It had become tradition for the Shoreham-Wading River football team to enter the field in two single-file lines, a quiet march toward the sideline with two captains leading the group by carrying the No. 54 flag in honor of Thomas Cutinella.
The solemn procession continued into this year before each game until the team decided to shake things up last week. Rather than the subdued walk, the team decided for a more customary charge onto the field with one player running with the flag as if leading an army into battle.
“Everybody was fired up,” said senior Ethan Wiederkehr. “It’s just a new tradition we’re starting. It gives us some fire.”
Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser said after the team’s loss to John Glenn in Week 5, the coaches talked to the players about changing some things.
“The kid got together and that’s what they came up with,” Millheiser said. “They seemed to be fired up.”
The Wildcats made it 2-0 since starting the new tradition with a 47-0 homecoming victory Saturday over Bayport-Blue Point at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. The Wildcats picked up right where they left off after last week’s pivotal win over Miller Place that propelled the team back into the No. 2 spot in the Division IV power rankings.
The unseasonably warm weather of the past week gave way to a more October-like temperature and a steady rain fell throughout the first half, but it hardly tempered the Wildcats’ spirits.
“It’s a special experience — homecoming,” Wiederkehr said. “Especially with the beautiful field and everything the community’s done here. It’s really special.”
The wet conditions wreaked havoc on the Phantoms, who have had a down year after reaching the semifinals of the playoffs last year before losing to Shoreham. The Wildcats scored two touchdowns off Bayport miscues by recovering a ball in the end zone, one on a bad snap, the other on a blocked punt. The Wildcats also scored a safety and nearly had another one late in the game, but the officials conferred and decided the Bayport player was down at the 2 before being driven into the end zone.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, kept to the same formula that has worked all year: get the ball into the hands of Chris Gray. The senior running back scored four touchdowns, bringing his season total to 19. He scored so quickly that his fourth score came just over a minute into the second quarter.
The game became lopsided so early, the Wildcats didn’t need Gray after that.
Gray scored on runs of 35, 63, 45 and 62, pushing him to over 200 rushing yards for the game in just over one quarter.
It seems every time Gray touches the ball, there’s a chance he can break a touchdown run.
“Running behind the line I have, I have full confidence every time I get the ball,” Gray said. “I’m running behind guys like Ethan, Dan Curtin, Dean Stalzer. It’s likely.”
The Wildcats came into the game with their roster at its healthiest point since the season opener against Center Moriches. With one game left in the regular season, at Hampton Bays Friday, it couldn’t come at a better time as Shoreham tries to defend its Long Island title.
Stalzer, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound tackle who missed about a month of the season, provides some crucial experience and muscle on both ends of the ball.
“He’s been through the battles, and he knows what it takes to get it done,” Millheiser said. “Some of the guys that filled in did a great job and they’re going to be great players for us. But he’s been through the fire before. There’s no substitute for that.”
Nick Serdock, a senior left tackle, who was injured in Week 2, is back to full strength. Quarterback Kevin Cutinella, who was playing through an ankle injury, is feeling better as well, Millheiser said.
“The healthier we get and the harder we work, we got a shot,” Millheiser said. “We’re still in this.”
Babylon’s 14-0 win over Glenn last night should solidify the undefeated Panthers as the No. 1 seed in Division IV. The Wildcats (5-2) will likely end up as either the No. 2 or No. 3 and will host at least one playoff game.
Photo caption: The Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats charge onto the field for their final regular season home game Saturday. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)