Tags Posts tagged with "Chris Gray"

Chris Gray

Hans Wiederkehr, a former NFL player, decided to leave his playing career behind to coach high school football at Babylon for 15 years. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

T.J. Lynch grew up without a father. With no direction or motivation, all he knew was that he enjoyed playing football. Hans Wiederkehr, the head coach at Babylon High School at the time, struck up a relationship with Lynch like he had with many players before him. He would pick up the athlete early in the morning to make sure he was going to school, take him to the weight room and speak to him about the potential he saw.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life,” the 1998 graduate said of Wiederkehr. “He was a very caring man, and he guided me. He showed me how to train, breathed words of encouragement and wisdom about life into me and lifted me up. He made you want to be better on the field and in the classroom. He got you excited about life.”

Hans Wiederkehr coaches from the sideline. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Relationships like the one Wiederkehr had with Lynch are what the soon-to-be Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame inductee had hoped for when he decided to trade in an NFL career for a high school coaching gig back in 1988. Making a positive impact on someone’s life drew him from the gridiron to the sideline, and as a result he’ll hold a special place in Suffolk’s athletic history.

The Shoreham resident was born in Connecticut and played for East Lyme, graduating in 1981. He competed in the state championship his senior year, and after receiving multiple offers to play at the next level, decided to commit to Syracuse University on a scholarship. The 6-foot, 4-inch 322-pound offensive lineman played under defensive coordinator George O’Leary, a Central Islip native who went on to coach at his alma mater, and eventually with the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. While leading Central Islip, O’Leary mentioned to Wiederkehr, who had a physical education degree, that if things didn’t work out with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was on the injured reserve list following college, that a teaching job and eventually head coaching position would be available at Babylon. While rehabbing, he spent a year as an assistant at Babylon under 20-year head coach Tom DiNuovo, which is where he caught the coaching bug. He returned the following year and took over the helm when DiNuovo retired.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so,’ that’s the biggest kick I get out of coaching,” Wiederkehr said. “You work with kids who are there because they really love the game, and I fell in love with coaching. I decided this is what I want to do.”

The head coach, who went on to enjoy a 15-year career, said he wanted to pay it forward, giving to others what coaches had given to him. When he was a sophomore in high school, his parents moved to Schenectady, but he wanted to stay in Connecticut because he saw potential in his team. Head coach Tom Smyth opened up his home to Wiederkehr and let him live with him until he graduated.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life. … He got you excited about life.”

— T.J. Lynch

“He was a lead figure in my life next to my dad,” Wiederkehr said of Smyth. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him. He got my name out there and opened up the doors for me. It’s unbelievable the pedigree of coaches that I’ve had, and all those guys have one thing in common — they preached outworking your opponent.”

While at Babylon, Wiederkehr amassed a 99-41-2 record, good for a 0.70 winning percentage. The Panthers reached the playoffs 12 times and won nine league titles under his guidance, going on to play in nine Suffolk County finals, winning five, followed by two Long Island championships. He coached alongside Rick Punzone, his defensive coordinator, and the pair of 25-year-olds led the team until Wiederkehr retired in 2002, leaving the team in the hands of
Punzone, who has now been the head coach at Babylon for 15 years.

“With his experience we had very successful teams,” said Punzone, the godfather of one of Wiederkehr’s daughters, who considers the coach a best friend of his for the last 28 years. “He’s a brother to me. He was professional, and always gave me free reign over the defense. We weren’t always the most talented but he got the most out of the kids, which is why we were always known as one of the tougher schools around. It’s because of his leadership, work ethic and organization.”

Wiederkehr left coaching to focus on his daughters, and eventually went on to coach his son in youth programs at Shoreham-Wading River.

“He stopped to watch my sisters develop,” his son Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It just shows you what type of person he is. He’s a family first type of guy. He’s not selfish, he cares about others and he’s a humble person. It’s been amazing to call him my father.”

