Running back Jerimiah Cheatom and the Riverhead Blue Waves, who controlled the tempo and pace for much of the first half against the Garden City Trojans in Saturday's Long Island Championship, met their match in the final 24 minutes of their season, in the form of junior quarterback Brett Stewart and a shut-down defense, resulting in 22 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 29-16 win over the Blue Waves.
The Blue Waves rolled behind over 200 yards on the ground in the first half from Cheatom, though he was held to under 30 yards after the half.
On the other side of the ball, Stewart went off for over 100 yards on the ground, ran for two touchdowns, and passed for one more in the second half as the Trojans marched downfield again and again, scoring on three of four drives to start the second half. He finished the day with over 150 yards on the ground and 200 through the air with a pair of touchdown passes.
Riverhead Head Coach Leif Shay credited the coaches on the other sideline, saying Trojan coach Tom Flatley's crew made better adjustments at halftime as the Waves were held scoreless in the second half in addition to shutting down their biggest offensive threat. With the win, Flatley notched his fifth Long Island Championship.
"They made better adjustments than we did," said Shay, whose Blue Waves beat up North Babylon last week, 52-20, in the Suffolk County championship for the right to take on Garden City.
Cheatom ran the ball 24 times for 213 yards in the first half, a strategy Shay said he intended on using. But on the defensive side of the ball, Shay noticed after halftime that the Trojans used a defensive end from the weak side on Cheatom runs to catch the running back from behind, holding the junior to under 30 yards on the ground along with a fumble.
Shay made his strategy clear from the start, giving his workhorse the ball five times in a row to start the game. But on quarterback Ryan Bitzer's first drop-back of the game on the sixth play of the drive, Garden City stripped the ball, stopping the Blue Waves in the red zone on their first drive of the day.
Riverhead put the first points of the day on the scoreboard as the first quarter was coming to a close, when Bitzer closed an 82-yard drive by finding junior Jaron Greenridge in the end zone. Riverhead took a 6-0 with a missed extra point.
Garden City made it a 7-6 game with an 80-yard touchdown drive of its own, culminating with a 35-yard touchdown pass to six-foot-five wideout Ed Blatz, who finished the day with 8 receptions and 142 yards and was mentioned by Shay in a post-game interview as another particular reason the Trojans offense was able to put up points.
Once Riverhead got the ball back, so did Cheatom, running the ball on seven out of eight plays on the ensuing drive. Coupled with a couple of Trojan penalties and a Quinn Funn reception, the Blue Waves put the ball in the end zone with just under 7:00 left in the half to take a 13-7 lead. A field goal before half put Riverhead up, 16-13.
But the adjustments Shay mentioned became evident as soon as the second half started, as the Trojans held Riverhead to three three-and-out drives to start the second half.
Another Stewart touchdown pass and a two-yard run from the junior put the Trojans up, 22-16, before the Blue Waves were able to get a single first down in the second half.
Cheatom fumbled near the start of the fourth quarter soon after Garden City took the lead. The Trojans then put together a drive that nearly lasted five minutes and ended with another Stewart touchdown, and by then the game was out of reach.
Flatley credited the perseverance of his team with realizing they could play with a back like Cheatom, he said.
"I think in the first half the kids didn't feel like they could play with them," said Flatley. "But they rose to the occasion."