Any way you looked at it, this was going to be a tough haul for the Shoreham-Wading River High School football team.
The Wildcats went into this season hoping to snatch an unprecedented fourth straight Long Island championship.
But they had a tough task, following in the footsteps of last year’s super team, which dominated opponents on the way to its third straight Long Island Class IV crown and second Rutgers Trophy (which goes to the top team on Long Island, regardless of class) in three years.
With standout players like Ethan Wiederkehr and Chris Gray having moved on, this current team had to establish a new identity while at the same time trying to live up to the lofty standards its predecessors had set. So, there was a mystery factor involved here. Just how good would the 2017 Wildcats be?
The preseason seedings by the coaches had Miller Place at No. 1 in Suffolk County Division IV and Shoreham at No. 2. It turns out that was about right (although Babylon, the top seed in the playoffs, advanced to Thursday night’s county championship where Miller Place prevailed 33-25).
Shoreham was trying to become the first team to win four successive Long Island championships. Last year the Wildcats joined North Babylon (1997 in Class III, 1998-99 in Class II), William Floyd (2005-07 in Class I) and Lawrence (2012-14 in Class IV) as the only teams to capture three straight Long Island titles.
Shoreham had its moments this season, the good and not so good. It came to an end on frigid Friday night at Miller Place, where the Panthers shut down Shoreham, 28-0, in a county semifinal.
It was an odd sight to behold, Shoreham losing a playoff game — and being shut out for the first time this season, to boot. The Wildcats had won their previous 13 postseason games.
Miller Place and its fine running back, Tyler Ammirato, who ran for two first-half touchdowns and 129 yards, deserve all the credit for knocking off Shoreham. “They’re dangerous,” Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser said of the Panthers. “I think whoever won the other semifinal is going to have their hands full.”
For the Wildcats, it was a reminder that all good things must come to an end.
“We had a good season, nothing to put our heads down about,” said Ethan Baumack, a senior who played running back and linebacker.
Still, one can’t help but marvel at what Shoreham has achieved over these past four years, during which it has gone 41-5. It has really been a remarkable run. Some reflection here is warranted.
“I’ve been a part of this program for four years and it’s really been amazing what we’ve done,” said Baumack.
Another senior, running back/linebacker Kyle Boden, said: “I’m very proud of us. I really am.”
A big hunk of credit should go to Millheiser, who has overseen this golden era of Shoreham football. Shoreham is fortunate to have Millheiser at the helm, not only because of his coaching credentials, either. Millheiser was at his best in Shoreham’s worst moment. Millheiser, who was a quarterback on the first Shoreham team, showed his leadership skills in 2014 when one of his players, Thomas Cutinella, died following an on-field collision. The coach handled himself with class and dignity while dealing with the media and helping his players navigate that difficult time.
As a coach on the field, Millheiser obviously knows what he’s doing. During his eight years in charge, the Wildcats have gone 61-22. He helped instill a winning culture.
“We always played as a family for each other and that’s what our program’s about and that’s what we preach,” said Baumack.
The 10 seniors listed on Shoreham’s roster certainly experienced some big things during their time playing for the Wildcats.
Millheiser said this season “obviously had some ups and some downs in the end. We’re still a great team, a great group of kids who played their hearts out. I couldn’t be more proud of them. I know the coaches are very proud of them. Those seniors have accomplished a lot in their four years and they have a lot to be proud of. This year didn’t end the way they wanted, but I think as they get older and they take a look back, they’re going to see that they really did something special in their time here.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River senior Ethan Baumack, carrying the No. 54 flag, leads the Wildcats onto the field for Friday night’s Division IV semifinal in Miller Place. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)