The high school football playoffs have arrived, and with them come a familiar opponent for Shoreham-Wading River.
On Friday evening, second-seeded Shoreham (6-2) will face No. 7 Hampton Bays (4-4) — the same team it played this past Friday night in the final regular-season game for both teams — in a Suffolk County Division IV quarterfinal. The only difference is this time Shoreham will play on its home field.
The two-time defending Long Island Class IV champion Wildcats will be hoping for a similar result, though.
This past Friday Shoreham routed Hampton Bays, 41-0, as Chris Gray ran for 199 yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries. That gave the senior running back 21 touchdowns for the year.
But, what is past is past. With the playoffs, the slate is wiped clean.
“It’s a new season,” Gray said before Tuesday’s practice. “It’s definitely exciting. Everyone’s 0 and 0. No wins, no losses.”
Coach Matt Millheiser said, “Any mistakes, any issues, any things that happened during the middle of the year are all gone now.”
What counts is from here on forward, and that is the direction Shoreham has been moving. The Wildcats are taking momentum with them into the postseason, having won three straight games over Miller Place, Bayport-Blue Point and Hampton Bays by an aggregate score of 115-14. Friday’s win was the third shutout of the season by a defense that has given up an average of only 8.6 points per game.
Offense, meanwhile, hasn’t been a problem, not with the elusive Gray, who has 1,385 rushing yards from 123 attempts, an average of 11.3 yards per carry. Gray has also caught four passes for 57 yards. Shoreham has put up 34.9 points per game.
“Some of the times there in the middle [of the season] when we needed somebody to lean on, somebody to carry us, [Gray] was there for us,” Millheiser said. “Moving forward, we’re starting to see some other kids emerge. [Quarterback] Kevin Cutinella has played much, much better and some of our receivers have done a great job on the edge and put a lot of pressure on defense. Chris is still the main guy. He’s going to rack up the yards and a lot of the plays, but I think some of the auxiliary pieces around him have really stepped up and put a lot of pressure on defenses.”
Gray is running behind a sturdy line composed of left tackle Nick Serdock, left guard Liam Mahoney, center Kyle Higgins, right guard Dan Curtin, right tackle Dean Stalzer and Northwestern-bound tight end Ethan Wiederkehr.
“They are a very good line, but what I think a lot of people don’t realize is that for many of them, this is their first year and their first real game experience, and I think that’s why they’ve gotten better,” Millheiser said. “The more experience they’ve had in games, the better they have gotten over the course of the year.”
Hampton Bays salvaged a playoff spot after dropping its first three games to Miller Place, Wyandanch and Elwood/John Glenn. The Baymen then won four straight, a streak that Shoreham snapped Friday.
“What happened last week happened,” Gray said. “We kind of moved forward and [are] focused on this game. I feel confident. You know, we have a lot of great players and we’re getting better each week.”
And so, the playoffs are upon us.
“All the teams are going to bring the best they have because they don’t want to go home,” said Curtin.
Millheiser said, “Each week in the playoffs you have to earn one more week of playing time, and I’d like to see us build on what we’ve done and continue to get better.”
Photo caption: Ethan Wiederkehr (40), Logan Snyder (56), Dean Stalzer (58) and Kevin Cutinella (7) lead Shoreham-Wading River out onto the field for its season-opening win over Center Moriches. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)