Sports Desk: A county championship for Tommy

The late Tom Cutinella's retired No. 54 jersey held a prominent place as the Shoreham-Wading River players marched onto the field before the game. (Credit: Robert O'Rourk)
The late Tom Cutinella’s retired No. 54 jersey held a prominent place as the Shoreham-Wading River players marched onto the field before the game. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

The same season that brought the Shoreham-Wading River High School football team the worst day in its history, also produced its best day.

To those who remember before Shoreham had its own football team and the struggles it experienced along the way after it did, what happened on Saturday was the pinnacle of a long journey. What happened on this raw, cold day was enough to warm your heart.

The Wildcats, minus one, made team history by winning their first Suffolk County championship. If there was any surprise, it was that they did it in the manner in which many of their wins have come by: the blowout.

All but two of Shoreham’s wins this year have been by blowouts, the exceptions being a 9-7 defeat of Babylon on Sept. 19 and a 17-12 win over Elwood/John Glenn on Oct. 1. All of their other wins have been by 27 points or more. The Wildcats have outscored their opponents by — get this — 412-46.

That’s no misprint. Five of those wins have been by shutout. This is truly a team on a mission.

The mission Saturday was to bring home a county championship plaque, which they did in the most determined fashion.

Talk about determination, one need look no further than the play of Shoreham’s quarterback, Danny Hughes. Hughes was the unstoppable one. The senior made good use of his legs, bursting forward for 296 yards and six touchdown runs in a 47-10 romp over Glenn in the Suffolk Division IV final at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.

The most impressive of those runs was a 76-yard escapade in which Hughes looked headed out of bounds, only to cut back and continue his dash to the end zone, and a 20-yard run in which sheer willpower, along with some help from his friends, pushed him across the goal line.

“I knew he had that in him,” Shoreham running back/strong safety Chris Rosati said. “I just didn’t think he was going to be that good. A couple of times I thought he was down. He just broke a couple of tackles and just ran. It was great. I loved it.”

Sports has a way of intersecting with the real world sometimes. Saturday was one of those occasions.

How noteworthy was it that Glenn was Shoreham’s opponent in the county final? The Wildcats played Glenn on that infamous night of Oct. 1. It was during that game when Tom Cutinella, a junior guard/linebacker, went to make a block and collided with a Glenn player. Shortly after, Cutinella collapsed. He was declared dead later that night, stunning the sports community.

After Cutinella was taken away by ambulance, the game was suspended, with the Wildcats leading, 17-12, and 3 minutes 51 seconds left in the third quarter. The game was never resumed, and the win was awarded to the Wildcats.

Since Cutinella’s tragic death, the Wildcats won seven more games, bringing their record to a sparkling 11-0 with Saturday’s triumph.

“Every single one of us is just playing for him,” Rosati said. “That was one of his goals for the season, to win counties. We had to do it.”

Before the game, Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser told his players to play with heart. They listened.

Shoreham’s defense was tough, holding Glenn to 222 yards of offense while the Wildcats piled up 413 yards themselves. The Knights went 2 of 11 on third-down conversions.

“Defense has carried us all year,” Millheiser said. “We’ve had success on offense; we’ve thrown it, we’ve run it, but in the end, you know, the defense has done it from start to finish. We could always lean on them to get a stop and to get the offense the ball back.”

For a team that had been through so much this season, this county championship carries more meaning than perhaps even the Wildcats themselves could have expected.

“I never imagined this,” said Shoreham wide receiver/defensive back Mike Ingemi.

You just know that somewhere Tom Cutinella is smiling.

[email protected]