The upper echelon of Division IV football may be as deep as it has ever been this year. Between the top four or even five teams, it seems any one can beat another on a given night.
It has set the stage for some dramatic action — the kind of tense games often unseen from the top teams that typically steamroll through most of its schedule.
On Friday night, the latest installment featured a rematch of the past two county championship games as Shoreham-Wading River played John Glenn on a neutral field at Connetquot High School.
As expected, defense ruled the day, and the Knights withstood four second-half drives by the Wildcats into Glenn territory to win 16-12. The Knights improved to 4-1 and snapped a four-game losing streak against Shoreham, including the past two county title games.
Shoreham senior Chris Gray scored both touchdowns for the Wildcats (3-2). His second score came on a third-quarter interception return that brought the Wildcats within two, 14-12. A two-point conversion attempt came up just shy of the end zone on a run and the two points loomed large as the game continued.
The Wildcats had a key advantage of field position throughout the second half as neither team could string together complete drives. But each trek into Glenn territory ended empty handed for the Wildcats, who appeared poised to take the lead for the first time early in the fourth quarter.
From the Knights’ 22-yard line, the Wildcats ran with Gray four straight plays but came up just short on fourth-and-two to turn the ball over to Glenn. If the Wildcats had picked up one more first down there to near the 10, it likely would have been close enough to attempt a field goal.
The Wildcats quickly got the ball back and again appeared poised to snag the lead. But on first-and-10 from the Glenn 12, a bad snap backed the Wildcats up 15 yards and on the next play they turned the ball over on an interception.
With under six minutes to play, the Wildcats still had a chance with Glenn once again backed up deep in its own territory. But Glenn quarterback Kyle Tiernan eluded the pass rush long enough to find an open receiver on the left sideline amid a busted coverage and it resulted in a 48-yard pass play.
The Wildcats got one last possession, still down two, but this time were backed up deep in their own territory. On third down, quarterback Kevin Cutinella dropped back into the end zone and slipped. His knee touched the ground, and although there wasn’t a defender near him, the play had to be blown dead and it resulted in a safety and the final two points for Glenn.
Cutinella, who’s been playing through a nagging ankle injury, started the game on defense, but not offense. Freshman Xavier Arline started at quarterback. Cutinella went back under center on the final drive of the first half and remained at quarterback in the second half.
Gray once again led the team on the ground with 115 yards on 22 carries.
The Knights relied on its passing game and Tiernan completed 14 of 22 passes for 168 yards. He threw two interceptions.
The Wildcats will return home next week to face another heavy-hitter in Miller Place. The Panthers were the team responsible for Glenn’s only loss.
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River coach Matt Millheiser provides instructions to quarterback Kevin Cutinella. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)