Football: An unfamiliar opponent awaits SWR in Long Island Championship

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There’s a sense of familiarity for teams throughout the regular season in high school football. Teams generally play the same opponents year in and year out. Longtime coaches stick to the same playbooks. 

Given the level of scouting and the availability of video, there are few unknowns on any given Saturday afternoon. Rarely, as is the case for Shoreham-Wading River Friday, will a team face an opponent that’s as much of an unknown. That’s the challenge for the Wildcats in Friday’s Long Island Class IV championship game against Locust Valley.

The Falcons will be playing in their first ever Long Island championship game after winning the program’s first Nassau County title since 1987 last week. The Long Island Championships in their current format started in 1992.

The Suffolk County champion in Division IV as a general bet could count on playing either Roosevelt or Seaford. One of those teams has played in every Nassau championship game since 2002.

“It’s definitely a little different this year,” said Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser. “They have a young coach, young staff. We’re kind of learning as much as we can from the video we got and try to see tendencies in what they like to do as best we can.”

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The Falcons carry an impressive résumé into the championship game. They are 11-0 just like the Wildcats. Their defense has allowed just 5 points per game this season and has posted five shutouts. Their average margin of victory is 30.6 points.

Much like the Wildcats, the Falcons are a team that relies heavily on the running game. Halfback John Pedranghelu and fullback Tom Talenti carry the bulk of the duties.

“They’re a come-right-at-you team,” Millheiser said. “They want to run the ball and control the clock. They have a couple really good backs and it looks like a strong line.”

The Wildcats took Friday and Saturday off after the win over Elwood/John Glenn last week before beginning to prepare for Locust Valley on Sunday.

“It’s a long season,” Millheiser said. “The kids have been going since mid-August. I think there’s a certain level of recovery from Thursday night’s game, which we were banged up pretty good.”

The Wildcats will be without junior Kevin Cutinella, who had to leave the county championship game early after suffering a left ankle injury. Millheiser said Cutinella is scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday and is expected to miss between six and eight weeks. “He should be good for the spring and lacrosse,” Millheiser said.

Cutinella started the previous four games at quarterback after filling in for senior Jason Curran after he was injured. With Curran back healthy, he’ll slide in as the quarterback once again after leading the team to wins in their first seven games of the season.

Losing Cutinella hurts on the defensive side for Shoreham as well.

“He does a lot for us,” Millheiser said. “He plays the run, he plays the pass. He’s a very smart player.”

In a less heralded role, Cutinella was also key on special teams in calling out the protections on punts, Millheiser said. “We’re teaching a new kid here on the fly,” he said. “So we’re going to have to spend a little more time doing that this week.”

There’s good news on the forecast front. After playing in a complete downpour last Thursday, the Wildcats will enjoy what appears will be a pleasant day on Friday. Clear skies are expected, with a high temperature near 60 degrees.

“It can’t be much worse than it was the other night,” Millheiser said. “I’ll take anything other than that. I don’t know if I could stand through another one of those.”

Photo Caption: Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Rosati (left) and Jon Constant celebrate during last Thursday’s county championship win over John Glenn. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)

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