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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.

11/26/12 3:29am
11/26/2012 3:29 AM

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead’s Andrew Kinard recovered a North Babylon Fumble and returned it to the 1-yard line before being knocked out of bounds during the Suffolk County Division II Championship.


Perhaps nothing can prepare a player who has never played in such a game for what it feels like to step onto the field for a Suffolk County football final. The prospect of playing what might be the biggest game of a player’s life can be a daunting one, even for an accomplished player like Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer.

The full significance of the occasion might have struck Bitzer before his team walked onto the field for warmups before Sunday night’s Suffolk Division II final against North Babylon at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. “It was kind of unreal, just walking through that tunnel, seeing everybody, seeing the field,” Bitzer said. “It was crazy. I tried to control my emotions.”

It wasn’t long after that when Riverhead took control of the game and never loosened its grip.

For the second time in five years, Riverhead is on top of the Suffolk County football world. Facing a North Babylon team known for its running prowess, Riverhead’s high-octane offense produced a season-high point total by going to the air.

Bitzer, a senior, equaled his career-best with four touchdown passes as No. 1 seed Riverhead captured its sixth county championship and first since 2008 with a resounding 52-20 victory. Quinn Funn caught three of those passes as part of his four-touchdown game.

“Words can’t explain how I feel right now about this game,” Funn said. “We just do what we had to do and did what was planned, you know what I’m saying? It was a great game. Everybody played great, everybody played their role. That’s what happens, a great outcome.”

Jaron Greenidge, who was involved in six tackles and had half a sack for Riverhead, said, “This is a dream come true.”

The dream continues for Riverhead (9-2). On Saturday, the Blue Waves will play Garden City (10-1), winner of four straight Nassau County crowns, for the Long Island Class II crown at Stony Brook University. Riverhead won its only Long Island title in 2008.

“I’m really excited for these kids,” Riverhead coach Leif Shay said. “These guys really truly earned a spot here.”

No small thanks to Bitzer and Funn. Bitzer went 13 of 19 passing for 292 yards. Funn made a fine diving grab in the end zone for a 21-yard catch and later added scoring receptions of 29 and 6 yards. Bitzer also found Jeffrey Pittman open on the right sideline before Pittman shook off a defender and used his superior speed for a 60-yard scoring connection. It was his first touchdown since Week 1.

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead’s Jeremiah Cheatom breaking through North Babylon’s defense for a first down in the third quarter.

“They’re big players who came up big in a big game,” said Shay.

Bitzer, who has 21 touchdown passes this season, was unfortunate not to have added another one to his collection. He hit Funn with a pass that looked like a sure touchdown, but North Babylon’s Dean Cicciari caught up to the high-stepping Funn, who slowed down before being brought down at the 1-yard line for a 75-yard completion. “I deserved that,” Funn said. “It won’t happen again, though.”

Bitzer ran the ball in for a touchdown two plays later for a 28-6 lead with 3 minutes 12 seconds left in the second quarter.

Funn finished with seven catches for 156 yards. Pittman had five receptions for 127 yards.

“I kind of surprised myself,” said Funn, who has 16 touchdown receptions this year. “I didn’t know I was going to have that kind of a breakout game.”

Riverhead’s offense generated 412 yards to North Babylon’s 214. The Bulldogs didn’t help their cause, either, by turning the ball over five times, four times on fumbles. Andrew Kinard was the cause of two of them, with an interception and a fumble recovery.

Four North Babylon turnovers led to Riverhead touchdowns, none so dramatically, though, as the first one. North Babylon’s Connor Slane lost control of the ball on a first-quarter run. The ball popped loose and right into the arms of Funn, who ran it back 6 yards for a touchdown.

“Everything seemed to be going our way tonight,” said Bitzer.

No. 5 North Babylon (7-4) scored on the game’s first drive with a 21-yard run by Melijah Purvis. It was the first of two touchdown runs for Purvis, who has 17 this season.

Riverhead registered 28 straight points before North Babylon gained some momentum going into halftime. On the final play of the first half, North Babylon’s Jake Conner caught a punt by Anthony Chiaramonte and ran to his left. Then Conner stopped and threw a crossfield lateral to Slane, who took the ball in for the touchdown. Matt Grassa ran in the two-point conversion.

But Riverhead, aided by Devrim Kucuk’s 29-yard field goal and a 1-yard touchdown run by Cody Smith, pulled away.

“We came out and did what we had to do, right from the get-go,” Bitzer said. “They couldn’t really stop us offensively. That’s kind of our mentality. We don’t ever want to be stopped.”

Riverhead lost the services of one of its linebackers, Matt Hejmej, who left the game with 5:19 to go in the second quarter. It was later reported that he tore a labrum in his right shoulder.

During the game’s dying moments, Riverhead’s Nick Ross and Eric Hulse dumped the icy contents of water bucket over Shay’s head. It could not have felt good for the coach on this cold evening, but he didn’t complain afterward about the surprise ice-water shower. He said, “You got to take good with the bad.”

