Extra Point: Resurgent programs at Mercy, SWR have come a long way

BILL LANDON/ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTOS | Dominic Pirraglia for Shoreham and Luis Cintron for Mercy will see their resurgent teams meet under the lights Friday.

The headline that ran atop the Riverhead-News Review story aptly summed up the game: “Well, somebody had to win.”

That was back in 2008, in reference to a less than thrilling football game between Shoreham-Wading River and McGann-Mercy. By the end of regulation, both teams had failed to so much as score a point, so the game mercifully dragged on to overtime. The host Wildcats threw an interception on their first possession of OT before the Monarchs finally scored a touchdown to win the game, 6-0.

Cue the confetti.

For the Monarchs, the victory felt like a championship win. By knocking off a higher-seeded team, it opened the door to a potential playoff berth, which they later secured on the final day of the regular season by beating Hampton Bays. It marked the one and only postseason appearance for Mercy since 1992.

The Monarchs finished that season 5-3 before getting walloped in the playoffs by Babylon. All in all, a memorable season that was followed by mostly forgettable football over the next three years. In that time, the Monarchs won a total of five games. A winless season in 2009 marked the low point.

At Shoreham, things weren’t much better. A program that had been fighting to climb into the upper ranks of Division IV quickly began to crumble after the graduation of bruising fullback Brendan Kelly after the 2007-08 season.

With a young roster, the Wildcats limped to 3-5 and 2-6 records in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Soon after the head coach was gone and by the start of the 2010 season, so too were many of top returning players, who realized their senior seasons might be better served preparing for sports like baseball and lacrosse. Matt Millheiser, a former quarterback for the Wildcats, took over a bare-bones program that found itself thrown into the more competitive Division III at the worst possible time.

Eight blowout losses ensued.

Looking back at where both Shoreham and Mercy stood just two years ago, it’s remarkable what we’ll be seeing Friday night.

When the teams meet under the lights at Mercy High School, it won’t be just another throw-away game between two cellar dwellers.

It’ll be a fight for supremacy in Division IV. We’re six weeks into the season and both teams amazingly can still see the No. 1 spot in the division within their sights.

In their 10 combined games this season, only one has ended in a loss. The Monarchs, at 5-0, have been as surprising as any team in the county over the last few years.

Sure, the Monarchs — a preseason No. 12 seed — figured to be better this season under second-year coach Jeff Doroski. But undefeated through five games?

Hard to believe anyone saw that coming.

For Shoreham, expectations were undoubtedly higher this season after the Wildcats went 6-2 last season to advance into the Division IV playoffs for the first time since 2008. A preseason No. 4 seed, Shoreham’s goal was to contend with the top teams in the division.

The Wildcats suffered a Week 2 loss on the road at Mount Sinai, their toughest test to date. Every game from here on out for Shoreham will a be a big one, starting with Friday’s matchup against unbeaten Mercy.

It’s hard to imagine Shoreham and Mercy having ever played a game like this against each other. For one night, Mercy and Shoreham will be one of the marquee attractions in high school football in Suffolk County.

Think about that for a second.

A brisk 50-degree night will be a fitting backdrop to what should be a fantastic atmosphere. Mercy students have packed the bleachers this season, filling the air with chants of “Reg-gie Archer!” among others.

The Wildcats should expect a strong following from their supporters, who are a short drive away from Riverhead.

The Monarchs will undoubtedly be facing their toughest test of the season so far. The Monarchs have yet to face a rushing attack like the Tyler Anderson-led Wildcats (Anderson has rushed for more than 500 yards and eight touchdowns in the last two games alone). And that’s why Doroski knows his team still has to improve.

“We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we kind of let up or relax and say, ‘Hey, we got this,’ ” Doroski said.

It’s a similar sentiment the Wildcats will be feeling with a showdown against Babylon looming in Week 7. A loss Friday and the prospect of a home playoff game could be gone for Shoreham.

However it shakes out, one thing is for certain: as one of only five football games in the county Friday night, the lights will be shining a little brighter on Mercy and Shoreham.

And what a welcome change that is.

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