One-by-one, the players of the Shoreham-Wading River football team entered the catering hall at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge Monday night. Wearing their jerseys over their dress shirts, they walked in a line toward the dais, pausing to share a hug with Tom Cutinella’s mother, Kelli.
Moments earlier, the Wildcats were announced as the winner of the Rutgers Trophy as the top team in Suffolk County during the annual all-county dinner. It was a first in program history in a season filled with firsts.
Before the season began, Tom Cutinella, who died Oct. 1, outlined three goals for his team. The third and final accomplishment was to win the Rutgers Trophy.
“Tommy, we did it buddy,” said Shoreham-Wading River coach Matt Millheiser as he accepted the award on the team’s behalf.
“This is the third of his three goals,” said Frank Cutinella, Tom’s father. “Beat Babylon, win the county championship and win the Rutgers and he accomplished all three.”
When asked how Tom would have felt had he been there to witness his teammates’ accomplishment, Frank summed it up one word: “Proud.”
Shoreham’s six all-county players sat toward the end of a long table in the middle of the room during the ceremony. Next to quarterback Danny Hughes, the final chair remained empty, a No. 54 jersey draped over it in memory of Tom, who was also honored as an all-county player.
Shoreham senior Aaron Harley-Rey was honored with the inaugural Thomas Cutinella Leadership Award, which will be given annually as part of the postseason awards.
Harely-Rey was an integral part of the Wildcats’ team this season, excelling on defense as a middle linebacker and fullback on offense.
“It was a tremendous honor to be on this team,” Harley-Rey said.
Millheiser spoke about how Harley-Rey and Tom formed a close bond this year. Harley-Rey was the only returning inside linebacker on defense and Tom was the new player lining up next to him. The two became inseparable at practice, Millheiser said.
“Aaron took Tom under his wings,” Millheiser said.
The entire Shoreham community was honored with the 12th Man Award, which is given to a player who overcame injury, disability or adversity. Shoreham athletic director Mark Passamonte accepted the award on the community’s behalf.
Hughes was a finalist for two awards, including the Hansen Award as the top player in the county. Longwood senior Isaiah White won the award. Hughes was also a finalist for the Rob Burnett Defensive Player Award as the top defensive player in the county.
“It’s a great way to end it off,” Hughes said.
Millheiser was also honored as the Coach of the Year for the county to cap off the team’s awards. Shoreham’s all-county players were: Hughes, Harley-Rey, Cutinella, seniors Bobby Puckey and Isreal Squires, junior Chris Rosati and sophomore Ethan Wiederkehr. Squires was a finalist for the Tom Cassese Award as the top defensive back in the county.
It was the third straight year, and fourth in the last five, that a Division IV team won the Rutgers Trophy. Babylon won the previous two seasons and Glenn won in 2010. The award has been presented annually since 1947.
The Wildcats capped off their season with a pair of lopsided wins in the championship games. They defeated John Glenn in the Suffolk final, 47-10 Nov. 22, then handed Roosevelt a 47-13 defeat Sunday in the Long Island finals.
It was the first time Shoreham had ever advanced as far as the county finals and the Wildcats made it a memorable trip.
Hughes rushed for nine touchdowns and threw for another in the two championship games. The Wildcats trailed 7-0 and 13-7 against Roosevelt before rallying for six unanswered touchdowns.
The Wildcats continued to get better and better as the season progressed, even as they dealt with tragedy. In an emotional return to the field a week after Tom died, the Wildcats won 54-0 against Wyandanch. The 54 points equaled Tom’s jersey number, a fitting tribute. Starting with that win over Wyandanch, the Wildcats never faced a close game again the rest of the season, winning by an average of 39.6 points over the last eight games.
The Wildcats were the only Suffolk team to win a Long Island title this year, leaving little drama as to which team would win the Rutgers Trophy. Sayville in Division III had the best chance to equal Shoreham’s unbeaten season. But the Golden Flashes lost a stunner in the final minutes against Lawrence to finish 11-1.
Shoreham received 126 points in the voting for the Rutgers Trophy. Sayville was second with 72 and Lindenhurst was third with 25.
Correction: Danny Hughes was a finalist for the Rob Burnett Defensive Player Award. Teammate Isreal Squires was the finalist for the Tom Cassese Award as the top defensive back in the county.