So far this season for Riverhead, though, life has been mostly good.

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09/22/12 6:25pm
09/22/2012 6:25 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Jeremiah Cheatom, trying to find a way past North Babylon’s Eric Marzocca, scored three touchdowns for Riverhead.


Teams visiting the dog pound, the unofficial name for the home field of the North Babylon High School football team, have known for years what to expect from the Bulldogs: ground and pound.

North Babylon runs the ball, and runs it well. Passing is something of a rarity for the Bulldogs. It’s the sort of approach one might expect from a former C.W. Post lineman like Terry Manning, who is in his 22nd year as North Babylon’s head coach.

“That’s what we do,” said Manning.

And what Riverhead does offensively is nothing like it. The Blue Waves utilize a spread out, uptempo attack that isn’t afraid to use the aerial route for first downs and touchdowns.

The two contrasting offensive styles couldn’t be much more different, and that made Saturday’s game all the more intriguing. But what made it even more interesting still was the Bulldogs’ refusal to retreat to their doghouse, lay down and call it a day after falling behind by 27 points in the third quarter. North Babylon pulled to within six points of visiting Riverhead before the Blue Waves closed out a 42-28 win with a late touchdown run by Jeremiah Cheatom, his second of the half.

Asked if he grew concerned when he saw North Babylon chomping away at his team’s lead, Riverhead coach Leif Shay said, “My hair has been gray since the beginning of the season.”

Cheatom had three touchdowns on the day, two of them coming on runs. He rushed for 146 yards from 23 carries. On the Suffolk County Division II game’s first play from scrimmage, Cheatom was on the receiving end of a 64-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Bitzer.

Riverhead (2-1) removed some of its starters, including Bitzer, from the game after Cheatom’s six-yard touchdown run and Devrim Kuckuk’s extra point gave the Blue Waves what looked like a commanding 34-7 lead with 7 minutes 38 seconds left in the third quarter.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead’s Quinn Funn using one hand to pull in a pass, despite the efforts of North Babylon’s Jake Conner, for a 62-yard touchdown reception.

“The first quarter and a half, we pretty much were nonexistent,” Manning said. “We just were sleeping out there.”

It looked like the game was virtually over, but it wasn’t.

Jordan Myers of North Babylon (2-1) ran for two second-half touchdowns, the second of which was set up by Danny Gambardella’s successful onside kick, which Daquan Faulk recovered for the Bulldogs.

North Babylon, known for rarely passing, made things interesting with a touchdown pass, of all things. Jake Conner evaded defenders before finding Eric Marzocca for a seven-yard pass to the end zone with 3:44 to go in the game. Gambardella’s kick cut Riverhead’s lead to 34-28.

But the Blue Waves responded to the challenge. On the next play from scrimmage, Cheatom shook off tacklers up the middle and bolted for a 52-yard gain, giving Riverhead first and goal at the North Babylon 4-yard line. The next play saw Cheatom follow Matt Hejmej’s block into the end zone. Bitzer completed a pass to Jaron Greenidge for the two-point conversion and a more comfortable 14-point lead with 2:52 remaining.

“We just needed to put the nail in the coffin,” said Quinn Funn, who played wide receiver and cornerback for Riverhead.

The result was pretty much sealed when Greenidge intercepted a pass on North Babylon’s first offensive play after that. Riverhead picked up a first down and then ran out the clock.

Bitzer had a super game. He went 16 of 21, passing for 283 yards, 242 of them coming in the first half. In addition to his 64-yard touchdown pass to Cheatom, he also had a 62-yard scoring connection with Funn, who made a nifty one-handed catch before taking off toward the end zone. In addition, Bitzer ran for two touchdowns himself.

Bitzer may have thought his day was done when he was pulled from the game with a 27-point lead. But then he was reinserted when things started getting dicey for the top-seeded Blue Waves, who generated 432 yards of offense.

“It’s a hard place to win at,” Bitzer said. “It’s definitely a hard place to come in and [win]. A ground-and-pound team like them, you definitely have to keep fighting all four quarters.”

Riverhead’s defense received seven tackles apiece from Nickolas Ross and Hejmej. Ross might have had the biggest hit of the day, and probably the loudest, when he delivered a crunching blow on Myers in the third quarter.

Melijah Purvis ran the ball 17 times for North Babylon, picking up 100 yards. Connor Slane had nine tackles and a sack for the Bulldogs.

In this age of open offense, even North Babylon is adjusting. The Bulldogs threw the ball 10 times and ran it 41 times.

“Leif does a great job over there,” Manning said. “We’ve had some great battles with them over the years. For us this year, we’re still a team that’s trying to find ourselves a little bit. There’s a lot of new kids who haven’t played before, so it was a challenge for us to come out and play a quality team like this.”

What did it mean for Riverhead to finish the game strong?

“I think it just shows we have a lot of resolve,” Shay told reporters. “We’re not going to quit. We’re going to keep fighting.”