One win shy of the coveted 100, Hans Wiederkehr left the helm of Babylon to work with youth in Shoreham-Wading River school district, including his son Ethan, above at a county awards dinner with wife Karen. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Punzone also noted Hans Wiederkehr’s work with and attention to detail regarding his position as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association.

“He’s taken our association to the next level,” he said. “I’m a coach in the association and we’ve never had as good a leadership as we’ve had under his reign.”

Joe Cipp Jr., the head coach at Bellport for the 31 years, who has collected his own 202-84-3 record and been a coaching friend of Wiederkehr’s over his entire career, said he took on being president the same way he tackled anything else in his life, giving it 100 percent.

“He puts a million hours in, just like he does with coaching, without getting paid,” Cipp said. “I could say he puts in 150 percent of the effort, but there’s no such thing. He makes the football awards dinner something special to the kids in Suffolk County. He does a tremendous job, and it speaks to the type of person he’s been his whole life. And as a coach, he was able to demand tremendous [effort] of his kids and still be well-liked. It’s the best combination you could be.”

Wiederkehr is one of 11 honorees selected for the hall of fame out of 32 nominees. According to Section XI Executive Director Tom Combs, who was a head coach at Babylon’s rival Harborfields for 13 years, his former opponent is the first to get into the hall of fame his first time being nominated.

“It says a lot about what a good man he is,” Combs said. “It’s very competitive, especially their first time on the ballot, and Hans is just a great coach and mentor to a lot of people. His teams were always very well
prepared and it usually came down to our two teams for the head of our division. There were some fierce battles. He’s a hard-nosed guy but the kids loved that discipline and direction that he provided. You could see he motivated the kids, and they loved him.”

Hans Widerkehr with former players. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

He added that giving up reaching the monumental 100 wins once again shows how he’s always willing to put others before himself. He eventually became an assistant coach to the Shoreham-Wading River varsity team under head coach Matt Millheiser. His son Ethan was part of two undefeated seasons and three straight Long Island championships. The 6-foot, 5-inch 273-pound offensive lineman accepted a scholarship to play at Northwestern University after winning the Bob Zellner Award, presented to Suffolk’s top lineman. He has aspirations of going pro.

“I fell in love with the team aspect of it, the relationships you build with your teammates and extend your family,” Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing since he taught be so much, but through hard work and dedication you can accomplish almost anything. I’ve learned to push through difficult obstacles to gain success. There was ups and downs having him in the sideline, but looking back now it’s been a blessing to have him by my side. He’s developed me as a person and an athlete through our experiences together on the field.”

Ken Gray, whose multisport standout son Chris played under Wiederkehr, remembered the first time he met the coach.

“Parents want their kids to win, and he was about teaching them about not always wining at an early age and expanding the program,” said Gray, whose son started playing football at 5 years old. “Shoreham-Wading
River wasn’t a big football community, and I’d say over 10 years he did a pretty good job of developing a pretty good program. I think that’s a result of Hans’ commitment to the community and the kids.”

Babylon athletic director Michael DeJoseph, was one of several who along with Cipp, wrote letters of recommendation for Wiederkehr to be inducted. DeJoseph said he was not at all surprised when he heard the news but, like many, said he wasn’t aware he’d been selected, because the coach remains humble.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so.'”

— Hans Wiederkehr

“It’s beyond well deserved,” said DeJoseph, who was hired by Wiederkehr as a teacher and coach of the junior varsity team, and eventually worked his way up the ladder. “He really cared about the kids, and he showed me and the players blueprints for success. As impressive he is as a coach he’s probably more impressive as a father, husband and family man. He’s a community guy who cares for others.”

Former athlete Drew Peters, a 2002 graduate, also said he knows about his former coach’s devotion firsthand. He played on the varsity team all four years of high school and said he and all of Wiederkehr’s players felt like he cared about him.

“He treated you like you were one of his kids,” he said. “When you’re on a team of 30-plus kids, every one of you felt very special to him, and I think that’s what made you play even harder. He had that father-like figure to everyone on the team and we always wanted to do our best for him.”

