10/26/13 7:17pm
10/26/2013 7:17 PM
DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River's Brennan Gorman (51), Max Goldfarb (77), Chris Rosati (8) and Ethan Wiederkehr (40) celebrate after stopping Elwood/John Glenn on a third-and-one play.

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River’s Brennan Gorman (51), Max Goldfarb (77), Chris Rosati (8) and Ethan Wiederkehr (40) celebrate after stopping Elwood/John Glenn on a third-and-one play.


A back-and-forth battle marked by turnovers and missed opportunities came down to a big fourth-quarter decision.

The Knights of Elwood/John Glenn, thanks to three rushing touchdowns by sophomore quarterback Wayne Knight — and needing a win to stay in the race for a Suffolk County football playoff spot — held a 21-18 lead over host Shoreham-Wading River on Saturday afternoon.

The Knights faced fourth-and-three at the Wildcats’ 32 with a little more than three minutes remaining. With the wind behind them, they could punt into the end zone or try a pooch punt deep into Wildcats territory and leave it to their defense. They could let White or tailback Chris Forsberg, who combined for 200 rushing yards, carry the ball for a first down that would all but seal the win.

Knights head coach Dave Shanahan went for door No. 3.

White faked a handoff, turned to his right and tossed a 5-yard curl to Stephen Orkiszewski for the first down, which allowed the Knights — who entered the game in seventh place in Division IV — to run out the clock and improve to 5-2.

“I went to the senior,” said Shanahan, referring to Orkiszewski. “Our kids really rallied and buckled down, and we were able to run the ball. Usually, we throw the ball. Today we ran it.”

White relieved starting quarterback Tommy Balacki, a senior, midway through the first quarter, and the move sparked the Knights. White finished with 102 yards rushing and 48 yards passing.

Shoreham-Wading River came into the game in second place and dropped to 5-2 with the loss. With one game remaining at 3-4 Port Jefferson, the Wildcats are playing for a top-four seed in the playoffs.

“I tell the kids after every game, whether it’s a win at Mount Sinai, enjoy the weekend, but we’ll see you on Monday and it’s back to work,” said Wildcats head coach Matt Millheiser. “The message is the same here. We had a tough loss, we wanted this one bad, but now it stings over the weekend, and it’s time to get back to work on Monday.”

The Wildcats honored 13 seniors in a ceremony before their final home game, and came out storming. Tyler Anderson (26 carries, 225 yards) returned the opening kickoff 43 yards to midfield. After a 16-yard run and a 30-yard jaunt by quarterback Danny Hughes, Anderson capped the 89-second drive with a six-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead.

Two plays later, Glenn’s Keeshawn Boodie lost a fumble at midfield, but a botched pitch to Isreal Squires gave the ball right back to the Knights, who ended up missing a field goal.

The Wildcats went three-and-out, and a shanked punt into a stiff wind gave the Knights possession at the Shoreham 16 yard-line. Four plays later, at fourth-and-one from the 7, White scored on a sweep to help knot the score, 7-7.

The Wildcats answered with a drive that featured a 31-yard run by Anderson and a 26-yard reception by Aaron Harely-Rey, and had first-and-goal at the Knights 4. Anderson lost three yards, and after an incomplete pass, Hughes took it to the goal line and came up inches short. On fourth down, Millheiser called Hughes’ number again, but the Knights defense stopped him at the goal line.

“Danny doesn’t get it in on the quarterback sneak, so that’s a difference in score right there,” Millheiser said. “They were able to capitalize on their chances, and we weren’t able to capitalize on enough of ours.”

The Knights punted the ball back to the Wildcats, who went ahead by 10-7 on a 35-yard field goal by Zach McAuley. But the Knights responded, driving 72 yards for a touchdown when White scored from two yards out with 18 seconds left in the half.

Glenn missed another field goal, from 25 yards out, early in the third quarter, but the Wildcats couldn’t handle the prosperity, turning it back over when Harely-Rey lost a fumble at the Shoreham 38. Four plays later, White scored his third touchdown, and the Knights led, 21-10.

