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Being everyone's favorite opponent for homecoming isn't as nice as it sounds. That team is picked to get pounded
AS FANS filled the stands at Riverhead (N.Y.) High for a game against nearby Centereach on a sunny October afternoon, attendance and expectations were higher than normal. They weren't there just to watch football. They came to experience an All-American rite of passage: homecoming. The big pep rally had been held the day before, old grads were at the field renewing acquaintances, and coming up at halftime was the parade of Corvette convertibles bearing the homecoming queen and her court. Of course, the day would not be complete without a victory by the Riverhead football team.
Enter Centereach. The Cougars were serving as homecoming opponent for the third straight game. Coincidence? Not exactly. They were 6--14 over the last 2 1/2 seasons and 10th in the 12-team Division II entering the game against Riverhead (3--1). Schools might not like to admit it, but, with so much anticipation attached to homecoming, most purposely pick a game against a beatable opponent. "It makes me want to go out and show them we're not just any team that you can beat up on," says Cougars junior Kenny Williams, a running back and linebacker.
Gallant efforts by Centereach have fallen short, however. On Sept. 29 they lost to previously winless Half Hollow East ( Dix Hills, N.Y.) 19--13; a week later, against Newfield (Selden, N.Y.)—then 3--0 and second ranked in the division—they went down 21--3.
Teams throughout the country know the feeling. Calabasas ( Calif.), which until last month hadn't won a game since Nov. 1, 2002, is the homecoming opponent for two teams this year. The Coyotes lost to Thousand Oaks (4--3) 56--19 on Oct. 5 and face powerhouse Moorpark (4--3) this Friday. "Some of the guys take it personally when teams schedule us just to get a win. It can be a motivating factor," says Calabasas coach Lance Martin. "I tell them it's just a football game, the only difference is that the halftime's a little longer."
On the other hand, these teams should take heart in what George Marshall ( Falls Church, Va.) accomplished last season. The Statesmen were scheduled as so-called homecoming patsies three times, but turned the tables and won all three of those games. They finished 7--3, their first winning season in 13 years. This season? Marshall (5--3) was scheduled as a homecoming opponent just once, against Woodson ( Fairfax, Va.) last Friday. (The Statesmen blew a halftime lead to lose 37--28.)
As for Centereach, the Cougars failed in their bid to deprive Riverhead fans of their perfect Saturday. The Blue Waves pounded them, 55--13, behind quarterback Tim Velys (144 passing yards and two touchdowns) and running back Miguel Maysonet (99 rushing yards and four TDs). It was a special day for Dana Lamendola, too: As the homecoming queen, she was cheered as she rode in the lead Corvette at halftime.
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