Surprise. Ward Melville fell to Commack in Week 1. At least the Patriots thought it was a surprise. Then there was Riverhead, with all of two players with varsity experience, handing a surprise setback to Patchogue-Medford.
So Ward Melville and Riverhead were coming at each other from different perspectives for Week 2 Saturday when the Patriots visited Riverhead in what was the Blue Waves’ first home game since 2019 — or before budget issues in the district wiped out last season.
"The kids were excited because we won the game on the road and then coming home," Riverhead coach Leif Shay said. "But we ran into a tougher opponent."
Not only a tougher opponent, but a very motivated opponent. Ward Melville showed its determination all week to bounce back and ended up flattening Shay’s Blue Waves, 41-0, in the Suffolk I matchup.
"We felt we should’ve won that [Commack] game going into it and we got surprised," said Chris Prussen, the senior quarterback who stood out against Riverhead by throwing for 182 yards and two touchdowns and running for 54 yards and a score.
"The next week of practice, we worked harder and changed our mindset and came out here and did what we had to do."
Ward Melville lost, 27-14, in that season opener. Coach Chris Boltrek said the team had two less practice days beforehand because of Rosh Hashanah. The Patriots were better with more practice.
"I think the sky’s the limit for these guys when they play the brand of football that they’re capable of playing," Boltrek said.
The defensive effort against Riverhead featured interceptions by Michael Gaine and Heesung Chang.
The offensive tone was set with a 63-yard drive that lasted 10:21 and bridged the first and second quarters. There were 21 snaps, including four penalties. Nick Gaffney ran for 44 of his 80 yards along the way. The junior tailback finally plowed in from the 1.
"That was hard football right there," Gaffney said of the drive. "Good blocking. Drove down the field and put it in."
Prussen went long on the first play of the next possession for a 60-yard score to Lorenzo Velez, who finished with three catches for 124 yards. Next possession, Prussen ran for a 45-yard TD.
In the third quarter, Prussen threw to Nolan Fontana for a 13-yard score. Backup QB Andrew Belli ran 6 yards and 50 yards to the end zone in the fourth.
"I think this offense is very versatile," Prussen said. "We have a lot of weapons."
Shay, meanwhile, has a lot of rebuilding to do after the year off.
"You’re doing things you didn’t think you’d have to do," Shay said. "I’m teaching kids how to put their helmet decals on. It’s starting from scratch in a lot of ways."