The Wildcats answered quickly. A 17-yard pass from Hughes to Adam Tanner helped set up a 21-yard touchdown run by Anderson, and the senior workhorse converted the two-point try to move the Wildcats within three, 21-18, early in the fourth quarter.

The Shoreham defense forced the Knights to punt, but the Wildcats’ turned it back over on downs, as Anderson was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-three from the Shoreham 39.

Millheiser said he is counting on his seniors to get the Wildcats back on track. He said, “It’s nothing they haven’t been through before, and I expect them to respond and be leaders going into the next week.”

09/11/13 8:00pm
09/11/2013 8:00 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River quarterback Danny Hughes and lineman Brennan Gorman are two of the returning starters for the Wildcats.

The fourth quarter of a Shoreham-Wading River football game last year rarely featured much drama. That was mostly a good thing.

In seven wins, the Wildcats’ average margin of victory was 25.7 points.

In their three losses, the final coming in the Division IV semifinals against Mount Sinai, the Wildcats’ average margin of defeat was 34 points. Babylon and Mount Sinai, who battled for the county title, combined to beat Shoreham 104-0 in three games.

As the Wildcats begin the 2013 season, the hope is a talented group of returning players can finally close that gap. Over the last three years the Wildcats have climbed from a bottom feeder to a top-four team.

“We’d like to take that next step,” said Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser. “We’ve been the past two years, record-wise, with that top group, but we haven’t broken the barrier on the field against them.”

There’s reason for optimism.

The Wildcats return an experienced line with a talented, veteran rusher behind it in senior Tyler Anderson.

“Teams are going to focus on trying to stop him,” Millheiser said.

Anderson’s rushing ability, the Wildcats hope, can open up some of the passing game as well. Junior Danny Hughes returns at quarterback after a successful season starting as a 10th-grader.

He’ll have some speedy targets to throw to in junior Isreal Squires and Bryce Casey, both of whom run on the track teams. Squires had a big season last year on varsity with some highlight reel catches. Casey was a standout on the JV.

“[Casey is] a talented kid who I think can really keep defenses honest in the passing game,” Millheiser said.

Senior Mitch Identsohn is another big target in the passing game at tight end.

The Wildcats have a sophomore on offense who will see time in the backfield in Chris Rosati.

“He’s just an all-around great athlete,” Millheiser said.

Millheiser said he expects the offensive and defensive lines to be one of the team’s biggest strengths. On offense, the Wildcats will line up seniors Brendan Fisher, Max Goldfarb, Brennan Gorman, senior Jack Choinski and junior Bobby Puckey. Choinski is the lone newcomer to the group that has been playing together for the last several years.

“They’re hard workers and they demand a lot of each other,” Millheiser said.

Goldfarb, Puckey Gorman and Fisher will all start on the defensive line as well.

Anderson and Identsohn will anchor the defense at linebacker. Junior Aaron Harley-Rey will start as a newcomer on defense.

Squires, Rosati and Hughes can all see time in the secondary.

The Wildcats also return kicker Zach McAuley, who’s in his fourth year playing football in the fall in addition to soccer.

The Wildcats will be tested early in the season. They open the season at home Thursday against McGann-Mercy, a team that advanced to the final four last year.

And Week 2 provides the ultimate challenge — a trip to Babylon to face last year’s Long Island champion.


08/30/13 11:00am
08/30/2013 11:00 AM

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Mitch Identsohn will see an increased role on both defense and offense this year for the Wildcats.

As the leader of the Shoreham-Wading River defense this season, senior Mitch Identsohn plays what’s affectionately referred to as the “stud” linebacker. Such a title undoubtedly brings hefty expectations.

“He’s kind of the guy we move around and put at the point of attack,” said Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser. “We want to put our best player where [the opposing team] is going to go and put him in the middle of the action.”

As a two-way player for the Wildcats, Identsohn will have a crucial role on both sides of the field this season for a team looking to take the next step from playoff team to legit contender.

On offense, Identsohn plays tight end, where his primary role is the gritty work of run blocking. It’s the kind of unheralded role that often goes unnoticed in the box score, but that’s fine with Identsohn.

“In the games and especially in the [film] room when you make a key block that opens up a run, the coaches let you know,” Identsohn said. “When we’re in the film room, all the lineman get credit for what they do.”