Peters spoke of his coaches sacrifices, saying Wiederkehr would drive from Shoreham, even during the winter months, to pick up his athletes at 6 a.m. and take them to the weight room before school started. He said he’ll never forgot how the man with three children would sacrifice his own time to come to each one of his teammates houses to pick them up. He became so close with so many of the players, he even attended
several of their weddings, including Peters’.

“He teaches you a lot more than just the sport, he prepared us young men to go through the struggles that you’ll face in life,” he said. “My senior year we lost in the Long Island championship and it was a tough game for us, but there was a controversial penalty that I was involved in and he took me under his wing after the game and said, ‘Hey, if this is the worst thing that’s ever going to happen to you in life, losing a football game in high school, then you’re going to have a pretty good life.’ And I just remember that being something that obviously at the time was very upsetting but it’s true, it was a game that was very important to everybody, but he definitely had a way of putting things into perspective.”

Smithtown East lax player scores three goals, SWR's Chris Gray adds two

Smithtown East's Connor DeSimone hoists up his Under Armour All-America MVP trophy. He scored three goals and added two asssits in North's win. Photo from Connor DeSimone

By Desirée Keegan

In a game that was likely to feature a potent offense — with 44 of the country’s best rising college men’s lacrosse freshmen on the field — it was Smithtown East’s own Connor DeSimone that led the way.

He tallied a hat trick and two assists, and was among 11 scorers that were part of an aggressive North attack that beat South, 18-16, in the Under Armour All-America senior boys all-star game at Towson University July 1. The victory snapped the South’s six-game win streak.

Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone looks for an open lane. Photo from Connor DeSimone

“My teammates were just looking for me the entire time,” DeSimone said. “They definitely did most of the work, and I give them a lot of credit.”

North went on a 9-1 run in the first half to go into halftime up by six, and the Johns Hopkins University commit helped pace that burst. After  North withstood a man-down situation four minutes into the second quarter, DeSimone picked up a turnover deep in his own offensive end and pushed it into the goal to tie the score at 6-6.

Soon after, DeSimone gave North its lead off an assist from attackman Tehoka Nanticoke, who will play next season at the University at Albany. Then, DeSimone widened the advantage to two when he fed midfielder Matt Licciardi, a Cornell University commit, for a score.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” DeSimone said. “Competing against the best in the country was something special. Being there was such a great experience.”

Navy commit Nate Buller later powered through the zone with a defender guarding close to his shoulder for an overhead score, but South, which opened the second-quarter scoring in less than a minute, didn’t register another point for the remainder of the half.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray races into South’s zone with the ball. Photo from Chris Gray

Instead, DeSimone completed his hat trick and four of  North’s 10 first-half scorers added points.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray and teammate Jackson Reid followed DeSimone with one apiece in the span of about a minute.

After Gray found the back of the net, the entire North team congregated in South’s defensive territory, even the bench players, and played duck-duck-goose with the Boston University-bound attackman. It was one of the multiple elaborate celebrations North rolled out during the win.

“It was on the fly,” Gray said of the celebration. “My teammates did a great job all game passing me the ball and every time I shot the ball I tried to use the best angle I had, wether it was a regular shot or a backhand shot. The celebrations play a big part in the UA game because its all about having fun.”

The attackman said he also liked practicing and competing with, and against the top talents in the nation.

“Practice was awesome because everyone was so talented drills were very fast paced and the ball rarely hit the floor, which was very cool to see,” Gray said. “During the game I felt our team did really well sharing the ball and hustling. Everyone was giving it 110 percent and looking for the open man, which made the game so much fun.”

DeSimone made the underclassmen rosters as a sophomore and a junior. The midfielder capped off his high school career being selected as a senior and bringing home the MVP trophy tied for a game-high five points.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray plays duck-duck-gooose with his teammates following a goal. Photo from Chris Gray

“It was a life-changing, incredible experience,” he said. “It’s a little taste of what college lacrosse will be like and I just loved being out there. There’s no better way to end my high school career.”

