The timing could have been better.
Riverhead School District's decision to suspend its star football player on the eve of the Long Island Championship game certainly was a controversial one. Right or wrong, though, it proved fatal to the title hopes of the Blue Waves.
Jeremiah Cheatom, easily one of the top running backs in Suffolk County, was declared academically ineligible before Friday's game along with linebacker Taheim McKay. Both players are seniors and thus experienced an inglorious ending to a sterling resume – two consecutive county championships.
If truth be told though, it is debatable if Riverhead would have been able to upend H. Frank Carey High School of Franklin Square anyway.
The undefeated Blue Devils have been on a mission all season to win its first-ever Long Island Division II trophy. Mark it mission accomplished, by virtue of a 20-6 victory over a very game Riverhead team that hung tough throughout.
Carey took a 20-0 halftime lead, but did so in the face of an intense, unyielding Riverhead defense. The Blue Devils gained excellent position on the strength of its special teams' play – a blocked punt, a long punt return, and an onside kick.
Carey capitalized by recovering a short squib kick over the first line that landed near the sideline without a Blue Wave in sight. The Blue Waves also gave up big yardage on punt returns and failed to get a punt off in one instance, turning the ball over in their own territory.
Carey's excellent quarterback Ray Catapano capitalized on the Riverhead misplays, running for one score and passing for another. Andrew Ris, a converted QB, threw a halfback option pass to Nick Spillane late in the second quarter.
Catapano, who recorded 36 touchdown passes against only three interceptions, was otherwise held in check by a spirited Blue Waves defense. In fact, the locals outgained Carey 316-268 yards on the day but couldn't find the end zone.
The Waves couldn't sustain any offensive drives without Cheatom. Don't blame sophomore running back Ryun Moore, though. He rushed 20 times for 126 yards and gave every indication he will step in next season and continue a long tradition of powerhouse running backs in Riverhead. Carey, though allowing Moore some room at the line of scrimmage, stopped the Riverhead air attack cold – a decision doubtless made after it was announced Cheatom wasn't going to play.
Riverhead didn't get on the board until the fourth quarter, when quarterback Cody Smith hit Jaron Greenidge – both seniors were playing their final game – with a 14 yard strike. A final Riverhead drive ended on the Blue Devils 10 yard line.
Riverhead finished with a 10-2 mark. Carey was 12-0. The game drew an estimated 6000 fans including a large contingent from Riverhead. The school district declined to comment about the suspensions, saying the academic records of students are confidential.