Identsohn understands a team’s running game is only as good as its offensive line. And at Shoreham, the Wildcats have always been a run-first team. That won’t change this year with senior Tyler Anderson back after a 1,500-yard rushing season a year ago.

Identsohn first came up to varsity as a sophomore when he played as wingback/slot receiver on offense. At the start of his junior season he competed for the tight end position and won the starting job. A defensive end in 10th grade, Identsohn started playing linebacker last year and flourished. He finished the season with 54 total tackles, one off the team lead. He had one sack and an interception that he returned for a touchdown against McGann-Mercy.

Millheiser said Identsohn came up to the varsity as a 10th-grader “with a bunch of potential.” Now as a senior he’s the go-to player on defense and a team leader.

“One of the biggest things with Mitch is his toughness and durability,” Millheiser said. “His leadership not only in the season, but in the offseason. He’ll get kids in workouts and get other kids he knows that are good athletes involved and out for the team. He’s been valuable to the program in the season and out of season.”

Identsohn said as a senior he sees the game from a different perspective. “You’re in control and everyone looks up to you,” he said. “You’re supposed to lead the team and set and example for all the other juniors and sophomores on the team.”

Identsohn will be in charge of calling plays on the field and making sure his teammates are lined up in the right position. It’s a big change from his defensive end position he played two years ago, where his main focus was on stopping the run.

“I like it a lot more,” he said. “There’s pressure because people expect you to make those tackles and be at the spot to make the play. But I kind of enjoy having the pressure.”

Identsohn and Anderson are the two returning mainstays at linebacker. A few other newcomers are fighting for the other positions.

Millheiser said the linebackers will often rotate around the field based on certain plays, which makes communication critical.

“Sometimes things can be a little complex,” he said. “They do a good job talking to each other and making sure they’re lined up correctly.”

On offense last year, Identsohn wasn’t heavily featured in the passing game. He caught 4 passes for 58 yards and one touchdown.

With junior quarterback Danny Hughes having a year of experience under his belt, Identsohn could play a bigger role in the passing game this year. Teams will be focused on stopping the running game. And wide receiver Isreal Squires is a player on the outside who can command double teams.

That could leave the middle of the field open for a player like Identsohn, at 6-foot, 195-pounds, to be a big target for Hughes.

“We’re definitely going to try to find mismatches if we can,” Millheiser said. “With that kind of size and his athletic ability, you want to try to utilize that.”

Identsohn would welcome a bigger role in the passing game, but at the end of the day, he said, it’s all about the team scoring touchdowns.

“It’s not about who scores, as long as we get the touchdown,” he said.


08/21/13 5:00pm
08/21/2013 5:00 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River football team will begin the season as the No. 3 seed in Division IV.

There’s definite reason for enthusiasm at training camp this year for Shoreham-Wading River. After a 6-2 regular season last year, the Wildcats advanced into the semifinals of the Division IV playoffs.

They enter this year with the core of their skill position players back on offense, including quarterback, wide receiver and running back.

But Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser knows there’s another word that can replace enthusiasm: expectations.

“It’s a double-sided coin,” Millheiser said. “It’s nice to have expectations where people believe in you enough to say, ‘Hey, they’re capable of this and that.’ But it’s also a little more pressure.”

Under Millheiser’s tutelage, the Wildcats have gotten better and better each season since 2010. Two years ago they shocked everyone by making the playoffs. Last year, it wasn’t so much a surprise when the Wildcats finished as the No. 3 seed in the division and won a first-round playoff game against The Stony Brook School.

So what’s the next step this year?

“There’s excitement in terms of getting better and making strides against the better teams in the league,” Millheiser said.

The Wildcats will begin this season where they left off last year: third in Division IV. The preseason rankings list Shoreham behind Babylon and Mount Sinai, the two mainstays of D-IV. Babylon won the Class IV Long Island championship last year.

As the Wildcats begin their first official practices this week, one of the early question marks centers around the offensive line.

“It’s trying to find the right fit, making sure that we all find the best place to put them to help the team,” Millheiser said. “Obviously, there’s always competition and battles on the field but the main thing is settling that offensive line.”

