When the Shoreham-Wading River football team lines up against Babylon tonight in the semifinals of the Division IV playoffs, the odds will most definitely be stacked against the Wildcats.
The Panthers, defending Class IV Long Island champions, will take a 21-game win streak onto their home field, where they’ve been nearly unbeatable over the past decade. The Panthers have lost just twice since the start of the 2011 season.
While the top-seeded Panthers (9-0) enter as favorites, there’s reason for Shoreham (7-2) to be optimistic.
How can the Wildcats pull off the upset?
1. Control the clock
The Wildcats have relied on their ground game all season behind a veteran offensive line and the aggressive running of senior Tyler Anderson. In the first round of the playoffs, Anderson exploded for more than 400 rushing yards to break his previous school record. It won’t be that easy against Babylon, which has allowed double-digit points only twice this season. The Wildcats were one of those teams. But their 14 points scored were toward the end of the game after it already was lopsided. The Wildcats will need to control the pace of the game in order to win, running long drives, even if they end up without points.
2. Limit Babylon’s passing attack
Babylon quarterback Nick Santorelli lit up the Shoreham defense in the regular season matchup. Babylon’s strength is its ability to spread out a defense and throw the ball, which opens up the running game between the tackles. The Panthers have two dynamite receivers with tremendous size in 6-foot-5 Ray Wardell and 6-foot-2 Jack Carlock. The two combined for 12 receptions and three touchdowns when the teams last met. The Wildcats will need to avoid giving up big plays through the air, especially early in the game. If the Wildcats can force Babylon to run the ball, they’ll have a much better chance on defense.
3. Special teams
A key ingredient in any upset is the play of special teams, which can help swing the momentum of a game. The Wildcats have a tremendous kicker in Zach McAuley, who has the potential to add three points with a field goal if a drive stalls. A kick-off return or punt return for a touchdown would go a long way toward helping the Wildcats win an upset. Anderson has been returning kicks for Shoreham. He returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown in Week 8 against Port Jefferson.
4. No mistakes
It goes without saying in any football game, but for the Wildcats to have a chance, they can’t cough the ball up or commit needless penalties. If the Wildcats can win the turnover battle, the game could be there in the end for the taking. And if the Wildcats can put Babylon in an uncomfortable position of being in a tight game in the fourth quarter, who knows what might happen.