Oh, they rang that Riverhead victory bell in town right around midnight when the victorious football team returned from its heart-pounding 20-14 win over East Islip in the Suffolk II football championship at Stony Brook University.
Ryan Hubbard should have been the first to ring the bell. The senior earned that right by returning a punt 84 yards for the tiebreaking touchdown with six seconds left before a crowd of 2,600 Friday night at LaValle Stadium.
Hubbard, who scored three touchdowns, galloped down the home sideline behind an army of blockers, led by Steven Reid, who flattened everyone in his path as Riverhead broke a tie at 14. Riverhead (10-1) will meet Carey (11-0) at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium for the Long Island Class II title.
"We set up a middle return and he caught it clean," Riverhead coach Leif Shay said. "He broke toward our sideline and I was like 'just keep on running!' It was an unbelievable feeling and I just wanted him to stay in bounds on the sideline."
Hubbard said he broke outside after an initial block by Reid opened a lane. "I saw Steven Reid had a great block outside so I bounced it out there and went down the sideline," he said. "This is the greatest game of my life."
Hubbard was responsible for the Blue Waves' 14-0 halftime lead, scoring both touchdowns in a nine-second span on a 3-yard pass from Cody Smith and a 22-yard interception return.
"He's been doing that all year," Shay said. "He's had two pick-6s and tonight was his second punt return for a touchdown this season. He's a big-play-maker for sure."
Riverhead opened the scoring with a 14-play, 77-yard march that consumed 6:11. The Blue Waves finished the drive when Smith fired a 3-yard scoring pass to Hubbard on a slant pattern. Nico Bossey's extra-point kick made it 7-0 with three minutes left in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball touched an East Islip player and went out of bounds at the 13-yard line, pinning the Redmen deep in their own territory. On the first play from scrimmage, Hugens Tranquille threw a slant pass that was intercepted by Hubbard and returned 22 yards for the score. Bossey's kick made it 14-0 with 2:51 left.
East Islip (8-3) opened the third quarter by moving the ball to the Riverhead 29, but the drive ended on Jaron Greenidge's interception at the Blue Waves' 19. After the East Islip defense forced a Riverhead three and out, a short punt and a 14-yard return by Sean Karika set up the Redmen at the Riverhead 25. Five plays later, East Islip's Matt Walter scored on a 6-yard run and Jake Piacenti added the kick to get the Redmen within 14-7.
After forcing three straight punts, East Islip went on another short scoring drive to tie it. EI went 43 yards in six plays, capped by Erik Adon's 9-yard TD run. Piacenti's kick tied it at 14 with 5:22 left.
"Even with the 14-point lead, we knew East Islip would battle back," Shay said. "But that last play . . . wow."