Matt Millheiser yelled out for the starters as the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats regained possession with under two minutes left Saturday afternoon against Southampton.
Throughout the second half, the coach had little use for the starting group. They had more than done their job, all but assuring a long awaited victory early in the second quarter.
All that remained was three simple kneel downs and Millheiser wanted to give his starters a chance to savor the moment.
All too often the Wildcats found themselves on the opposite end of lopsided games last year in Division III. Finally, it was their turn.
After an 0-8 season last year that saw the Wildcats suffer through blowout after blowout, they opened the 2011 season in dramatically different fashion, trouncing the higher seeded Mariners 40-6 at Shoreham-Wading River High School.
Welcome back to Division IV.
It was the first victory for the Wildcats since Oct. 17, 2009 when they defeated Port Jefferson. It was the most points they scored since tallying 62 against The Stony Brook School in September 2009.
For the players who are in their third year on varsity, a win next week against Greenport would equal their win total of the last two seasons combined.
“It feels so great,” said senior Joe Longo, a third-year varsity player who scored a pair of touchdowns.
The win was also the first as a varsity head coach for Millheiser.
“It’s nice to break the ice,” he said. “I got a victory under my belt now. I think a little confidence went a long way for me too as a head coach.”
Just how different was Saturday’s game compared to last year?
• The Wildcats scored 10 more points than they did all of last season combined.
• They equaled their touchdown total from last season early in the second quarter when Longo punched it in from a yard out for their fourth score. They surpassed it on their first possession of the second quarter.
• Going into Week 8 last year, the Wildcats had totaled 20 points. They scored their 20th point Saturday in the first quarter.
“What this team needed more than anything was a little bit of confidence,” Millheiser said. “A little bit of success would go a long way.”
They had more than a little bit of success against the Mariners. At halftime the Wildcats’ offense outgained Southampton 181-26. Shoreham scored on every offensive possession except for the end of the second quarter when the clock ran out and at the end of the fourth quarter when quarterback Sean Logan took a knee. The Wildcats never punted and had no turnovers.
On the other end the Wildcats picked off four passes and senior Dylan Bates returned a fumble on a bad snap for a touchdown in the first quarter. The four interceptions were the most for Shoreham since picking off seven against Stony Brook in 2009.
The highlight INT came courtesy of senior Chris Mahoney, who made a one-handed grab just before the end of the first quarter. It was his second pick of the game.
“We started noticing in the scrimmage against Babylon and those teams that we’re definitely a different team,” Longo said.
“We got a great group of seniors, a great group of captains that are taking control of this team,” Millheiser added. “We don’t have to worry about the little things any more of talking on the bus or setting up the field. They lead this group and all we have to do is coach them up.”
The only negative for Shoreham Saturday was a broken scoreboard, which couldn’t light up the Wildcats’ dominance.
The Wildcats’ three main rushers combined to run around, past, through and over the entire Southampton defense all day. They consistently brushed off the first tackler and surged ahead through the holes generated by the offensive line, which dominated the line of scrimmage.
Bates, who won the starting halfback job in training camp, refused to go down. He opened the game with a 43-yard touchdown run on the Wildcats’ first possession. On Southampton’s second play of its first possession, he scooped up the fumble and ran it back about 25 yards for the touchdown.
“No matter where we put him he’s going to shine,” Millheiser said. “He’s just a great player, great effort player. He’s our sparkplug.”
Bates finished the game with only six carries, but he totaled 97 yards. It all came in the first half. Longo carried seven times for 44 yards. He also caught a touchdown from Logan, the only pass attempt for the Wildcats all game.
Sophomore Tyler Anderson, who’s 6-feet, 200 pounds, carried the load in the second half. He finished with 100 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown.
“He’s the future,” Millheiser said. “Dylan’s running the ball great so we’re going to give it to him right now. But they’ll be games when Dylan needs a break. So Tyler’s going to have to run the ball for us.”
The Wildcats return home next Saturday to face Greenport, the preseason No. 6 seed.
“Any time you play a six seed or a top seed you know you’re going to be in for a game,” Millheiser said. “I expect it to be a battle.”