However the line shapes up, it will undoubtedly have one of the top runners in the division behind it in senior Tyler Anderson. A four-year varsity player, Anderson put up huge numbers last year. He finished the season with 18 touchdowns.

Millheiser fully expects another huge season from Anderson, who also plays linebacker. Now he’s looking to see him as a bigger leader on the team.

“When times get tough and things get a little shaky on the field, I’m going to expect a little more leadership,” Millheiser said. “Not just from what he says, but how he acts in a role that people will get behind him and follow him.”

The Wildcats return junior quarterback Danny Hughes and wide receiver Isreal Squires, who teamed up for some highlight reel plays last year. While the Wildcats will still be a run-first team, Hughes should get plenty of chances to find the speedster Squires on passing routes.

“I would say you’re going to see us utilize Izzy and Danny’s skills a little bit more this year,” Millheiser said. “We have some known quantities in terms of weapons this year that we definitely weren’t aware we had at the start of last year.”

With a 29-man roster on the varsity to start the season, the Wildcats will face a challenging preseason schedule to prepare for the season. Their first scrimmage features Sachem East, Miller Place, Smithtown West and West Babylon. They’ll play a game scrimmage against Half Hollow Hills East.

Millheiser said one notable change to the coaching staff this year is the addition of Tom Fabian, who was the JV head coach last year. He’ll coach on the varsity this year as the defensive coordinator, while also coaching the receivers and defensive backs.


11/17/12 1:20am
11/17/2012 1:20 AM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Tyler Anderson of Shoreham-Wading River scampers for yardage despite an effort by Mount Sinai’s Mike Donadio to bring him down.


This has been an historic football season for Shoreham-Wading River. The team earned its first home playoff game, posted its first playoff win, and set a team record for the most wins in a season.

What the Wildcats weren’t able to do, however, was defeat perennial power Mount Sinai.

Shoreham-Wading River has never beaten Mount Sinai, which won both games between the teams this year. The most recent came Friday night when Mark Donadio scored all three touchdowns in a Suffolk County Division IV semifinal that ended with the score 21-0.

“They should be proud of what they achieved,” Shoreham-Wading River coach Matt Millheiser said of his players. “The seniors going out took us from an 0-8 group a couple of years ago to a group playing in the semifinals that won seven games. It hurts now, but I think in a couple of weeks a little perspective sets in and they see what they accomplished over their time here. They have a lot to hold their heads high about.”

As does No. 2 seed Mount Sinai (9-1). The Mustangs ousted defending Long Island champion Elwood/John Glenn from the playoffs a week earlier, and they looked sharp in their final home game of the season on Friday night. Donadio’s play and Mount Sinai’s defense proved to be a winning recipe, earning the Mustangs a place in the county final. They will play the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal between Bishop McGann-Mercy (7-2) and Babylon (9-0). The title game will be played on Nov. 24 or 25 at Stony Brook University.

Mount Sinai has a potent one-two punch in its backfield in the form of identical twins, seniors Mark and Mike Donadio. Mark plays fullback and free safety; Mike plays halfback and outside linebacker.

The brothers bear such a strong resemblance to each other that Mount Sinai coach Vinnie Ammirato needs a second or two to tell which one is which. Their appearance isn’t the only thing they have in common, either.

“Their running styles are identical,” Ammirato said. “The good thing about both of them is they are always moving forward, even when they make cuts.”

Mark Donadio had a lot of forward motion on Friday night — 188 yards worth, to be exact. He did most of his damage in the first half when he picked up 130 of his 141 rushing yards.

“I felt great,” Mark Donadio said. “There were a lot of holes to run through, and it just opened up nice for me.”

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River’s Danny Hughes passing.

As if to show that he can do more than just run with the ball, Mark Donadio had a touchdown reception with 5 minutes 7 seconds left in the third quarter. He received a swing pass from Billy Tartaglia before weaving his way 47 yards to the end zone. Chris Prestia’s extra point made it 21-0. It was one of only two passes Mount Sinai threw in the game. When a team runs like Mount Sinai does, it doesn’t have to pass much.

