Three portable lights shined down on the practice field at Shoreham-Wading River High School Thursday as daylight faded on the football team’s practice. All around them, the practice fields were empty, every other fall team’s season having come to an end.
“I guess it’s a little bit of an accomplishment being the last ones out here, kind of knowing this is our time,” said senior quarterback Danny Hughes.
The Wildcats find themselves in unchartered territory as they approach Saturday’s Division IV county championship game against John Glenn. The Wildcats will be playing for their first county title in program history after breaking through last week with an emphatic 56-0 win over perennial nemesis Babylon.
It was watershed moment in the team’s history, after seeing so many past seasons end on the opposite side of the spectrum.
Now, the Wildcats (10-0) have a chance to add to their legacy as the greatest team in Shoreham’s history by hanging a banner as county champs. The buzz surrounding Saturday’s game at Stony Brook University (noon kickoff) has been palpable.
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“I think it’s great for our school,” said Hughes, who scored four touchdowns against Babylon last week. “Everybody’s talking about it. Everyone’s pretty hyped up about it. First time that we’ve gotten here. A lot of people are very excited to see how we can perform.”
It’ll be an emotional game for both teams. On Oct. 1, the Wildcats’ game at Glenn (9-1) ended in the third quarter as junior Tom Cutinella was rushed to Huntington Hospital following an on-field collision Later that night, the 16-year-old died.
The Wildcats have kept the memory of their fallen teammate with them each game. They plan to bring a flag of Cutinella’s No. 54 that flies at the high school field with them to Stony Brook.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to channel that [emotion] in the right direction and use it to kind of propel us forward a little bit,” Hughes said.
Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser said he’s trying to approach this weekend as a typical football game against a top team.
“I’m sure if we win, there will be a lot of emotion afterwards,” he said. “I’m sure if we lose there will be a lot of emotion.”
The Wildcats have rarely been tested this year on the field, winning their 10 games by an average margin of 28.7 points. Their defense has given up just 36 points all season.
If there’s one team that can give the Wildcats a game, it appears to be the Knights, who boast two dynamic playmakers in Wayne White and TJ Tiernan. Shoreham’s Oct. 1 game at Glenn ended with the Wildcats winning 17-12.
If Shoreham’s 56-0 win last weekend raised some eyebrows across the county, Millheiser doesn’t expect Glenn to flinch.
“I don’t think coach [David] Shanahan is shaking in his boots or anything like that,” he said. “I think what they do see in that game is a very good football team and a football team that’s playing very well right now.”
Millheiser said the Knights are a strong offensive team that has plenty of speed. He thinks his defense is ready for the challenge.
“Our defense has been great all year,” he said. “We’ve done a great job of executing, tackling, flying to the football. Hopefully we can continue that on Saturday.”
“The gameplan is like always: fly to the ball,” said senior defensive tackle Bobby Puckey. “Hold our ground on the line and the linebackers, corners and safeties come make all the tackles.”
On offense, the Wildcats have been firing on all cylinders with the ground game led by Hughes and running back Chris Rosati as well as through the air with receivers Isreal Squires and Bryce Casey.
“Last couple of weeks we’ve been having some things work really well,” Hughes said. “We’re going to put in some new wrinkles, adjustments like we do every week and just come out and run whatever’s best for our team.”
A win Saturday would propel the Wildcats into the Class IV Long Island Championship Nov. 30 against either Roosevelt or Mineola. A 4:30 p.m. start, it would be the final LIC game of the weekend.