The stands were packed with people from all over the country, including every underclassmen group competing during the weekend. Seeing the younger fans there brought back memories for DeSimone, who was in the stands in 2011 when his older brother was on the team.

“Growing up you look at the kids in the senior game, and say, ‘I wanna be that guy,’” DeSimone said. “We’re the best players from our class, from our schools, so seeing a bunch of kids there and knowing I was once in the same shoes, it’s inspiring.”

He said being so passionate about the sport, earning the selection, competing and contributing during the winning game was a humbling experience.

“This event is the best event I’ve ever been at, and knowing I got selected to play with the best players in the country, it means the hard work has finally paid off,” DeSimone said. “Hopefully it’s just the start.”

by -
0 1212

Shoreham-Wading River’s boys’ lacrosse team finally met its match.

The Wildcats were tamed by a potent Cold Spring Harbor offense June 3, falling 16-7 in the Class C Long Island championship title game.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Mike Taylor said. “To go 16-3 and win the Suffolk County championship is tough enough. Unfortunately, we met a juggernaut in Cold Spring Harbor. They played excellent.”

Chris Gray shoots and scores. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Each time the Wildcats made a mistake, whether not winning the faceoff, falling victim to a forced turnover or having a pass bounce out of bounds, the Seahawks capitalized on the opportunity.

“Every time we made a mistake they made us pay, and they made us pay not only in possession, but turning those possessions into goals,” Taylor said. “They’re a good team; they’re some of the best.”

Taylor thought the two teams matched up similarly, and they did. Senior Chris Gray, who just recently edged out Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone to become Suffolk County’s leading scorer with 90 goals and 25 assists, and Long Island’s top goal scorer, was a similar scoring threat that Cold Spring Harbor’s Taylor Strough was. Each team has lockdown defenders, and plenty of other offensive weapons.

“We’re both run-and-gun teams with so many guys that can score,” Taylor said. “The ball bounced their way a little more, and they made a lot less mistakes defensively. And our mistakes turned into big goals.”

Xavier Arline tries to push a Cold Spring Harbor defender out of the way to get a clear look at the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Strough finished with four goals and two assists, while Gray led the Wildcats with three goals and two assists. Shoreham-Wading River, which edged out Garden City last year for the Class B Long Island title, also had contributions from senior Sean Haplin and freshman Xavier Arline, who added two goals each.

The Seahawks were up 4-0 before Gray scored unassisted on a dodge from behind the cage — the Wildcats’ only goal of the first quarter. He added another at the four-minute mark off a Joe Miller faceoff win, but Shoreham-Wading River was down 11-2 at the half.

After a 5-0 Cold Spring Harbor run that triggered a running clock with the team up 14-2, Arline scored twice, sandwiching a Haplin goal off a feed from Gray, to try and stop the bleeding. After a Seahawks tally, Gray completed his hat trick to help the Wildcats close within 10, 16-6. Haplin’s final goal came off another assist from Gray at 2:14, but neither team would score thereafter.

Kevin Cutinella makes his way to the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s been special,” Taylor said of taking his seniors on the Long Island championship-bound journey two seasons in a row. “I’ve had three years with some extremely talented kids, and I may never see that kind of talent again like I have in Kevin Cutinella, Danny Cassidy, Chris Gray. I have 16 fabulous seniors that are great lacrosse players and even better kids. It’s hard to spend so much time with them and see them move on, but I wish them nothing but the best.”

Cutinella said he’s felt privileged to be coached by Taylor and his assistants.

“[They have] spent so much time developing a team that can perform at a championship level year in and year out,” Cutinella said. “As a team, we didn’t perform well and to the level that Cold Spring Harbor played up to, and ultimately the score spoke for itself. But Shoreham-Wading River has shaped me into the person I am today. I’m grateful we made it this far, and even more grateful to play with all the other players on my team. My teammates, these coaches have done a lot for me, and I can’t thank them enough.”

