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Football: Riverhead rings victory bell on homecoming day

The sound is like music to a Riverhead High School football player’s ears.

After every Riverhead win, the Blue Waves ring the victory bell outside Pulaski Street Elementary School once for each point they scored in that game. It’s a tradition that goes way back. The bell was built in 1899 and christened in 1942, but rust and decay put a halt to its use in the 1950s until the tradition was resurrected for a homecoming win in September 2001, according to Newsday.

Twenty years later, the Blue Waves rang the victory bell following a homecoming victory Saturday, 22-12 over visiting Central Islip at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field. James Foster, Amari Funn, Lamarion Hopkins and Justin Mason were up there, handling the honors to cheers.

“We rang it against Pat-Med [after a season-opening win over Patchogue-Medford], but that was late at night and not that many people were there,” coach Leif Shay said. “It’s good for the kids, good for the community.”

And this particular win does a world of good for Riverhead, which may be the ultimate underdog. Seeded last in 12-team Suffolk County Division I, Riverhead entered the season with only two players who had prior varsity experience — Foster and Hopkins. That’s it. Everyone else was a newbie.

Of course, a big reason for that was Riverhead didn’t play fall and winter sports in the last school year because of budget constraints. A number of players left the program for other schools.

And yet, Riverhead now holds a 2-1 record. Who woulda thought?

John Booker (10) is congratulated on his 12-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter by Amari Funn. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

“It’s a little mind-boggling, especially without playing last year,” said Gabriel Arruda, who got things off to a stirring start, finding a seam and returning the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. “It’s really just amazing.”

“Especially after last week [a 41-0 loss to Ward Melville], we needed something big and bold,” he said.

Amari Funn, who ran for 138 yards and his second touchdown of the season, said, “I knew what type of game it was going to be from there.”

It was Riverhead’s game, but it wasn’t easy. The Blue Waves have to take advantage of breaks and use some ingenuity, like an old muddle huddle play they use for two-point attempts. They start out lining up as if they’re going to kick the ball, and then players spread out. Mason, the team’s quarterback and holder, then moves up as the only “lineman” to snap the ball to Funn.

“We ran it about 15 years ago and just kind of buried it in the playbook and, you know, we blew the dust off of it,” Shay said. He added, “We have to do those kinds of things to just try to get an advantage.”

It worked both times the Blue Waves used it Saturday. First, Funn flipped a two-point pass to Dylan Magee. Then, in the fourth quarter, Funn found Justin Moore for two points after John Booker caught a 12-yard swing pass from Mason for a TD.

Because of Joey Bonilla’s TD reception of a 20-yard pass floated by Kevin Mills early in the second quarter (and a failed point after), Riverhead held an 8-6 edge for most of the game.

It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when the scoring picked up. Funn found an opening for his second TD of the season, a 20-yarder that made it 22-6 with 2 minutes 26 seconds left in the game.

Mills (7-for-10, 121 yards) connected with Bonilla (four catches, 89 yards) on a 17-yard score with 1:12 left.

Bonilla’s squib onside kick was secured by Mason.

“I expected a lot because the teammates that we have on this team, they’re very focused,” Hopkins said. “Everyone helps everyone. If one person is having trouble, everybody uplifts each other and stuff. You know, that’s how teams win games.”

Funn has run for 342 yards from 66 carries (5.2 yards per carry) in three games.

“We were pumped up,” he said. “We were waiting, redemption, after a big loss, after Ward Melville. We came out, we did what we had to do today.”

And the victory bell rang 22 times.