When Shoreham-Wading River and Bayport-Blue Point last met, the two teams competed in a thrilling championship game that came down to one final play.
The Wildcats, as they’ve so often done in their dominant run since 2014, emerged as winners, avenging their lone regular season loss that happened to come against the Phantoms.
On Saturday, the teams faced off at Bayport-Blue Point High School for the first time since that wild county final. This time, there would be no late game heroics or nail-biting plays. For Shoreham, it was one they hope to soon forget.
The Phantoms lived up to the billing as the preseason No. 1 seed in Division IV, scoring early and often to dominate the defending champs, 42-14, in front of a packed home crowd on a warm late-summer afternoon.
It was a rare sight to see the Wildcats (1-1) on the opposite end of a blowout. It equaled the largest margin of defeat since a 28-0 playoff loss to Miller Place in 2017. The Wildcats trailed 42-0 after three quarters and both teams sat most of their starters in the fourth quarter.
“They came out and executed their game plan,” Shoreham coach Aden Smith said of the Phantoms. “They were well coached, well prepared and they did a phenomenal job. They were the better team today.”
The loss in last year’s county final still stings for the Phantoms. They welcomed the opportunity to show the Wildcats this year would be different.
“It’s definitely a bigger game,” Bayport senior JJ Aiello said of facing the Wildcats. “Last year [stunk]. Everyone was beat up and practicing all week we put that in our head and just came out flying.”
Aiello was all over the field, hauling in a pair of touchdown receptions and rushing for two more. He scored Bayport’s first three touchdowns, including a first quarter score where he dragged two Shoreham defenders into the end zone with him after catching a pass from quarterback Brady Clark.
“It definitely set a tone,” he said. “After that everyone was hyped on the sideline. It set a tone 100%.”
Photos by Joe Werkmeister
The Wildcats don’t have to look back far for inspiration. The Phantoms (2-0) won 34-13 at home against Shoreham last season in Week 6. At the time, the Panthoms snapped Shoreham’s 19-game win streak.
There’s a long way to go before the teams may meet again this year. It won’t be an easy task, though, for the young Wildcats to turn in a similar script this year.
“We’re trying to find out who we are, who our playmakers are, who we can rely on in critical situations,” Smith said. “We got a brand new team from last year. They played hard and they’re not going to quit. We just got to find a way to keep getting better.”
The game was entirely one sided in the first half. The Phantoms rolled up more than 300 yards of offense in the opening two quarters compared to just 31 for Shoreham.
The Wildcats broke through in the fourth quarter when junior Liam Kershis scored on runs of 77 and 63 yards. They were his first varsity touchdowns.
Kershis played on JV in ninth grade and didn’t play football as a sophomore, Smith said.
Clark threw four touchdown passes while completing 15 of 24 passes for 216 yards. The Phantoms have size at receiver with Aiello and tight end Derek Varley, who’s listed at 6-foot-4. Even when the Wildcats did well in coverage, the Phantoms often churned out positive yards by Clark scrambling into open space. He totaled 64 yards on the ground.
“They can run it, they can throw it,” Smith said. “They present a real good challenge for us.”
The Phantoms converted a few key fourth down plays early in the game that allowed them to get ahead quick. Aiello’s first touchdown play came on 4th-and-5. On the Phantoms’ third possession, they faced a daunting 4th-and-20 at the Wildcats’ 37. Clark was able to scramble to pick up a first down and Aiello scored on a leaping dive into the end zone three plays later.
Shoreham quarterback Dylan Zahn completed 6 of 16 passes for just 13 yards. The Wildcats only ran the ball four times in the first half as their opportunities were so limited without any sustained drives.
“We got to find a way to get back to who we are,” Smith said. “We got to find a way to establish the run. We want to throw it, but we want to run as well.”
After winning in Week 1, 23-20, against Miller Place — the preseason No. 4 seed — the Wildcats return home next week to find a softer part of the schedule awaiting them. They’ll face Port Jefferson at home before traveling to Greenport to close out the first half of the regular season.