 

In lacrosse, there’s a term “take it to ‘X,’” when a player brings the ball directly behind the goal crease. But Shoreham-Wading River was taking the ball to a different “X” Wednesday.

The X-Man, Xavier Arline, was the Wildcats’ superhero May 30, as the freshman used speed and skill to stymie an Islip surge — the Buccaneers scored four fast goals to pull within one and make it a close game — to lift Shoreham-Wading River to its second straight Suffolk County Class C title with a 13-7 win over Islip. The title marks the 12th in program history.

Arline had a highlight reel play at the 7:48 mark of the fourth quarter, after Islip opened with four goals in a two-minute span, he stole the ball from the opposing goalkeeper on a ride, and no-look passed behind his back to senior Chris Gray for an empty-netter.

“I was just trying to help my team win,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much, I wasn’t trying to do too little. I was just making the plays to help my team win.”

He said during practice, head coach Mike Taylor lets the team be free and creative, which made the eye-popping play feel routine.

“When I saw Chris out of the corner of my eye, I picked it up and threw it like it was natural,” he said. “I didn’t even think twice.”

Gray said Arline’s play wasn’t surprising to him either.

“Xavier is a beast — he used his athleticism,” he said. “And he’s only a freshman, which is really scary.”

Arline had two goals and two assists before that score that extended Shoreham-Wading River’s lead to 9-7. Senior Kevin Cutinella followed with his hat trick goal on a man-up opportunity, and from there, it was Gray’s turn to step up.

Gray went coast to coast, scored off a pass from Arline after Cutinella carried the ball into Islip’s zone, and added another unassisted goal to cap off the five-goal Wildcats run. Gray finished with five goals and one assist.

“We used a lot of teamwork,” Gray said. “We told ourselves we wanted to jump out on them early, get a fast lead, then kind of take the air out of the ball and let our offense do its thing — because we have one of the best offenses on the Island, I have full confidence to say that. They make me a better player.”

He said the team’s defense doesn’t get a lot of credit, especially being that Gray is second in Suffolk County scoring behind Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone, but it was hard to miss senior James Mirabell locking down a strong Islip offense, and racing to ground balls that led to crucial possession. The defense, also led by Dan Cassidy and Kyle Higgins, helped protect goalie Andrew DePalma, who made five saves.

“I think it’s the best defense we played all year,” Arline added. “We faced some adversity but we buckled down.”

During the lapse that saw Islip pour in four straight goals, Cutinella said his team fell flat.

“We were complacent,” he said. “And getting a penalty drained us.”

He credited Arline’s goal for sparking Shoreham-Wading River to get back on its game.

“You can’t teach that,” Cutinella said of the Arline to Gray play. “He’s making plays, getting everyone rowdy. It changed the game. That lights us up.”

Taylor said the Wildcats closing out the show the way they did was something he expects from his high-powered offense.

“They were resilient — Islip was battling back and I’m so proud of how they stood their ground,” he said. “We bent but we didn’t break.”

The head coach added that his team will celebrate, but just for a short time before getting back to work, because after last season’s state semifinal loss, the team feels it has some unfinished business. Arline said after being a part of the county and Long Island championship-winning team last year getting to that level almost becomes an addiction.

“It’s a feeling you want to get back every single year,” he said. “Our goal is to get a state championship and we’re one step closer.”

Shoreham-Wading River will play Cold Spring Harbor in the Long Island championship at Stony Brook University June 3 at 3 p.m.

Sean Haplin shoots past a diving West Babylon goalkeeper. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Jitters are to be expected when a freshman takes the field for the first time, but looking at Shoreham-Wading River’s Jake Naso, you wouldn’t know it.

Jake Naso carries the ball into West Babylon’s zone after gaining possession. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The freshman won 22 of 25 faceoffs to give the boys’ lacrosse team the possession it needed to come away with a 17-4 nonleague win over West Babylon May 2.

“I felt good,” Naso said of his first varsity start, smiling. “I’m getting used to it, and I hope to take more in the future.”

