One play. Seventeen yards to go. Only 4.4 seconds on the clock.
That the Riverhead Blue Waves had even gotten to this point, trailing by five points against Brentwood Saturday afternoon with one final chance to pull out a miraculous victory, was an achievement unto itself.
Back up to earlier in the week. A rash of COVID quarantines on top of an already injury-depleted and shorthanded roster left the Blue Waves with barely enough players to practice at points during the week. Riverhead coach Leif Shay said 16 players missed at least one practice this week. Seven players were already out with injuries.
It was a week unlike anything Shay said he’s seen during his tenure. One gameplan gave way to another and then another as new mixes of players continued to blend together leading up to Saturday.
“It was a rough week, it really was,” Shay said. “We couldn’t do any contact at all. We couldn’t tackle at all.”
Fast forward back to Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. The Blue Waves had trailed 27-14 to start the quarter and fought back to get themselves in position to steal a win.
Quarterback Justin Mason dropped back and looked to his left where his two main targets — John Booker and Gabriel Arrudda — were lined up. The Indians, just needing to keep the Blue Waves out of the end zone, loaded up on the receivers, so Mason looked back to his check down, running back Amari Funn, who sprinted down the middle of the field out the backfield.
Mason fired a pass hoping to hit Funn in stride toward the end zone. But as Funn reached back to haul in the pass, the defense immediately converged on him and he fell to the ground, just over a yard shy of the goal line.
The clock hit zeroes.
Brentwood players raced toward their sideline to celebrate with teammates after escaping with a 27-22 win.
“Before the play, the [Brentwood] coach was like ‘watch No. 3,’ and I still found a way to get open but I just fell short,” Funn said.
Shay commended the effort, considering how many players were in new positions.
“The most valiant effort I’ve ever seen from a football team, I’m going to tell you that right now,” he said. “That town should be proud of these kids right here.”
Hanging over everything was a controversial finish and the Blue Waves believe they should have had more time.
Funn scored on a two-yard run with 3 minutes left and added a 2-point conversion run to cut Brentwood’s lead to 27-22. It was his third rushing score of the game.
The Indians got the ball back on their own 37. On a third down play, the Indians were whistled for a delay of game, which led to the controversy over how much time remained on the game clock. The officials kept the clock running and at one point the scoreboard showed :29.5 left with a fourth down play coming. Shay argued the clock should have stopped.
After a lengthy discussion on the field — which led Riverhead fans to sing the melody to “Jeopardy” at one point — the officials added more time on the clock. But even that took multiple attempts to sort out. At one point they marked the clock back to 1:30. Then it was 1:15. And they ultimately settled on :51.
“They finally made a ruling at 51 seconds, which I didn’t get,” Shay said. “1:30 was the more correct.”
The added time could have been the difference. The Blue Waves got the ball back with only :44.7 left to drive half the field for a touchdown. They nearly did, aided in part by a pass interference penalty, which was a theme throughout the game. The Indians were hit with 11 penalties, including several for pass interference.
Mason connected with Booker on a deep pass to get the Blue Waves within striking distance with under 20 seconds left.
“We max protected and tried to get our receivers down the field,” Shay said. “Our guys are starting to come around. They’re starting to get used to playing Riverhead football.”
Shay credited a long list of players who stepped up under difficult circumstances, particularly with the Blue Waves losing seniors Lamarion and Lamaine Hopkins to quarantine.
Matthew Czaplak started his first game on the offensive line. A freshman, Matt Nunez, played fullback. Shean Keane started at defensive end after not previously playing on defense. Issack Arbouin stepped up at defensive end and “played a great game,” Shay said. Acorey Hobbs stepped up at defensive tackle. Elias Lugo played safety for the first time.
The Indians were facing a far different team than what they likely saw on film.
“We were two different teams,” Shay said. “Two very different groups of kids.”
The Indians had a sizable advantage on the line and used that to carve out some big runs behind running back Jo’vanny Brown and quarterback Randy Ramnarace, both of whom surpassed 100 yards on the ground. But the Blue Waves’ run defense improved in the second half. And it was a 58-yard pass play early in the fourth quarter that proved to be a dagger. It was the only pass Ramnarace completed all game and it went to Enoryt Copening, who got behind the cornerback down the right sideline for a touchdown.
The Blue Waves will now play the bulk of their road games with three consecutive away games starting next week at Commack. A win against Brentwood would have been huge toward boosting Riverhead’s playoff chances. Instead, the Blue Waves find themselves at 2-2 at the midway point of the league.
With all the obstacles the Blue Waves have faced, they haven’t lost any confidence.
“I know we got heart and we can beat any team in the league,” Funn said.