During the trophy presentation ceremony, the public-address announcer at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium intoned: “Congratulations to Matt Millheiser and his Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats. They are the Class IV Long Island champions for 2015.”
If it seems like we have been here before, well, it is because we have. Last year the Wildcats reached the Long Island final and triumphed, completing a 12-0 season in dramatic fashion. And there were the Wildcats on Friday, claiming a second straight Long Island title, another 12-0 season, extending their winning streak to 24 games, and, in the eyes of some, cementing their legacy.
“It’s very special, and I tried to preach to the kids this week, don’t take it for granted,” their coach, Millheiser, said. “You’re going to cherish it and it’s going to be something you talk about when you get to be our age. It really was a special thing. It really was something I wanted them to achieve and I wanted them to carry with them, and they did that today.”
It’s a shame that one of the players most responsible for this remarkable ride that the Wildcats have been on for the past two years wasn’t present to see Friday’s victory celebration. Or was he?
Tom Cutinella’s presence is still felt, and he remains a motivation, “the biggest motivation we have,” said Kyle Fehmel, a wide receiver and cornerback.
Cutinella collapsed during a game last season and died. Inspired by his memory, the Wildcats rallied to capture their first Long Island championship.
Cutinella’s No. 54 was retired by the school and the school’s new field, which is being built, has been named after him. When the Wildcats marched onto the field Friday, they did so behind a flag bearing No. 54. The front of their jerseys had the words “TOMMY TOUGH” printed on them. A sign hanging from the stands behind the Shoreham bench read, “54 FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS.” No. 54, Tom Cutinella, was listed on the Shoreham roster in the official game program as one of the team captains, and his name was announced along with the other Wildcats during the pregame introductions. His younger brother, Kevin Cutinella, is on the team.
Ever since that terrible night last year, the Wildcats have been winning for TC54, and they haven’t stopped.
“Every day I wake up, every time I put on a helmet, there’s not a moment when I’m not thinking about him,” said Jason Curran, the team’s quarterback and free safety.
The 54 flag was raised again.
The Wildcats seem to have an air of invincibility about them. They had it Friday. On the game’s fourth play from scrimmage, Chris Rosati took a handoff and shot around the end 26 yards for a touchdown, his first of four in a 35-7 trouncing of Locust Valley.
“We knew we had to come out strong, come out flying,” said Jon Constant, who caught a touchdown pass, made two interceptions and led the Wildcats with six and a half tackles.
Locust Valley had won all 11 of its previous games this year, but ran into a determined, powerful Shoreham team that never seems to lose its focus. The Wildcats have outscored their opponents by 412-81.
“They’re an experienced group,” Millheiser said of his players. “They’re not going to crack, and they just kept pounding away, pounding away, and I thought it wore [Locust Valley] down, and it showed there in the third and the fourth quarter.”
In addition to the mercurial Rosati, who dashed and darted for 110 yards, the Wildcats also had Curran and Constant each running for close to 100 yards themselves.
Sticking with the Wildcats for four quarters is tough, primarily because of a large offensive line that batters openings for ball carriers. With blocking from the likes of Dalten Stalzer, Ryan Letscher, James Puckey, Ethan Wiederkehr, Dean Stalzer and Daniel Cassidy, banging helmets and pads with the Wildcats takes its toll on teams.
“That’s our big motto around our offense — wear them down, wear them down, wear them down,” said Rosati.
And so, the winning streak has been extended to 24 games. A reporter asked Rosati how much longer this streak can go on.
“I think we have a lot of returning players coming back next year and I just think with the coaching staff that we have and all the hard work,” Rosati answered, “I just think, I don’t know, it can go on for a long time.”
One couldn’t help but wonder what Tom Cutinella would make of all of this.
Said Fehmel, “I don’t think he would be surprised, honestly.”
Photo Caption: James Puckey, left, and Kevin Cutinella carry the 54 flag in memory of Tom Cutinella onto the field before Shoreham-Wading River’s win over Elwood/John Glenn in the Suffolk County Division IV final. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)