The stadium at Stony Brook University had emptied out as the rain continued to drop in buckets just as it had all night. At the stadium’s southwest corner, drenched from head to toe, the Shoreham-Wading River football players marched toward the tunnel chanting along to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”
On a field where the Wildcats have experienced a wave of emotions, winning both the first county and Long Island titles in program history here a year ago, the players celebrated another momentous accomplishment late Thursday night.
For the second straight season, the Wildcats stand atop the county in Division IV as undisputed champions. In a game that tested them in ways they’ve rarely faced over the past two seasons, the Wildcats (11-0) overcame the horrendous weather, two first-half defensive miscues and the pressure of repeating as champions to defeat a stubbornly tough Elwood/John Glenn team, 24-14.
“If we just keep working hard, as hard as we can, doing everything we can and just remembering that we’re playing for Thomas, it really motivated us to turn the game around,” said Shoreham senior Chris Rosati.
The Wildcats won their 23rd straight game to now advance into the Class IV Long Island Championship against Nassau winner Locust Valley at Hofstra University on Nov. 27.
“Last year was something special,” said senior lineman Jimmy Puckey. “This year, now that I’m a senior, it’s my one last shot to get it all.”
The Wildcats scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, capped by a 1-yard run on fourth down from Rosati with 5:07 left.
The heavy rain and strong winds throughout the game made field position and turnovers crucial. The Wildcats had the edge in the end. A blocked punt set up Shoreham’s first score. A bad snap on a fourth down play in the fourth quarter set up Shoreham for the final touchdown that made it a two-possession game. The Wildcats did not commit a turnover; they once gave up possession on downs.
“It was pretty tough,” Rosati admitted of playing in the poor weather. “I was slipping a lot, it was kind of hard to hold the ball, even hearing the play call. It was pretty difficult.”
John Glenn struck twice in the first half on big plays to overcome an early 14-0 hole. The Knights appeared to have all the momentum going into halftime and it seemed like the Wildcats’ streak of holding teams to 14 or fewer points was in serious jeopardy. The last team to score more than 14 against Shoreham was Babylon in the 2013 playoffs, also the Wildcats’ last loss.
But the defense that has been the anchor of this team throughout the past two championship runs rose to the occasion once again.
The Knights were limited to four first downs in the second half, all of which came on their final drive. The Wildcats came up with a final stand after Glenn advanced into a first-and-goal at the 10. A fourth down pass from Glenn quarterback Wayne White fell incomplete with Shoreham defensive backs Jason Curran and Kyle Fehmel there on coverage.
“I think we have the best defense,” Curran said. “We just fly to the ball. We play Tommy Tough and it’s written on our chests. We look at each other and it reminds us every time.”
Curran, who started at quarterback the team’s first seven games before suffering an injury late in Week 7 against Glenn, was thrown back into action late in the third quarter. Junior Kevin Cutinella started at quarterback for the fourth straight game, but had to come out after limping off with a leg injury in a tied game.
Curran, who had been playing safety on defense, was ready for the challenge.
“I wasn’t expecting it today, but I kept my head on straight,” he said. “I came in and was able to step up and give it to Rosati.”
Five plays after Curran entered, the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-2 at the Knights’ 13-yard line. With the wind to their back, the Wildcats called on senior Daniel Mahoney to attempt a 30-yard field goal. He delivered the ball right through the uprights to break the tie and put Shoreham ahead 17-14 with 9:48 left in the fourth quarter.
“He’s been great for us,” said Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser. “He was great for us last year on this field. I thought it was important once we got it and were in position to at least take the lead and put a little pressure on them. He was clutch for us.”
Millheiser said if the team was facing the other end zone, going into the wind, he would have ran the ball.
Shoreham’s defense came through on the next possession, started by a sack from Ethan Wiederkehr for a six-yard loss on first down. The Knights ended up in a fourth-and-1 from their own 29. They lined up to go for it, but appeared to try a direct snap to a player in the backfield for a punt. But the ball sailed wide and as players on both teams chased it down, it didn’t matter who recovered. The Wildcats were set in prime position to strike again.
Four players later, Rosati took the handoff from Curran out of the shotgun and powered his way into the end zone.
“My coaches said just put your head down and run,” Rosati said. “Follow your blockers. I knew that all my linemen would be working as hard they can because that was the most important play of the season. I just got to give all credit to my line.”
The ball was positioned inches from the goal line, making for an interesting to call to go out of the shotgun rather than have the quarterback under center, possibly for a QB sneak.
Millheiser said in short-yardage situations, the Knights had been guessing well at what play was coming.
“Instead of running our traditional plays, we kind of just wedged everybody in the middle and were hoping to find a seam for Chris,” he said.
Rosati finished with a team-high 87 rushing yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns. He scored from one yard out in the first quarter to make it 14-0.
Cutinella had put the Wildcats ahead 7-0 on a 1-yard run after a short drive following a blocked punt. It was Cutinella who came up with the block to set up the first touchdown.
The Knights (9-2) offense came alive with running back Chris Forsberg broke an 81-yard run in the second quarter. On the next play, Shihan Rudyk scored from three yards out to make it 14-7. Just under five minutes later, the Knights tied the game on a fourth down play that featured busted coverage from Shoreham’s defense. Wide receiver Kyle Tiernan found an opening over the middle and caught a 26-yard pass from White.
“They came out with a formation we hadn’t seen,” Millheiser said.
It was the last big play for the Knights’ offense this season.
And now, the Wildcats march on.
One game remains, one more title within reach.
Top Photo Caption: Chris Rosati #8 and Kyle Fehmel #4 leap into the stands and celebrate their county championship win over John Glenn. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)