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09/16/11 10:13pm
09/16/2011 10:13 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Charles Bartlett of Riverhead found running room against Hauppauge, picking up four touchdowns and 132 yards.

Coming off an intoxicating performance in which they passed the football for almost 400 yards, it was as if the Riverhead Blue Waves wanted to prove a couple of points. Firstly, they wanted to serve a reminder that they can run the ball, too (just ask Charles Bartlett and Jeremiah Cheatom). They also let it be known that they aren’t afraid to try an onside kick — even three times in a row.

Bartlett ran for a career-high four touchdowns — all in the first half — on a brisk Friday night as Riverhead ran its record to 2-0 in Suffolk County Division II with a 45-13 thumping of the Hauppauge Eagles. Cheatom ran for another Riverhead touchdown as well.

“No surprise,” Quinn Funn, who played wide receiver and cornerback for Riverhead, said afterward. “I knew how the game was going to come out. If we come out hard, that’s going to be like that every game.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Reggie Moore intercepted a pass in the first quarter.

The running game was a prominent feature. In their season-opening upset of the East Islip Redmen, the Blue Waves had 29 running plays against 38 pass plays. On Friday night they ran the ball 51 times and threw 23 passes.

The results were impressive. Bartlett and Cheatom both surpassed 100 yards as the Blue Waves totaled 278 rushing yards. Bartlett, a senior, consumed 132 yards on 19 carries, and Cheatom, a sophomore, collected 101 yards from 23 runs.

It was all part of a fine-tuned offense that produced 27 first downs and 459 yards in total offense. Riverhead put up 513 yards worth of offense against East Islip.

“We wanted to show teams that we are [multi-faceted], and can run and pass,” said Funn.

More running was part of the plan.

“We want to be a little more balanced in our attack, and we look at each game plan differently and try to take advantage of areas where they’re weaker,” Riverhead Coach Leif Shay said. “Yeah, we want to be a little more balanced. We have a dynamic back in Charles and a young guy in Jeremiah, so, we want to get those guys involved as well.”

Riverhead quarterback Ryan Bitzer, who passed for a career-high 395 yards against East Islip, looked sharp again, throwing his fifth touchdown pass of the year, a 31-yarder to Mike Hinchy for the game’s only points in the first quarter. Bitzer went 14 of 22 for 181 yards and an interception.

That combination of offensive threats, operating out of a no-huddle offense that allowed Riverhead to control the tempo, gave Hauppauge (1-1) a lot to think about.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Tim Clement attempted to catch a pass, but Hauppauge's Matt Snyder broke the play up.

“They could pretty much offensively do what they wanted, and they had a good mix,” Hauppauge Coach Joe Patrovich said. “They do a very good job. They stretch you. First of all, they make you pack it in because of the two tight ends or that look. So you got to pack it in because they’re a very good zone team and a very good inside running team. And then when you pack it in, they have threats on the perimeter that they can throw it to. I just think they’re very impressive in what they do and how they scheme offensively.”

Funn scooped up a fumble and ran the ball 34 yards to the end zone for an apparent touchdown. It was nullified by a personal foul, though.

No matter, Riverhead kept moving the ball on that series until a four-yard run by Bitzer for his second touchdown of the season. Jeffrey Pittman’s point-after kick stretched Riverhead’s lead to 38-0 by the time the third quarter was 4 minutes 40 seconds old.

Kurt Carter replaced Bitzer at quarterback later in the third quarter. The first and only pass he threw was picked off by Dominic Confredo and returned 54 yards for a touchdown with 3:16 left in the third quarter.

The Hauppauge fans who came out for their team’s home opener had something else to cheer about when C. J. Ciserano made a couple of nice moves that helped him to a 25-yard touchdown run 4:24 into the fourth quarter.

Pittman executed three straight onside kicks in the first half, the second of which was successfully recovered by teammate Anthony Chiaramonte, setting up a 12-yard scoring run by Bartlett.

Bartlett, a back with a reputation for being able to get the tough yards, also scored on a pair of two-yard runs and a five-yarder.

“I felt great about how we can pass the ball and also how we can run the ball,” said Bartlett, who already has five touchdowns to his credit this young season. “Also, our line did fantastic, gave me lanes to run through and, again, tough yards [are] really what won the game for us. Our mental toughness won the game for us.”

Hauppauge, a No. 11 seed that has only one starter on either side of the ball back from last year, was outgunned by No. 6 Riverhead.

“They’re what we thought they were,” Patrovich said. “I don’t know if they’re what the league thought they were coming in because their seed is not that high, but I think they’re a very talented team.”

Two games into the season, Bartlett has noticed a difference from last year’s Riverhead team. “Our mentality is win at all costs,” he said. “We didn’t have that last year and we have it this year.”

Shay said: “This is a team with a lot of heart, a team with a lot of pride. We’re not going to sit and rest on our laurels. We’re going to keep on pressing and try to win as many games as we can.”

Be it through the air or on the ground.

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