The game had been scoreless until the first play of the second quarter. On a third-down play from the Shoreham-Wading River 10-yard line,
Mark Donadio took a handoff and cut to the left side, going untouched for the score.

Then Mark Donadio capped Mount Sinai’s next offensive series by showing good body control and zigzagging 15 yards for another touchdown.

No. 3 Shoreham-Wading River (7-3) didn’t reach Mount Sinai’s red zone until the fourth quarter. The Wildcats advanced to the Mount Sinai 16-yard line on one series, but back-to-back sacks by Ryan Clark and Sal Maresca put an end to that threat. Then, a fumble recovery by Scott Lavey gave Shoreham-Wading River another chance to score. The Wildcats reached the Mount Sinai 5 before Bryan Reed recorded a game-ending sack. Mount Sinai finished with five sacks, including two and a half by Clark.

“They’re sure tacklers and they make you make plays,” said Millheiser, whose team was held scoreless in the eight quarters it played against Mount Sinai this year. “They’re not going to give away anything soft.”

Isreal Squires was involved in 11 tackles and Anthony Lima had a hand in 10 for Shoreham-Wading River.

Shoreham-Wading River’s feature back, Tyler Anderson, had a productive game. The junior picked up 159 yards from 22 carries. He also caught three passes for 20 yards.

“He’s a tremendous back with a ton of upside,” Millheiser said. “He’s a great back, and I think the sky’s the limit. I don’t know if  we’ve seen the best from him yet.”

Mount Sinai usually plays its home games at night, but because of budgetary considerations, Friday’s game was the only home game this year that the Mustangs played under the lights.

“I think Friday night football at Mount Sinai is something pretty special,” Ammirato said, “and I’m glad they got to play their last home game” at night.

Some tears on the Shoreham-Wading River sideline after the game were evidence that the result wasn’t what the Wildcats wanted, but they clearly can’t complain about the strides they made this season.

“We played tough to the end,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep going. Sometimes you just fall short.”


09/29/12 7:55pm
09/29/2012 7:55 PM

If anyone in Shoreham-Wading River history rushed for more than 328 yards, coach Matt Millheiser had a strong hunch who it might have been.

So after Saturday afternoon’s 42-14 Division IV victory at East Hampton (1-3), Millheiser called former Wildcat Brendan Kelly. A senior on the football team at the University of Central Florida, Kelly (’08) finished his high school career with Shoreham as one of the most accomplished backs in county history.

“I said the only kid I could think in the past who would have had a big game was Brendan Kelly,” Millheiser said. “And he said he only had a 301 and 310, so I guess it’s a team record.”

That honor would now go to Tyler Anderson after a five-touchdown, 328-yard rushing day that will be one to remember.

Perhaps most amazing, he only needed 11 carries to amass that many yards. He finished the day with an absurd 29.8 yards per carry.

Anderson scored on runs of 48, 65, 21, 80 and 65 yards.

The final run almost didn’t happen.

With the game well in hand, Millheiser had Anderson on the sideline as backups Avery Friedman and Jordan Wright took over the rushing duties. But at one point Friedman and Wright both got banged up and the Wildcats needed a back to go in for a play. So Millheiser called in Anderson.

“I put him back in and boom, another touchdown,” Millheiser said. “I ran out of backs so I threw him back in there.”

The Wildcats finished with 521 rushing yards. Friedman had a huge day himself, rushing for 128 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown. Quarterback Danny Hughes threw only one pass all game, a 15-yard completion to Isreal Squires.

Shoreham got off to a tremendous start by taking a 21-0 lead after one quarter.

The Wildcats led 35-7 at halftime and never looked back.

Shoreham improved to 3-1 at the midway point of the regular season. It puts the Wildcats in position to secure a top-four seed and  home game in the playoffs if they can duplicate that effort over the second half.

Millheiser said they’re not thinking that far ahead just yet, and are more concerned with entering the playoffs healthy and playing well, regardless of what the seed might be.

“Closing on all cylinders going into the playoffs is really the most important thing,” he said.

The second half of the regular season won’t be easy. The Wildcats return home next weekend to face defending Long Island champion John Glenn. The Knights have won two straight after opening the season with two surprising losses.

