inserted his second string players to get an opportunity for varsity action. Several starters took a seat on the bench to catch a breath before rejoining their teammates on the sideline.

“We looked at this way, it’s the only way we’re going to get the guys experience,” Shay said. “They got to get out there and play. Get some other guys out there and try to get them some work.”

The Patriots dominated in all facets. Ward Melville tallied 457 yards of offense compared to just 84 for Riverhead. By the time the Blue Waves picked up a first down on offense late in the second quarter, the score was already 21-0 in favor of Ward Melville.

The Patriots set the tone early with a monster 20-play drive that ate up over 9 minutes from the first quarter into the second. The Patriots converted twice on fourth down, including a 4-and-inches at the goal line as running back Nick Gaffney punched it in to put Ward Melville ahead 7-0.

“Our defense was just worn out at that point,” Shay said.

The long drive set up the passing game for the Patriots and the scores came in rapid succession afterward. Lorenzo Velez hauled in a 60-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Prussen, who would then score soon after on a 45-yard run. That added up to three Ward Melville touchdowns in just over five minutes.

The Patriots scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions.

“I don’t think they killed us in the run game so much as they just got the easy plays over the top and that’s what broke our back,” Shay said.

The Blue Waves had success running the ball in Week 1, but nothing clicked Saturday. Amari Funn carried 12 times and picked up 34 yards. The Blue Waves turned it over twice on interceptions. Ward Melville did not commit any turnovers.

The Blue Waves will look to get back on the winning side next week against Central Islip on homecoming. Shay said he’s hopeful they can get some more players healthy before then.