Naso was a piece of the total team puzzle, with the Wildcats outscoring the Eagles 7-2 in the first quarter.

“We got up on them early and that affected the whole outcome of the game,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Mike Taylor said. “I thought that we were very crisp and we did the things we wanted to do right away. I’m very happy with the boys executing what we practiced to run against them.”

He also liked seeing 10 athletes sprinkling the score sheet with points throughout the afternoon.

Chris Gray scoops up the ground ball with a defender on his back. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We’ve been trying to get to that level — creating a team concept offensively,” Taylor said. “And now we’re getting guys more game experience, and with Jake winning the faceoffs, that’s going to be huge for us depth-wise. We already have a good faceoff guy with Joe [Miller] so to have two guys, we’re almost spoiled.”

Highlighting the offense was senior Chris Gray, who contributed five goals and five assists. Most notable, was Gray’s score off a cross-field pass from James Mirabell. With West Babylon’s goalkeeper out of the net after carrying the ball to the opposite end of the field, Gray grabbed hold of the pass and dribbled it in mid-air until getting a good enough hold to whip a shot behind his back and into the back of the cage as goalkeeper Mark Esposito tried to get back between the pipes.

James Mirabell and Chris Sheehan defend against a West Babylon attack. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We were relaxed on offense and then the defense got a big turnover,” Gray said. “The ball was bouncing in and out of my stick and I saw the goalie wasn’t in the net yet, and the best opportunity as he was making his way between the pipes was to shoot it behind my back, and luckily it went in.”

He also liked what he saw from his young teammate, Naso.

“He comes out to practice and works hard every day,” Gray said. “Winning the faceoffs and getting us all those extra possessions was big. This is a huge confidence-booster for him.”

But Taylor said there’s still room to grow. As the Wildcats learned last season, even with a near-flawless record, complacency can set in.

Gavin Gregorek looks to fire at the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“There are a lot of great teams out there that will be good competition,” he said. “We learned last year that we made it far, but we didn’t win it all. To win it all you have to continue to get better, so every day we have to come ready to work.”

Gray said the team’s two early-season losses — to East Islip and Eastport-South Manor in April — shaped the team. Now, they’re looking to gauge where they’re at with the games ahead.

“They helped us figure out what we were lacking,” Gray said. “We’re definitely getting better, and we have two big games coming up against Miller Place and Garden City that will really test our team.”

Shoreham-Wading River travels to Miller Place May 4 for a 4:30 p.m. matchup, and will host Garden City May 6 at 2 p.m.

by -
0 986

Chris Gray's cutbacks, three touchdowns steal the show

Shoreham-Wading River's football team raises the Long Island championship trophy for the third straight season following a 20-10 win over Seaford Nov. 27. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

What is Shoreham-Wading River’s recipe for success? A rapid running game and domineering defense.

Chris Gray cuts back as he moves the ball downfield. Photo by Bill Landon
Chris Gray cuts back as he moves the ball downfield. Photo by Bill Landon

So it was no surprise that as the football team’s star running back Chris Gray swiveled around Seaford defenders to find the end zone three times on Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium field, the Wildcats would make history, becoming the fourth team to win a third straight Long Island title with a 20-10 win over the previously unbeaten Vikings.

“I give all the credit to my line,” Gray said. “I do the easy part — just running — so it’s great teamwork. Having [Ethan Wiederkehr] on the end of the line is just a blessing. It makes my job a hundred times easier, and he’s just a hell of a player and a hell of a competitor.”

Wiederkehr was a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the line of scrimmage, as the senior tight end’s blocks led to holes for his classmate up and down the field. He also tackled Seaford’s quarterback for a 13-yard loss, and was involved in nine tackles.

Despite compiling a 34-2 record over the past three years, Shoreham did face its share of adversity, and dropped two of its first five games this season. And the team found itself behind early in the first quarter of the Long Island game.