The Wildcats also have McGann-Mercy and Babylon. Both teams are 4-0. Babylon is in the driver’s seat for the division title after knocking off Mount Sinai Saturday afternoon in come-from-behind fashion.


08/22/12 8:00pm
08/22/2012 8:00 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River offensive and defensive lines collide in practice Wednesday morning.

How quickly things changed in a year for the Shoreham-Wading River football team. From 0-8 in 2010 playing with a depleted roster to 6-2 last year and a trip to the postseason.

For Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser, his first year in 2010 was a long grind. The Wildcats simply didn’t have the manpower to compete against most teams in Division IV and the lopsided scores reflected that.

Last year the Wildcats were one of the biggest surprises in Suffolk County football and that success they hope will carry over into this season.

“We’re definitely progressing much faster than in the past,” Millheiser said. “The kids are more comfortable in the system.”

Through the first week of training camp, which began last Thursday, the Wildcats are already much farther ahead than where they were in the previous two seasons.

It started in the offseason, with a dedicated core putting in the necessary training, even as many players participated in other sports during the year.

“The kids are working hard to improve on what we did last year,” Millheiser said. “There’s also an understanding that we have a long way to go still.”

As the Wildcats prepare for the 2012 season — which kicks off Sept. 8 against Bayport-Blue Point — their goal is to close the gap between them and the perennial top teams of Division IV. John Glenn, Mount Sinai and Babylon are all seeded atop the division as has been the custom for so many seasons over the past decade.

Then it’s the Wildcats as the No. 4 seed, a higher spot than they’ve started the season at in a number of years. It’ll make for a more difficult schedule than last year and the Wildcats will be tested right from the start with games against the Phantoms and Mount Sinai Mustangs.

When the Wildcats faced the top competition last year, they were 0-3 against Babylon (playoff loss), Mount Sinai and Glenn by a combined score of 103-22.

Good news for Shoreham is the program’s depth has been steadily improving over the last few years. From a varsity roster of only about 19 kids in 2010, the Wildcats enter this season with 35. There are another 30 kids who are playing junior varsity.

“We can actually have a depth chart, with backups,” Millheiser said.

While Millheiser had a good sense of what the roster would look like coming into the season, there was one welcome addition that caught him by surprise.

Brennan Gorman, a junior who attended St. Anthony’s the previous two years, is back at Shoreham. Millheiser said he found out about a week and a half before training camp that Gorman, who’s older brother was a senior on the team last year, would be joining the Wildcats.

Gorman will play on the offensive and defensive lines.

“He’s a real good player and a big kid,” Millheiser said.

The Wildcats get their first game action Wednesday in a scrimmage at Smithtown West that will feature Kings Park, Babylon and Rocky Point. On Sept. 1 they’ll head to Center Moriches for a game scrimmage.


09/06/11 10:04pm
09/06/2011 10:04 PM

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Charles Bartlett was Riverhead's leading rusher last season, picking up 773 yards and four touchdowns from 138 carries.

Who said you can’t go home again? The Riverhead Blue Waves are going to try their darnedest to do just that.

And home, in this case, would mean the playoffs. In recent years, the playoffs have become an expectation more than anything else for the Blue Waves. They had reached the postseason four years in a row before missing out on the party last year.

Hence, the team’s theme for the new season: “On Our Way Back Home.”

It certainly looks as if the Blue Waves have the tools to do it. They may be eager to leave their 2010 season — and the 2-6 record that came with it — in the past. Sure, they were 2-6, but the record is a little misleading. Four of Riverhead’s losses came by a total of 14 points. They ended up in 10th place in Suffolk County Division II despite outscoring opponents by 163-144.

“We couldn’t make that critical play when we had to,” said Leif Shay, who takes a 70-43 (.619) career record into his 14th season as the team’s coach. “It was frustrating. It was something that we’re not used to. It leaves a little bit of a bitter taste.”

Fortunately for the sixth-seeded Blue Waves, they have players like Charles Bartlett, Ryan Bitzer and Reggie Moore to help sweeten things in 2011.

Moore, a senior H-back and linebacker, was an all-league player last season. He led the team in tackles (73) and sacks (5 1/2).

