ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead halfback Jeremiah Cheatom and quarterback Ryan Bitzer (10) celebrate during the first half of Saturday’s Long Island championship game.
One half, 24 minutes, stood in Riverhead’s way of a Class II Long Island championship. The Blue Waves led 16-7 against Garden City on the back of an epic rushing performance from junior Jeremiah Cheatom, who tallied 201 yards in the opening half at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium.
So often the Long Island championship game has been a nightmare setting for the Trojans, who were 4-9 all-time heading into Saturday.
But on this overcast, chilly afternoon, the Trojans flipped the script in the second half to run off three unanswered touchdowns and win 29-16 in front of a stunned crowd that featured far more blue than maroon.
Riverhead took a 16-7 lead into halftime after a career-long 36-yard field goal by Devrim Kucuk with 1:16 left.
But the Trojans defense bottled up Riverhead’s running game in the second half, loading the box with defenders and daring the Blue Waves to throw on a windy afternoon. The Blue Waves’ passing game — so efficient all season — couldn’t get anything going and the offense completely stalled in the second half.
The 29 points allowed was a season-high for Riverhead.
Garden City scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass play with 9:02 left in the third quarter when quarterback Brett Stewart hit 6-foot-5 Ed Blatz (7 receptions, 141 yards, 2 touchdowns). The Blue Waves went three-and-out on their first three possessions of the second half and the Trojans finally took the lead when Stewart ran in a bootleg 3 yards for a score with :22.3 left in the third.
Stewart finished the game with 27 carries for 135 yards and two rushing TDs. He was 13-of-23 for 198 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
He ran in another 3-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach as the Trojans went ahead 29-16.
Garden City, which also defeated Riverhead in the 2003 LIC, closed out the season 11-1. Riverhead, playing in its third LIC, finished the season 9-3.
The Blue Waves, after using their aerial attack in the county championship to defeat North Babylon, opened the game relying nearly entirely on the legs of Cheatom. He responded with a superb first half, surpassing 200 yards for the fourth time this season.
But in the second half the Trojans lined up five linemen and kept the linebackers close to the line to make it difficult for the Blue Waves to keep their running attack going.
Cheatom finished the game with 234 yards on 33 carries. He caught two passes for 12 yards.
Riverhead went ahead 6-0 in the final seconds of the first quarter on a six-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Bitzer to Jaron Greenidge. Garden City answered with a 28-yard touchdown from Stewart to Blatz.
Cheatom scored on a 1-yard run to complete a 77-yard drive with 6:44 left in the first half.
The Blue Waves never found the end zone again.