Can a Bitzer outfox a blitzer? Riverhead's championship hopes could very well rest on the outcome of that question. Quarterback Ryan Bitzer, a three-year starter, is among the elite passers in Suffolk and what Blue Waves coach Leif Shay likes best is the kid's pocket presence.
"He doesn't rattle under pressure and he can make all the throws," said Shay, whose team seeks its first Long Island Championship since the Miguel Maysonet-led Rutgers Trophy team of 2008. "He's an exceptional athlete and remarkably accurate with the ball."
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Bitzer has good chemistry with speedy Jeff Pittman and acrobatic Quinn Funn, whose last name describes what Riverhead hopes to have plenty of in 2012 as the No. 1 seed. "Around the school, there will be plenty of buzz about being No. 1," Bitzer said. "We know we have to prove we deserve it and we're ready to take on the challenge."
So is No. 2 Newfield, which knows all about creating a buzz in school and community after its remarkable run to its first LIC last season. The Wolverines were a senior-laden team in 2011 and reload behind two-way tackle James Manginelli, a force with 12 sacks.
Half Hollow Hills West, typically fast and explosive on offense, hopes to contend with an improved defense, led by linebacker Randy Davis. West Islip is a legitimate challenger led by a couple of lacrosse stars, Nick Aponte and Ryan Wieczorek.
RIVERHEAD BLUE WAVES (6-3)
Coach: Leif Shay, 15th season
Ryan Bitzer QB 6-1, 175 Sr.
Kyle Harris OT/DT 6-3, 300, Sr.
Kyle McCabe OG/DT 6-1, 270, Sr.
Jeff Pittman, WR/DB5-11, 175, Sr.
Quinn Funn WR/DB 6-0, 175, Sr.
Joe Napoli, DE (6-2, 215, Sr.
About the Blue Waves: Earned top seed in perhaps the most balanced league in Suffolk on the strength of All-County quarterback Bitzer's right arm. The three-sport star has veteran targets in Pittman, a speedster, and Funn, a leaper with good hands, Harris is a huge anchor on both lines and McCabe is another big, tough lineman.
NEWFIELD WOLVERINES (9-3)
Coach: Joe Piccininni, 8th season
James Manginelli OT/DT 6-3 255, Sr.
Terrel Perryman RB/LB 6-0, 185, Sr.
Sangye TsakorshikaDB 5-8 175, Sr.
Dylan Harned DB 6-2, 175, Jr.
Vinny Buonantuono LB 6-1, 210, Sr.
Joe Feliciano RB 5-9, 170, Jr.
James Rizzo OT/DT 6-5, 290, Sr.
About the Wolverines: Can they produce an encore after the first LI championship in school history? It will be tough with so many All-L.I. players having graduated, but one big one returns - two-way tackle Manginelli (85 tackles, 12 sacks). Hard-hitting linebacker Buonantuono is another defensive stopper. Tsakorshika and Harned combined for 11 interceptions.
HALF HOLLOW HILLS WEST COLTS (4-4)
Coach: Kyle Madden, 13th season
Randy Davis LB/OL 6-0, 245, Sr.
Jagger Rebozo TE/LB 5-11, 185, Sr.
Josh Nackman OL/LB 5-11, 205, Sr.
Jake Klose QB/S 6-3, 170, Jr.
Hasahn Benitez OL/DL 5-9, 220, Sr.
About the Colts: Defense (31 points per game) was an issue last year but four-year starter Davis (86 tackles) is one of top linebackers in Suffolk. Klose became starting QB for last half of 2011 and threw for 300 yards and 3 TDs in playoff loss to East Islip. He drives West's typically fast, explosive spread offense.
WEST ISLIP LIONS (7-2)
Coach: Steve Mileti, 4th season
Nick Aponte RB/S 6-2, 185, Sr.
Ryan Wieczorek WR/DB 6-0, 180, Sr.
Jonathan Stancavage OG/NT 6-4, 305, Sr.
Dan Johnson TB/S 5-9, 180, Sr.
Mike Bilello OG/DT 5-10, 260, Sr.
Sam Ilario QB/S 6-1, 190, Jr.
Joe Barcia OT/LB 6-0, 190, Sr.
About the Lions: Moving to Suffolk II after successful Suffolk I season that ended with tight playoff loss to Sachem East. Several lacrosse stars dot the roster, led by Aponte (6 TDs, 50 tackles, 3 INTs) and Wieczorek. Ilario (4.5 in 40) moves from RB to QB. Johnson, two-year defensive starter, debuts as starting TB.
WHITMAN WILDCATS (4-5)
Coach: Robin Rosa, 3rd season
Kieran Elmore, C/DE 6-1, 285, Sr.
Mitch Bermudez QB/S 6-1, 185, Sr.
Rick Rizzo G/DE 6-3, 285, Sr.
Michael Clarke LB/OT 6-3, 220, Sr.
Berthin Lindor RB/S 6-0, 185, Jr.
Brian Vilorio RB/LB 5-11, 180, Sr.
About the Wildcats: Their first playoff appearance in 23 years, according to Rosa, has instilled a sense of pride in the program and motivated this year's group to keep it going. Bermudez (586 yards rushing, 4 TDs) leads the offense. Lindor (231 yards rushing) adds experience. Elmore and Rizzo are stalwarts of a big line.