After a dip-and-dunk passing attack, Seaford drove the ball to Shoreham’s 6-yard line, but couldn’t penetrate the Wildcats’ defense. Facing 4th and three, Seaford chose to kick the field goal with7:42 left, and split the uprights for an early lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Seaford attempted an onside kick, which caught the Wildcats by surprise. The Vikings recovered a short kick and went back to work at the Shoreham-Wading River 47-yard line. Despite the successful move, Shoreham-Wading River’s defensive unit stood its ground, denying Seaford any points.

Kevin Cutinella leaps up and tips the ball before Joe Miller grabs it for the touchback. Photo by Bill Landon
Kevin Cutinella leaps up and tips the ball before Joe Miller grabs it for the touchback. Photo by Bill Landon

During a sustained drive in which the Vikings went to the air to try to move the ball over Shoreham’s defense, senior quarterback Kevin Cutinella proved he’s just as effective defensively as he is offensively, when the safety tipped the ball, and senior cornerback Joe Miller recovered it for a touchback. Miller briefly thought about running the ball out of the end zone, but took a knee, and the Wildcats’ offense went back to work at their own 20-yard line.

“I told them that we have a chance at our third consecutive Long Island Championship, we’ve got a shot at the Rutgers Cup and we have a chance to make Long Island football history,” assistant coach Hans Wiederkehr said he told the team prior to the game. “Other teams try year after year, and don’t make it. This is a once in a life time opportunity.”

It was only a matter of time before Gray broke through the line with a spin-and-run move, and he did so just before being forced out of bounds at the 11-yard line. Gray finished the five-play, 78-yard drive two downs later when he bulled his way straight up the middle six yards. With junior Noah Block on the hold, junior kicker Tyler McAuley drove his kick through the middle of the posts to help Shoreham to a 7-3 lead at halftime.

It was a defensive struggle early in the third, and Shoreham forced Seaford to punt from deep in their own end zone, and the Wildcats returned the ball to the Seaford 46-yard line. From there, Cutinella went back to work under center, handing the ball off to Gray play after play. The running back broke free on a 17-yard run for his second touchdown of the day. Seaford got a piece of the point-after attempt ball that was kicked just wide, giving Shoreham a 13-3 lead.

Chris Sheehan and Kyle Boden tackle Seaford's star running back Danny Roell. Photo by Bill Landon
Chris Sheehan and Kyle Boden tackle Seaford’s star running back Danny Roell. Photo by Bill Landon

Again, the Wildcats’ defense made a statement with a block, and took over on downs at the Seaford 34-yard line. Gray struck again, this time, on a 21-yard run where he executed three swift cutbacks through traffic, seeming to magically appear on the other side of a swarm of players with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.. McAuley’s extra-point kick was good, and Shoreham took a 20-3 advantage.

With eight minutes left in the game, Shoreham Wading River junior corner back Kyle Lutz out-jumped an intended Seaford receiver for an interception on his team’s own 6-yard line.

Cutinella, looking to take time off the clock, huddled and handed the ball off to Gray, and the Wildcats were unable to convert for points. Seaford wouldn’t go down quietly, and scored on an 18-yard touchdown pass.

With the yardage from the game — 205 on 30 carries — Gray has over 2,000 rushing yards on the season. He finished with a total 2,179 on 217 attempts, and is one of six Wildcats to play in all three Long Island wins. Cutinella, Wiederkehr, senior fullbacks Chris Sheehan and Dean Stalzer, and senior tight end Daniel Cassidy were the others.

Head coach Matt Millheiser was presented the championship trophy, and handed it over to Cutinella, who raised it high in the air.

“I just played the last football game of my life,” Cutinella said. “And I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this.”

Shoreham-Wading River is one of just four teams, second in League IV, to win three straight Long Island titles. Photo by Bill Landon
Shoreham-Wading River is one of four schools, the second in League IV, to win three straight Long Island championship titles. Photo by Bill Landon

by -
0 2420

By Bill Landon

On the back of senior Chris Gray, who rushed for 341 yards with four touchdowns for Shoreham-Wading River’s football team, the Wildcats brought home their third consecutive county championship, with a 36-21 win over Babylon Nov. 19.