Bartlett, a senior running back/linebacker, was the team’s rushing leader, gobbling up 773 yards from 138 runs (5.6 yards per carry) and bolting for four touchdowns.

“I was trying to get to a thousand [rushing yards], but this year I’m hoping to have a lot more,” Bartlett said. “It’s definitely going to be difficult for a defense to stop us with our running game.”

Bitzer got valuable experience starting at quarterback as a sophomore last year. He completed 64 of 138 passes for 974 yards and nine touchdowns against six interceptions.

Four of Bitzer’s touchdown passes went to Mike Hinchy (10 receptions, 133 yards), who enters his senior season.

Riverhead has two other senior starters back in wide receiver/free safety Kurt Carter and lineman Shawn Yarborough. Meanwhile, senior left tackle Anthony Stimpfel is expected to play a big role on the offensive line.

The defensive unit will have all new starters.

Good things are expected from Jeremiah Cheatom, a sophomore running back/outside linebacker who ran for 22 touchdowns for the junior varsity team last year and then scored two more in his varsity debut on the final day of the regular season.

Among the bunch of newcomers who could find themselves on the field are center Stephen Powers, right tackle Kyle Harris, right guard Kyle McCabe, left guard Nick Ross, tight end Vinny Brodeur, cornerback Jeff Pittman, cornerback Quinn Funn, outside linebacker Eric Gevinski, outside linebacker Jaron Greenidge, defensive end David Napoli and defensive end Josh Blom.

“We have a lot of young guys who are hungry,” Shay said. “I like their intensity.”

Sure, the Blue Waves have a lot of youth, but they also have good speed at the skill positions.

“Very good talent,” Moore said. “We have a lot of speed on this team, and we’re going to see what we can do with it this year.”

Moore sounded anxious for his third varsity season to kick off.

“Very exciting,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this. This is my last year. This is my sport. This is my time to shine.”

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy quarterback Keith Schroeher was named to the all-division second team in 2010.

Tackling woes continually haunted the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs (2-6) last season, and they were reflected in the statistics. Damning statistics.

The Monarchs gave up more than 51 points in a game on three occasions and 46 or more points five times. Their opponents rang up an average of 38.9 points per game against the Monarchs. Tightening up that defense is one of the top priorities for the team’s new head coach, Jeff Doroski.

“Our biggest problem is the physical nature of this game and what it means to be a physical football team,” said Doroski, who took over from Joe Read, who resigned in January after four years in which the Monarchs went 10-23 and reached the playoffs in 2008 for the first time in 16 years.

Talking about the tackling issue, Doroski said: “It’s tough and it’s not a fixable thing overnight. We hope it’s sooner than later. It’s a process. I think it will get better. It can’t get worse.”

As Doroski, a former player and assistant coach for the Monarchs, tackles his new job, he has brought changes with him. The Monarchs have adopted a new zonal blocking scheme and can be expected to play more of a field-position game than they did under Read.

“We want to try to control the tempo of our game with our game,” said Doroski, whose team is seeded 12th among Division IV’s 14 teams.

With the start of the new Doroski era, comes excitement.

“Everyone’s been working in the off-season, which hasn’t always been the case in years past,” said Pat Stepnoski, a senior running back and outside linebacker who has never been to the football playoffs and wants to change that. “Everyone’s excited, ready to go. Everyone wants to do well this year.”

Stepnoski, who was an all-county selection last year, is a big part of the team’s plans along with Keith Schroeher, a senior quarterback and outside linebacker who was named to the all-division second team.

The Monarchs will rely on their other returning starters as well: offensive tackle/defensive end Anthony Heppner, offensive tackle/defensive tackle Ray Ellis, wide receiver/defensive back Junior Paul, defensive end/H-back Bernie Schrage and guard/middle linebacker Jack Strnad. Also returning to the team are linemen James Edmonds and Mike Donnell. Among the new additions are center/defensive tackle Chris Butler, wide receiver/defensive back Mario Burriesci and guard/middle linebacker Pat Morelli.

“They come to work,” Doroski said. “We don’t have a lot of rah-rah guys who are jumping up and down and yelling and screaming. We have a lot of guys who come out every day and do their job.”

