Last year, during a dreadful 0-8 high school football season, the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats received quite a bit of criticism. They were shut out four times and managed a less-than-grand total of four touchdowns and 30 points the entire season. At times the scoreboard was turned off at halftime of games.
The Wildcats had a number of issues to deal with last season: being moved up to Suffolk County Division III, sometimes having as few as 19 players available, injuries, inexperience. A perfect storm led to an imperfect season.
Not only were the Wildcats feeling the heat, but a lot of it was coming from within their own school. Matt Millheiser, the team’s second-year coach who was a quarterback on Shoreham’s early teams, remembers people asking him: “What’s going on? You’re 0 and 8?”
Those same people may soon start asking, in all sincerity, if the Wildcats will reach the playoffs this year.
“I’m sure you’re going to get that and I’m sure there’s going to be a bandwagon,” Millheiser said. “Maybe these stands will fill up a little bit more.”
A local pizza parlor offered the Wildcats free pizza if they posted a shutout on Saturday. Don’t underestimate the motivating power of pizza.
Dylan Bates ran for two touchdowns and Scott Lavey collected his first two career interceptions as the Wildcats brought their 2011 record to 2-0 with a 19-0 shutout of the Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island Porters.
Now the Wildcats have a winning streak. How about that?
“I think we’re going to be pretty damn good this year,” said Lavey, a junior cornerback who made a spectacular diving catch for his second interception with 2 minutes 51 seconds remaining.
And how about that defense? The stingy Wildcats have conceded only six points so far, those coming in their season-opening blowout of the Southampton Mariners.
On Saturday, the Wildcats limited the Porters to 123 yards of total offense. Not bad, especially for a team that gave up at least 32 points a game last year. Tyler Anderson was responsible for eight tackles, three of Shoreham’s four sacks and an interception himself.
Millheiser believes better things are yet to come.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “We’re a work in progress. Today was a tremendous effort. We told them it was going to be a battle. We didn’t tackle well today, but that’s a testament. They had some hard runners and some good athletes. They’re going to make you miss. I don’t think we still put it all together.”
Bates scored on runs of 31 and 63 yards, the later coming with 2:38 left to play in the Division IV game in Shoreham. He rushed for 140 yards from 16 carries. On the defensive side, Bates had six and a half tackles, a fumble recovery, a sack and two passes defended.
Bates has scored four touchdowns already this season, three on runs and another on a fumble return.
Joe Longo ran the ball in from four yards out for Shoreham’s first score 29 seconds into the second quarter.
In the scheme of things, it was a vital game for the Porters (0-2) in terms of their hopes for a return to the playoffs.
“This game was real big, real big playoff implications right here,” said Chris Schantz, who led the Porters’ defense with seven and a half tackles and one sack from his middle linebacker position.
It might turn out to be the biggest game of the regular season for the Porters, who face a tough schedule as the No. 6 seed.
“They’re all big games when you only have eight, and this was one I was hoping we were going to come away with, but it didn’t happen,” Porters Coach Jack Martilotta said. “The kids put out a really good effort, showed a lot of heart. Sometimes at the end of the day that’s not enough.”
The Porters, coming off a pounding in Babylon eight days earlier, made some strides, but it wasn’t enough. Although the defensive showing was good, the Porters’ offense had some hiccups. Four of its drives ended on turnovers, two of them setting up touchdowns.
“A big letdown,” Schantz said. “I thought this was going to be a winnable game for us. I thought that we were going to be in there, but …”
Meanwhile, life is undeniably more enjoyable these days for the Wildcats.
“It is a dramatic change,” Millheiser said. “The kids never quit last year; they always fought. That’s something we noticed, the fans noticed, everybody noticed, and now that they’re having some success, that same fighting attitude is finishing games instead of just hanging around and keeping your head up. Now we’re winning the games.”
Bring on the pizza.