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Football Preview: 2 LI titles, 24 straight wins, and looking for more

Team Captains display the Long Island Championship Trophy's (left to right) Kevin Cutinella #7, Jason Curran #6, Chris Rosati #8, Ethan Wiederkehr #40, James Puckey #77 and Dalton Stalzer #51. Shoreham-Wading River defeated Locust Valley 35-7 in the Long Island Division III Championship game at James M. Shuart Stadium, Hofstra University on Nov. 27, 2015. By Daniel De Mato

As impressive as the 24-game win streak is — and it’s mighty impressive — one cannot overlook back-to-back undefeated seasons that ended with Long Island championships for the Shoreham-Wading River High School football team. It all went hand in hand.

The Wildcats (12-0) romped to the Long Island Class IV crown, dismantling previously unbeaten Locust Valley, 35-7, in the final. And so, the streak lives on.

They haven’t tasted a defeat since falling to Babylon in a Suffolk County semifinal on Nov. 15, 2013. Not only is it the longest current winning streak in Suffolk, but it is the fifth-longest in county history, according to Newsday’s Andy Slawson.

How do they do it?

By not dwelling on it.

“It’s not something we talk about and focus on, but more than the streak, two groups of kids won Long Island championships and got to be part of something special,” coach Matt Millheiser said. “It’s good times and good memories for them.”

Shoreham, the No. 1 seed in Suffolk Division IV, is counting on more good times and more good memories. Many of them may be made on their new Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, named after the former Shoreham player who died in 2014. The field will be given its football christening when the Wildcats kick off their season Sept. 9 with a night game against Center Moriches. The Wildcats played all their games on the road last year while their field was being worked on.

Ethan Wiederkehr (6-foot-5, 285 pounds), a senior tight end/defensive end who has committed to Northwestern, is a four-year varsity starter for Shoreham. He made Newsday’s All-Long Island team last year. The Wildcats also have a pair of All-Division players in senior quarterback/safety Kevin Cutinella and junior middle linebacker Ethan Baumack. Three other seniors — offensive tackle Dean Stalzer, running back/strong safety Chris Gray and tight end Danny Cassidy — are returning starters.

Fullback/middle linebacker Chris Sheehan, wingback/defensive back Joe Miller, guard/defensive tackle Dan Curtin and guard/defensive end Liam Mahoney are all two-way starters. Xavier Arline, a freshman, is the backup quarterback, but can play a variety of other positions.

As expected of the top seed, Shoreham faces a demanding schedule that includes games against Miller Place, Babylon, Mount Sinai and Elwood/John Glenn. But the Wildcats have depth on their side.

“The backups and the third-teamers are real players, not at all positions, but we have a lot of talent,” said Millheiser, who takes a 44-17 record into his seventh season in charge of the Wildcats.

Are they deep enough to grab a third Long Island championship plaque?

“They have the talent to do so, but it’s a long season and there’s a lot that needs to be done,” Millheiser said. “No one’s going to give it to us.”

Sometimes coaches can see what’s coming around the corner, and Leif Shay doesn’t like what he’s seeing.

Riverhead's Tristan Falisi passed for 563 yards and eight touchdowns last year. (Credit: Robert O'Rourk, file)
Riverhead’s Tristan Falisi passed for 563 yards and eight touchdowns last year. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)

The 2016 season will present a challenge, to say the least, for Shay’s Riverhead team.

“It’s a challenge because we’re in the rebuilding mode,” Shay said. “We’ve been in reload for a while. We have to get some young kids to fill some roles that they’re not used to filling.”

Not only that, but the Blue Waves (4-5 last year) will open their season with a couple of tough home games against North Babylon and West Islip, which defeated Riverhead in the playoffs last year.

As if all that wasn’t enough, arguably two of Riverhead’s best players, senior center/defensive end John Anderson (26 tackles last year) and junior offensive tackle/defensive tackle Joe Stimpfel, are currently out with injuries. Anderson, an All-League player, dislocated an elbow and will be out for at least four weeks. Stimpfel rolled an ankle last Thursday and will be out an undetermined length, said Shay.

When it rains, it pours.

Riverhead, the No. 8 seed in Division II, will rely on middle linebacker/tight end Brian Moulton and wide receiver Tommy Powers, who may have the best hands on the team. Moulton is the team’s leading returning tackler with 43, including a sack.

Other possible impact players are: running back/outside linebacker Willie Sanders, quarterback Tristan Falisi (47-for-111, 563 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions), quarterback/free safety Kyle Kelly, guard/defensive end Mike Woolley, wide receiver/defensive end Darnell Chandler and middle linebacker Robbie Block, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.

“There’s times when we look very good, and there’s times when we’re struggling,” said Shay, who takes a 106-59 record into his 19th year coaching the team. “It’s a learning process.”

Shay likes the perseverance of the Blue Waves, who will wear new uniforms for the first time since 2003 (Shay hasn’t seen them yet). He said the team could reach the playoffs, but it will not be easy.

When someone suggested he keep his fingers crossed so there are no more injuries, Shay cracked, “If I cross my fingers they may break.”

John Viola is one of only three returning players for Bishop McGann-Mercy. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)
John Viola is one of only three returning players for Bishop McGann-Mercy. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)

Talk about going from one extreme to another, consider Bishop McGann-Mercy (4-5).

The Monarchs, who were loaded with experience and 16 seniors last year, are now at the opposite end of the spectrum, with only three returning players: defensive tackle/running back John Viola, tight end/middle linebacker Matt Raynor and center/inside linebacker Joe Luisi. Those seniors are among only 18 players on the roster.

“It’s a completely different scenario,” said coach Jeff Doroski, who takes a 19-25 record into his sixth year, five with Mercy. “Some coaches may look at this as a negative, but I look at it as a positive this year, the unknown. It’s that untapped potential. Some of those guys, we’ve never seen them perform before at this level.”

Players like quarterback/free safety Ryan Razzano, outside linebacker/wide receiver Liam Egan and wide receiver/defensive back Max Beyrodt will be given an opportunity to make an impact. Egan, a product of the school’s soccer program, never played football before.

Tim Healy and Joe Fish, who both play wide receiver and defensive back, and lineman Andrew Hanna (6-4, 300), the biggest player on the team, saw limited playing time last year. Lineman Matt Paglia, whose father Franco was a teammate of Doroski’s at Mercy, could also be a big help.

The Monarchs reached the playoffs last year for the third time in four years. Returning to the postseason remains a team goal for the 10th-seeded Division IV team.

On Saturday Mercy participated in a five-team scrimmage at Centereach High School. Doroski said it was a good day for his team.

“There are days when you walk away and said, ‘Wow, we could be in trouble,’ ” he said. “Today said a lot for us.”

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Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River, winner of 24 straight games, walked off with the Long Island Class IV championship plaque for the second year in a row in 2015. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)