LONG ISLAND CLASS IV FINAL | WILDCATS 47, ROUGH RIDERS 13
The season that brought so much pain also brought joy, and perfection.
Along with 54, the retired uniform number of a fallen teammate, the Shoreham-Wading River High School football team’s season will also be remembered for some other numbers: 12-0, as in 12 wins, no losses.
A season that mixed tragedy with triumph concluded Sunday night with the Wildcats in a class of their own. For the Wildcats, it was the perfect ending to a perfect season, a 12-0 season topped off by their first Long Island championship in the team’s 17-year history.
Danny Hughes ran for three touchdowns and threw for another one as the Wildcats scored six unanswered touchdowns to overwhelm Roosevelt, 47-13, in the Long Island Class IV final at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. Prior to this year, the furthest the Wildcats had advanced in the playoffs was reaching a county semifinal last year.
“Unbelievable,” said Bobby Puckey, the Shoreham guard/defensive tackle, referring to the team’s arduous, long journey.
The Wildcats played with heavy hearts for most of the season after one of their teammates, Tom Cutinella, died after collapsing in a game on Oct. 1. They have dedicated their season to him. Cutinella’s No. 54 has been retired and he remains in their thoughts. At the same time, the Wildcats kept playing and winning.
“It just really prepared us for anything,” Hughes, a senior quarterback, told reporters. “We knew that there was going to be nothing that we couldn’t handle after that. We handled the biggest punch that anybody could throw.”
The Wildcats delivered some blows of their own. They were a dominant force, outscoring teams by 459-59.
Hughes’ strong running and the speed of Isreal Squires and Chris Rosati were prominently featured as the Wildcats pulled away from Roosevelt (10-2), which lost a Long Island final for the fourth straight year.
After Shoreham’s backup quarterback, Nick Gray, took a knee on the game’s final play, a minor scuffle broke out on the field. One of the Roosevelt players, Jaiden Fortune, was ejected from the game. The officials then restarted the clock, which ran out, and the Wildcats were Long Island champions. Some of the Wildcats raced toward the stands and jumped into the waiting arms of fans. Later, the Wildcats celebrated by posing for photos with fans and with the trophies the team won.
“We did it all for Tommy,” Squires said. “We know he’s still with us. He’s watching over us right now.”
Hughes, who ran for six touchdowns and was credited with 301 yards in Shoreham’s previous game, a Suffolk County final against Elwood/John Glenn, had another big game. He registered 119 yards on the ground, and he didn’t even lead the team in that category. Rosati collected 126 yards from only eight carries.
Roosevelt received 125 rushing yards from Shamari Kirkpatrick.
The Wildcats found themselves in the unusual position of trailing twice in the first half. Roosevelt started the game with a surprise onside kick by Justin Terry that deflected to Kirkpatrick. Seven plays later, the Rough Riders were in the end zone, with Jamal Finley catching a 3-yard pass from Stephan Vailes (7 of 10, 112 yards).
The Wildcats pulled even on a Hughes 1-yard run before David Bull pushed his way forward from 3 yards out for a 13-7 Roosevelt lead.
In the second quarter the Wildcats used their speed to surge in front and distance themselves from the Nassau County champions.
The Wildcats picked up 315 of their 409 yards on the ground and passed only five times. They cashed in on one of those passes, though.
Squires put his speed to good use with two second-quarter touchdowns. The senior split end took a toss 17 yards for a score and, perhaps even more impressively, caught a low pass at the Shoreham 40-yard line before passing two defenders and turning on the jets for an 80-yard touchdown.
In between was a 31-yard touchdown run by Rosati, who saw an opening in the line and quickly filled it.
“Offensively, yeah, we have some kids who can run,” Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser said. “Izzy’s a very, very talented receiver and defensive back, and I think when he caught that ball they kind of figured, ‘Maybe we’ll track him down and that will be it,’ but he put it in another gear and was gone.”
As they are prone to do, the Wildcats kept up the pressure in the second half. Hughes ran for his second and third touchdowns (the later set up by a Squires interception), and Aaron Harley-Rey ran in a touchdown himself for good measure.
“We turned it on in the second half,” said Shoreham tight end/defensive end Ethan Wiederkehr.
Shoreham’s stout defense was led by Rosati, who made 11 tackles, six solo. Kevin Stanford made nine tackles and recovered a fumble, and Squires had eight tackles.
During the pregame player introductions, Cutinella’s name received the loudest cheers from Shoreham fans. When the team captains met at midfield before the opening kickoff, Roosevelt’s Chukwuma Ukwu, in a sportsmanlike gesture, presented the Wildcats with a white No. 54 Roosevelt jersey in honor of Cutinella.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Rosati said of being a Long Island champion. “We’ve worked very hard, since August 18th. This was our dream, coming here, just winning it out. It was one of Tom’s goals to just come out here and just win it, and that’s what we did for him.”