If the past two games are any indication, the Division IV playoffs have a chance to be as competitive as ever.
In consecutive weeks, the Shoreham-Wading River football faced two of the top teams in the division and both games were decided by single digits. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they ended up on the losing end of both.
After dropping their first game of the season last week at Miller Place, the Wildcats welcomed unbeaten Babylon to Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field Friday night for chance create a three-way tie in record among the division’s top three teams. In an entertaining game that was defined by big plays on both sides, the Panthers hung on to defeat Shoreham 29-26 to remain unbeaten and lock up the No. 1 seed (the Panthers play 1-5 Southampton next week).
The Wildcats (5-2) had not lost consecutive games in each of their past three championship seasons. The 29 points allowed were also a season high.
Sophomore Xavier Arline contributed to every touchdown for Shoreham. He ran for two, threw one and returned another on an interception. His 43-yard touchdown run with 6:23 left in the fourth quarter brought the Wildcats to within three at 22-19, setting up a dramatic final few minutes.
The Wildcats’ defense had been superb against the run all game, but Babylon quarterback Joseph Rende opened the next drive by breaking a 48-yard run to immediately set up the Panthers inside the Wildcats’ 10-yard line. Three players later, he connected on a pass to Charles DiPalma on a slant route and the Panthers (7-0) went back ahead 29-19.
The Wildcats weren’t done yet, striking for another touchdown on the next drive when Arline threw a 28-yard pass to Noah Block.
The defense needed to force a quick three-and-out on the next drive, but Babylon gained a pair of first downs on the ground with Rende to seal the victory.
Arline rushed for 139 yards on 17 carries. He scored on a 38-yard run in the first quarter and then returned an interception about 60 yards later in the quarter to put the Wildcats ahead 13-7.
The Wildcats were without running back/defensive back Kyle Boden, who suffered an MCL sprain last week, according to coach Matt Millheiser. He’s expected to be back in time for the playoffs and may possibly play next week.
The loss of Boden perhaps hurt most on the defensive side as the Wildcats struggled to match up to the passing attack of the Panthers. The Panthers often went to a spread formation and have two talented receivers who can create havoc. Rende completed 10 of 22 passes for 225 yards and 4 touchdown passes. He also caught a two-point conversion pass.
He threw touchdown passes of 69 and 41 yards, both on plays where the Wildcats failed to make a tackle after the initial catch.
The Wildcats’ offense struggled for much of the game as well. They picked up only two first downs, both on their first scoring drive, through the first three quarters of the game.
The Wildcats can take solace in the fact that before winning last year’s Class IV Long Island Championship, the team suffered two regular season defeats. Anything can happen in the playoffs. Babylon also won in the regular season last year in Shoreham, snapping the Wildcats’ 25-game unbeaten streak. But it was the Wildcats who prevailed in the county championship game.
If Shoreham and Babylon meet again, it would likely be in the championship game once again.
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River quarterback Xavier Arline throws a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter for the final score of the game. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)