Opening day was Funn day.
The last name says it all. It’s hard to imagine Amari Funn having more fun than he did Saturday. The Riverhead senior ran for a career-high five touchdowns as the Blue Waves ushered in a new season by throttling visiting Central Islip, 43-20, in a Suffolk County Division I football game at sun-splashed Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field.
“I was motivated, our first game back, new coach,” said Funn, who along with teammate John Booker both rushed for well over 100 yards.
It all made for a nice memory for Ed Grassman, who made his head coaching debut for Riverhead.
“My mind was spinning,” said Grassman, who woke up “extra early” on this special game day. “I didn’t really know what to think.”
Grassman may have been wondering what to think when the game started in just about the worst possible way for 10th-seeded Riverhead against No. 11 Central Islip. Central Islip’s Kevin Mills scrambled back to retrieve the opening kickoff — and then broke tackles for an 85-yard touchdown return. Making matters worse, Riverhead was called offside as an extra point attempt was about to be snapped. Central Islip then decided to go for two points, which it secured on a Steven Fries run.
“That’s not the way I wanted to start my career,” said Grassman.
But Riverhead responded immediately with a six-play scoring drive that Funn finished with a 2-yard run. Funn also ran in the two-point conversion.
On Riverhead’s next possession, which started at the Central Islip 8-yard line after a snap sailed over punter Elvis Hernandez’ head, it took the lead for good when Funn surged through a gaping hole on the right side from 2 yards out. The first of Charlie Garcia Cerna’s five extra points made it 15-8.
The score didn’t stay that way for long. Mills took the ensuing kickoff back 74 yards for another TD return.
Riverhead scored on its third straight possession when Angelo Confort recovered a Riverhead fumble in the end zone.
Funn, listed on the roster as a running back and linebacker, started at quarterback, taking shotgun snaps and sharing time at QB with Kevin Johnson before John Lennon III took some snaps in the fourth quarter with the win in hand.
Putting Funn at QB was offensive coordinator Scott Hackal’s idea. “You need to have the two best guys on the field, so that’s what Coach Hackal came up with and then we went with it,” said Grassman.
The plan worked. Before the first half ended, Funn darted in for a 5-yard score. On the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter, he broke free for a 43-yard TD. Later in the quarter, Funn zigzagged 61 yards through traffic for his fifth TD.
“He played incredible,” Grassman said. “He’s a great running back. He broke some big runs. I mean, I got to go back on the film. It’s a blur to me right now, you know, how many touchdowns he had. It’s fun watching him.”
Funn finished with 160 yards from 15 carries. After a TD run by Central Islip’s Ryan Antwi, Funn intercepted the attempted two-point conversion.
Booker, a bruising senior, gained 144 yards on 14 carries despite twice exiting the game after his wrist was banged up and his right calf cramped up.
Booker said Funn is the fastest player on the team. “I love blocking for him because I know if he follows me he’s going to get in the end zone,” said Booker.
Funn repeatedly gave kudos to the offensive line of Karter Doyle, Matthew Nunez Varela, Sean Keane, Michael Pace and Connor Golz that helped generate 396 yards worth of offense. “I definitely got to give a big shout-out to the O=line,” he said.
The Blue Waves sported an old-school look with an “R” on their new blue helmets and new blue uniforms with white numbers and white stripes on the shoulders and white pants.
Five TDs is impressive, but when asked what was the most important thing to come out of the game, Funn said: “A win. We needed that.”
While his players rang the victory bell at nearby Pulaski Street Intermediate School, Grassman was asked what he liked best about the game. “Our ability to come back,” he said.
Said Booker: “I’m definitely satisfied with the way we played today. We got our coach a first win. We’re ready for the next game.”
The fun continues.