With nine two-way starters, depth and injuries are an issue to be concerned about.

Game 1 on Friday night at Center Moriches High School will carry special significance for Doroski in a number of ways. Not only will he be making his debut as a varsity head football coach, but he will be facing two familiar faces across the field from him. The Red Devils’ coach, Steve Failla, is the godfather of Doroski’s son, Christian, and was the best man at Doroski’s wedding. And that isn’t the only connection. Failla and one of his assistant coaches, Craig Rupprecht, are both former McGann-Mercy coaches themselves who were teammates of Doroski’s when they all played for the Monarchs.

“We want to obviously improve on a 2 and 6 record,” Doroski said. “I think the way our schedule sets up, we’re capable of doing that. We also want to be able to come week in and week out and compete. We have the talent and the physical makeup to come out and be a competitive team. We have to decide to do that.”

The biggest news coming out of Shoreham-Wading River’s first scrimmage, a multi-team exhibition at Smithtown West last Thursday, was every player walked away from it healthy.

For a team as banged up as the Wildcats were last season, they know there’s little wiggle room for any starters to go down. Under their second-year coach, Matt Millheiser, the Wildcats are anxious to move on from an 0-8 season last year and in their first taste of live competition, the players came out hitting.

“It was the scrimmage we went to last year and last year we took it on the chin a little bit,” Millheiser said. “This year the kids were ready to go. We fared well. At times Smithtown West had a little size on us and they pushed us around a little bit, but I think our kids responded to that. They scored on us and our kids responded and we were able to march the ball downfield and score on them.”

Points were hard to come by for the Wildcats last season. They were shut out four times and scored a total of 30 points on the season, punching the ball in the end zone four times. In contrast, every team they played scored at least 32 points against the Wildcats.

The Wildcats will rely on their running attack to try to move the chains this season. Senior Dylan Bates, a tight end last year, will get the majority of handoffs in a new role this season at halfback. One of the most versatile athletes on the team, a player who can line up in multiple spots, Bates proved early in training camp that he could be the team’s top runner.

“We had him back there a couple times just running the ball and realized he was our best runner, our hardest runner,” Millheiser said. “He was going at game speed and he gave us the best opportunity to run the ball well.”

Senior Joe Longo returns at fullback. He also plays defensive end. And the Wildcats have another young runner who could see some action running the ball in Tyler Anderson, a sophomore who saw time on varsity last year.

The Wildcats feature two players still vying for playing time at quarterback. Junior Kevin Kelley saw some time at quarterback last year behind Brandon Warner, who graduated. He’s fighting for time along with another junior, Sean Logan.

Millheiser said both players have played well at times, but haven’t had the consistency to win the starting job outright.

“If we have to go with two of them in the season and go with the hot hand so to speak, we’ll do that,” Millheiser said. “And if somebody decides to take control and win the job outright I have no problem putting him in for all the snaps.”

When the Wildcats look to pass, they’ll have a big target in Chris Mahoney, a 6-foot-3 receiver. He caught a fade for a touchdown against Babylon in the Wildcats’ scrimmage.

“Having a kid like that out there is going to force teams to keep that safety out of the box and let us run the ball more effectively,” Millheiser said. “When they want to bring [the safety] up we’re going to have to put it up there and let Chris go make some plays.”

The Wildcats return some experience on the line with center Jason Ambrosini, a junior, and seniors Mike Savino and Dylan Gorman, who both play guard on the offensive line. Savino and Gorman also lead the defense at linebacker.

“Offensively we’re going to pull our guards, get them moving and we’re going to run behind them,” Millheiser said. “So those two guys are important on offense.”

Logan (free safety) and Mahoney (strong safety) will both anchor the secondary on defense. Millheiser said there are a few players battling for the cornerback spots.

On special teams, Zach MacAuley, a sophomore soccer player, returns to do the kicking duties.

“He’s grown a lot since last year,” Millheiser said. “He’s bigger, stronger and kicking the ball farther.”

The 10th seed in Division IV, after playing in Division III last year, the Wildcats will open the season against Southampton.

Joe Werkmeister contributed to this article.