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06/19/13 12:34am
06/19/2013 12:34 AM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Jeff Pittman of Riverhead coming down with an interception for Long Island late in the second quarter.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Jeff Pittman of Riverhead coming down with an interception for Long Island late in the second quarter.


Jeff Pittman and Nick Ross played their final football game for Riverhead in December, but it wasn’t their last high school game. That occurred on a rainy Tuesday night when the two seniors played for Long Island in the Empire Challenge all-star game. But not even that game marked the end of their playing days. The two Blue Waves have collegiate careers to look forward to — at the same college.

It wasn’t a grand plan, but Pittman and Ross will both play football for Becker College, an NCAA Division III team in Worcester, Mass., this fall. Not only that, but a third Riverhead player, defensive tackle Kyle McCabe, will join them.

“I’m looking forward to moving to the next level with my two boys, who I played four years with,” Ross said. “Now I have four new years with them.”

Another future Becker player, free safety Davin Collins (New Utrecht), also played in Tuesday’s game, although he wore a red New York City uniform.

Before moving on to college, Pittman and Ross had some final business to attend to, making sure their final high school game was a triumphant one. With their help on defense, Long Island handed New York City a 40-8 pasting before 9,869 fans at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.

Uniondale running back William Stanback became the first player in the 18-year history of the Empire Challenge to score four touchdowns in the game and he received the most valuable player award. Stanback also tied a record with his three rushing touchdowns.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Nick Ross, fending off a block by New York City's Chad Vickers, played defensive end for the first time in two years.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead’s Nick Ross, fending off a block by New York City’s Chad Vickers, played defensive end for the first time in two years.

Stanback, who is headed to Central Florida, finished with a Long Island record 138 yards from 12 carries, 87 of those yards coming on a dazzling 87-yard dash in the fourth quarter. That run tied for the second-longest run in Empire Challenge history.

Stanback’s first touchdown was a memorable one. Brian McKean threw a sideline pass to Tom Zenker, who then lateralled to Stanback, who ran the ball in for an 18-yard scoring connection that made the score 19-0 with 12 minutes 38 seconds left in the second quarter.

Pittman and Ross did their part as Long Island limited New York City to 162 yards in total offense and caused six turnovers. One of those was an interception by Pittman. The cornerback won a jump ball late in the second quarter against New York City’s Malique Belfort at the Long Island 2-yard line, and returned the ball 22 yards.

“I just had a better position on him, and I just grabbed it, and I wasn’t letting go,” said Pittman, who also had five tackles. “I’m just proud to leave this game on a good note. I have to admit, in practices I wasn’t doing so good, but I know … when it’s game time I show up.”

Ross made an impact, too. Although he played middle linebacker and offensive tackle for Suffolk County Division II champion Riverhead, Ross played defensive end on Tuesday for the first time in two years. Long Island needed a speed rusher off the edge, and Ross responded with three tackles and a sack, which he followed up by blowing a kiss to the crowd.

“I was a little rusty at first, but when I got the hang of it, I was back to my old ways,” said Ross.

Long Island put its stamp on the game from the beginning. Its two quarterbacks, A. J. Otranto and McKean, both ran for touchdowns on the team’s first two possessions.

New York City’s starting quarterback, Matthew Domina, left the game on a stretcher in the first quarter. It was reported that he had fractured his ankle while being tackled.

Long Island took a 26-0 lead by the time the third quarter was 5:45 old. Its running game collected 219 rushing yards to 16 for New York City.

New York City’s only touchdown came with 8:17 left in the third quarter when Miami-bound Augustus Edwards took the ball in from five yards out.

Kendall Thomas (Jefferson), who returned a kickoff 75 yards in the third quarter for New York City, was named the player of the game.

Long Island won the Empire Challenge for the third straight year and is 10-6 all-time against New York City.

Ross said he had never before played in a game of such a high caliber. “College atmosphere, college speed, talent,” he said. “These boys here are no joke.”

Riverhead had another connection to the game besides the two players it sent. The Blue Waves’ coach, Leif Shay, was on the Long Island coaching staff.

Ross, who plans to frame his No. 90 Long Island jersey, said he was speechless, but honored to be a part of the experience.

Pittman, referring to Long Island’s eight practices over two weeks, had some words, though.

“You know it’s grueling,” he said. “Nobody wants to wake up early in the morning and go to practice … but you have to get it done. It was worth it, leaving your high school career on the field with a victory on a big stage like this.”

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12/05/12 7:00pm
12/05/2012 7:00 PM

DANIEL DE MATO FILE PHOTO | Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer was named the Division II Most Valuable Player for 2012.

Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer won the Division II Most Valuable Player trophy at Monday night’s all-county dinner to wrap up the 2012 season. Bitzer, who led the Blue Waves into the Long Island championship, was one of four Riverhead players to earn all-county honors.

Wide receiver Quinn Funn, running back/defensive back Jeremiah Cheatom and linebacker Nick Ross also received all-county honors.

