It took 18 years for the Shoreham-Wading River football program to reach a county championship game. After an undefeated run to the Long Island championship last year, the wait won’t be nearly as long for a return trip.
The Wildcats scored 21 unanswered points Saturday to defeat Bayport-Blue Point in the Division IV semifinals and advance into the county finals for a second straight year.
Shoreham won its 22nd straight game with a 21-6 victory against the Phantoms and will play for the county crown on Thursday at Stony Brook University against Elwood John Glenn.
“It was our main objective this year — going back to Stony Brook,” said Shoreham junior Kevin Cutinella. “It’s what we strived to do every day in practice.”
Three different players scored touchdowns for Shoreham: Jon Constant, Cutinella and Chris Rosati. Cutinella scored on a 15-yard run early in the second quarter that put the Wildcats ahead 14-6. The touchdown came with Cutinella under center.
The quarterback position is one he’s still relatively new to. He played some quarterback in eighth grade and ninth grade. Last year, playing his first season on varsity, he was limited to mostly a special teams role at the beginning of the year. He opened this year as a candidate for quarterback along with senior Jason Curran.
Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser said Curran and Cutinella were mostly even during the preseason. The coaches opted for Curran based on their defensive positions. Cutinella, a linebacker, was more prone to a potential injury, even something small like a finger, than Curran at safety.
After Curran went down with an injury late in Week 7 in a win over John Glenn, it opened the door for Cutinella to slide in as quarterback. Curran returned to action last week in the playoff opener against McGann-Mercy on a limited basis.
“We have him ready to go if we need him, but I want to make sure he’s there for us defensively,” Millheiser said.
With Cutinella able to handle the quarterbacking duties, it’s afforded the Wildcats (10-0) the ability to bring him back slowly and keep him focused on the defensive side, where he serves as the de facto quarterback.
Cutinella rushed for 50 yards on 11 carries at quarterback Saturday and completed 5 of 7 passes for 70 yards on a windy afternoon at Miller Place High School.
“He’s a tremendous athlete, but he’s also got a very good football IQ,” Millheiser said. “He just does things very, very well. He reads defenses well. That’s something I’m glad he can do, because it’s not something you can coach up very quickly.”
Stepping in late in the season at quarterback for an undefeated team may seem like an overwhelming task. Cutinella said his teammates have made it easy.
“With the linemen we have, anything’s possible,” said Cutinella, who also recovered a fumble on defense.
The Wildcats weren’t hesitant to let Cutinella throw some passes. Millheiser said if not for the wind, he likely would have called a few more pass plays.
“Going into the wind I didn’t want to make a mistake with the lead,” he said. “Maybe I ran it a few more times than I wanted to. If we have the wind or good weather, there’s no doubt we’re going to throw it a little bit more than we usually do.”
The Wildcats came out of halftime with a 14-6 lead even without much offensively from Rosati. The Wildcat’s scoring leader was held to just six rushing yards on seven carries in the first half.
Still, he found a way to break into the scoring column in the second half. Rosati broke a 46-yard run late in the third quarter that put Shoreham ahead 21-6. He finished the game with 60 yards on 14 carries.
The Phantoms (6-4) provided a formidable test and came out swinging against Shoreham. The Phantoms marched 80 yards on the opening possession of the game and scored with quarterback Robert Johnson ran it into the end zone from two yards out.
It was one of the rare times Shoreham has trailed at all this season.
The Wildcats were forced to punt on their first possession, but the momentum turned after Bayport fumbled away the return to give the ball right back to the Wildcats in excellent field position.
The Wildcats made the Phantoms pay, scoring four plays later when Constant ran the ball in from five yards out.
“Everybody underestimates Bayport,” Cutinella said. “They’re a great team, well coached. Got a lot of weapons that we had to go over endlessly in practice.”
Johnson provided a challenge all game at quarterback. He rushed for 98 yards in the first half, most of which came on a 47-yard on the opening possession. He was forced to throw more in the second half and the Wildcats’ defense was ready.
Johnson finished with 124 rushing yards on 19 carries. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 85 yards.
Thursday’s county finals will be a rematch of last year’s championship game. The Wildcats won 47-10 against the Knights last year for the program’s first championship.
Photo Caption: Shoreham-Wading River quarterback Kevin Cutinella picks up a big gain against Bayport. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)