NORTH BABYLON BULLDOGS (7-3)
Coach: Terry Manning, 22nd season
Matt Grassa OL/LB 6-0, 200, Jr.
Eric Marzocka QB/S 6-1, 225, Sr.
Jordan Myers RB/DB 6-1, 185, Sr.
Connor Slane RB/LB 5-10, 210, Sr.
Melijah Puruis RB/S 5-10, 180, Sr.
Nick Trentlange C/DE 5-10, 210, Sr.
Mert Sonmez OL/DL 6-4, 295, Jr.
About the Bulldogs: Manning's old-school wishbone is driven by Marzocka, a load to bring down. He will hand off frequently to Myers, Puruis and Slane. The latest huge lineman in the North Babylon program is Sonmez. Ground-and-pound and playoff-bound once again?
WEST BABYLON EAGLES (8-2)
Coach: Al Ritacco (10th season)
Clifton Melhado, QB/DB (5-11, 170), Sr.
Scott McDevitt, OL/DL (6-1, 265), Sr.
Lee Sidberry, WR/DB (5-10, 165), Sr.
Nick Brower, OL/LB (6-0, 225), Sr.
Chris Miller, WR/DB (6-0, 170), Sr.
Jake Lipani, OL/DE (6-3, 205), Sr.
About the Eagles: If Melhado (1,176 yards passing, 555 yards rushing) is fully recovered from a severe leg injury suffered late last season, West Babylon may be under-seeded, even without graduated star WR/DB Michael Richardson. Sidberry (12 catches, 323 yards, 27 tackles), McDevitt (51 tackles, 3 sacks), Lipani (45 tackles, 2 sacks) are primed for big seasons.
SMITHTOWN WEST BULLS (3-5)
Coach: Pete Cerullo, 8th season
Matt Heldberg QB/S 6-3, 185, Jr.
Mike Hughes OT/DT 6-3, 265, Sr.
Kyle Mathie WR/S 6-2, 175, Jr.
Logan Greco, RB/LB 6-0, 200, Jr.
Frank Brier RB/LB 6-1, 175), Sr.
Nick Weitmeyer OL/DE 6-0, 200, Sr.
About the Bulls: Heldberg (more than 800 yards rushing and passing last season) will throw more out of the spread this year. Hughes is huge on both lines, but Brier (33 tackles) and Weitmeyer (18 tackles) are the only other seniors in key spots. Success depends on improvement by juniors.
EAST ISLIP REDMEN (8-3)
Coach: Sal J. Ciampi, 12th season
Casey Stengel TE/DE 6-0, 210, Sr.
Dan Hayden T/NG 6-0, 270, Sr.
Bob Heyward C/DT 6-0, 270, Jr.
Nick Osburn QB/S 5-10, 170, Sr.
Paul DonderoWR/SS 6-0, 175 Sr.
Steve WalshTE/LB 5-11, 200, Sr.
About the Redmen: A rare low seed by this perennial title contender, which returns only two starters, Stengel and Hayden, from team that lost to Newfield, 14-13, in county final. Despite inexperience, Ciampi said, "We were seeded lower than we should have been," and expects Osburn, Dondero and other new starters to carry E.I. back to playoffs.
SMITHTOWN EAST BULLS (2-6)
Coach: Pete Melore
Dennis Lestrange OT/DE 6-3, 230, Sr.
Jake Kippelman RB/LB 5-10, 185, Sr.
Billy Noke RB/LB 5-9, 180, Sr.
Brian Drinkwine WR/S 5-11, 180, Sr.
John Daniggelis, QB 6-1, 175, So.
About the Bulls: Led by Lestrange (60 tackles) and Koppelman (42 tackles), the Bulls expect to improve on defense and challenge for a playoff spot. Koppelman (703 yards rushing, 9 TDs) is the top returning skill player. Impressive sophomore Daniggelis won the starting QB job in camp and Melore called him "cool as a cucumber."
CENTEREACH COUGARS (2-6)
Coach: Charles McMillen, 5th season
Jeremy DeLorenzo QB 5-10, 165, Sr.
Chris Weiman OL/DL 6-3, 230, Sr.
C.J. Tahmisyan RB/SS 5-7, 175, Sr.
Charles Saunders RB/LB 5-10, 185, Sr.
Nick Altebrando RB/LB 5-10, 180, Jr.
Jake Esposito WR/DB 5-9, 165, Sr.
About the Cougars: For the second year in a row, Centereach won only two games, but is counting on senior leadership to move up. The offense is led by QB DeLorenzo, who can hand off to veterans Tahmisyan or Saunders or throw to Esposito. Junior Altebrando joins the old wing-T backfield.
COPIAGUE EAGLES (0-8)
Coach: Ken Rittenhouse, 4th season
Willie McFadden III RB/DB 5-9, 170, Jr.
Jeff Urbina OL/DL 5-11, 230, Sr.
Nick Cirola OL/LB 5-10, 190, Sr.
Michael Illicete QB 5-8, 160, Jr.
Shamar Weir, RB/LB 5-8, 160, Jr.
About the Eagles: Copiague will need solid play from veteran McFadden. Urbina provides the only real size on the line. Juniors Illicete and Weir must provide a boost to an offense that scored the fewest points in Suffolk II last season, 130.