Bitzer threw for 1,946 yards this season with 21 passing touchdowns. He completed 60 percent of his passes while also rushing for nine touchdowns. In the county championship win over North Babylon he threw three touchdowns and rushed for one.

Most of Bitzer’s passes this season went to Funn. He hauled in 51 passes this season for 989 yards. He scored 16 touchdowns, including a defensive score on a fumble recovery in the county final as part of a four-touchdown performance.

Cheatom carried the load on the ground for Riverhead with 1,898 rushing yards. He did it on 265 carries for an average of 7.16 yards per carry.

Ross tallied 71 tackles on defense for the Blue Waves.

10/13/12 6:48pm
10/13/2012 6:48 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer runs up the left side for a 33-yard touchdown to put the Blue Waves ahead 7-0.


The memory was etched into the minds of every Riverhead player. It wasn’t just that Newfield beat the Blue Waves twice on their home field last year, including the playoffs, it was the way the Wolverines tried to embarrass them.

In the two games Newfield outscored Riverhead 86-19, a shellacking that fueled the Blue Waves throughout the offseason.

“That was fresh in our mind,” said Riverhead coach Leif Shay. “We wanted to show them how we can win with class.”

“We came out and had to show them who Riverhead is,” added linebacker Nick Ross.

Mission accomplished.

In a defensive battle, the Blue Waves rode their hard-hitting defense to a 17-7 win on homecoming at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field before a packed house on a cool, sunny afternoon. The pivotal Division II matchup gave the Blue Waves (4-2) a much needed boost in the standings with Newfield entering the game with an identical 3-2 record and one spot behind them in the power rankings.

“We needed this game,” Shay said. “If we have any postseason aspirations, we really needed this game. And I think our kids sensed that, too.”

The Blue Waves expected a physical game from the Wolverines and they were up to the task on both ends of the ball. While the Wolverines did tally 322 yards of offense, Riverhead’s defense held strong when it needed to at the most critical times.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead linebacker Nick Ross brings down Newfield halfback Terrell Perryman.

The Wolverines got the ball late in the fourth quarter trailing by a touchdown. After picking up one first down to advance to their own 43-yard line, the Blue Waves’ defense came through with a huge stop to force Newfield to turn the ball over on downs.

On fourth-and-3 from midfield, defensive end Joseph Napoli and linebacker Matt Hejmej converged on running back Terrell Perryman as he took a toss to the left.

Riverhead halfback Jeremiah Cheatom (196 yards on 21 carries) marched the Blue Waves down inside the 10, setting up Devrim Kuchuk’s 23-yard field goal to ice the game with 1:02 left.

It was the field goal of the season for Kuchuk, who had an earlier attempt blocked.

“I figured I had to give him another shot,” Shay said. “I’m happy for him that he did it on homecoming.”

In six games now the Blue Waves are giving up 12.8 points per game, a stark contrast to last season when opposing teams racked up 31.7 per game.

“We’re more controlled,” Ross said. “We do what we’re taught to do. We don’t do extra to make ourself look better. We play as a team and as a group.”

Newfield presents a unique challenge for a defense with the number of players the team can throw out there. Nine different players carried the ball against Riverhead and the Wolverines rotated two quarterbacks, both of whom could throw or run at times.

Perryman was the main carrier out of the backfield and rushed for 83 yards on 20 carries.

“The key defensively was our outside linebackers to stop their run,” Cheatom said. “We did a great job.”

Shay said the defense came down to preparing for three basic plays: toss, blast and trap.

“We tell them, everything else is just bells and whistles,” he said. “It doesn’t matter all these shifts. It’s toss, blast and trap.”

Linebacker Mike Von Bommel had a big game and delivered the hit of the game when he leveled a Newfield receiver on a third-and-long to force an incomplete pass late in the third quarter.

The Wolverines were forced to punt, setting up a Riverhead touchdown.

The Blue Waves took over on the Newfield 46. Cheatom got the carry on first down and found space in the middle by cutting back twice to elude defenders. He rushed the ball all the way into the end zone and with the extra point, the Blue Waves had a 14-0 lead in the final seconds of the third quarter.

“I made a mistake earlier in the game fumbling the ball, but I put it in the past and did an excellent job the next drive,” Cheatom said.

Riverhead got off to a slow start, tallying only seven yards of offense in the first quarter. But the offense got rolling in the second quarter, although it didn’t lead to any points. The Blue Waves got deep into Newfield territory twice in the quarter without converting.

To start the second half Riverhead received the ball and finally broke through with a 33-yard touchdown run from quarterback Ryan Bitzer. On fourth-and-3, Bitzer faked a handoff and ran a bootleg up the left sideline for the score to put Riverhead ahead 7-0.

The only score for Newfield came on a 13-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Joe Feliciano scored on a three-yard run for the Newfield touchdown.

With all the hoopla surrounding homecoming, the week leading up to the game is often coaches’ nightmare.

“I hope people had a great time, but I’m glad it’s over,” Shay said.

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ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead halfback Jeremiah Cheatom races 46 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0.