“I’ve just gotta thank my linemen, they got me to the second level,” Gray said. “I was able to shake off some defensemen. I was just doing my job.”

The running back helped his team seal the deal when he followed blocks from senior tight end Ethan Wiederkehr and senior tackle Dean Stalzer into the second, before spinning around a Babylon defensive back to score a 15-yard touchdown with 7:26 left to play in the game.

His fourth touchdown gave Shoreham-Wading River a 13-point lead before a crowd of more than 2,600 at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium.

The two-time defending Long Island champion Wildcats (9-2) move on to face Seaford (11-0) for the Long Island title at LaValle Stadium Nov. 27 at 4:30 p.m.

“This was a long, hard-fought year. We had a lot of ups and downs.”

—Matt Millheiser

Gray said there was some extra motivation for the team to take home the win after Babylon snapped Shoreham-Wading River’s 25-game win streak.

“That one’s been hanging over our heads,” Gray said.

He got the game started when he found the end zone on a 32-yard run six minutes into the Division IV matchup against previously undefeated Babylon. Junior kicker Tyler McAuley’s extra point was good.

Babylon answered with a 65-yard kickoff return to Shoreham-Wading River’s 28-yard line, and scored a touchdown on the next play. Babylon quarterback Scott Sasso threw a strike to wide receiver Shaun Kaminski in stride with just over four minutes remaining in the opening quarter. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving the Wildcats up 7-6.

Shoreham-Wading River senior quarterback Kevin Cutinella, on a keeper, ran the ball in from 11 yards out for the Wildcats’ next score, and with McAuley’s foot, the team edged ahead 14-6.

But the lead didn’t last long. Babylon’s Kaminski stretched out into the end zone next with a one-handed catch, and a hurry-up offense helped the Panthers complete a 2-point conversion that tied the game heading into halftime.

“This was a long, hard-fought year,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Matt Millheiser said. “We had a lot of ups and downs with Babylon breaking the streak earlier in the year. Two weeks later we lose to Elwood-John Glenn, and to be honest, the guys were down.”

But the team used that loss as motivation to make a statement when it counted most.

Despite Babylon opening the second half with a 51-yard kickoff return, taking the ball to the Wildcats’ 39-yard line, the team fumbled the ball on the second play from scrimmage, and Shoreham-Wading River recovered it.

Gray got the call, bounced off would-be tacklers, broke free down the right sideline and went 40 yards for a touchdown on his team’s first possession of the third quarter, to give the Wildcats the lead.

Babylon got the ball deep in its own territory, and went to work in the air, but senior wingback Joe Miller stepped in front of Sasso’s pass for an interception and 13-yard return. Gray scored on a 10-yard run to extend the lead, 28-14.

“It’s unbelievable — it’s just a blessing to be in this situation …We came out here with something to prove.

—Ethan Wiederkehr

“Chris Gray has phenomenal athletic ability with a great sense of where he is on the field and he’s got the heart of a lion,” Millheiser said. “He carried us in some of those moments in the middle of the season when were down. As we got better, Kevin Cutinella stepped up and was a second threat for us, which took a little pressure off Chris and I can’t say enough about the two of them.”

Babylon showed why it was the No.1-seeded team this postseason when Kaminski jetted down the right sideline, caught a pass in stride and ran the ball into the end zone untouched. With the point after, Babylon trailed 28-21 heading into the final quarter.

After a sustained drive, Gray completed his spin move leading to the touchdown, and with McAuley’s extra-point attempt missing, the Wildcats maintained a 34-21 lead.

Gray, a threat on both sides of the ball, jumped in front of a Babylon pass play as an outside linebacker for the pick, and the Wildcats went back on offense with 4:23 left in regulation.

Shoreham Wading River marched the ball downfield to Babylon’s 8-yard line for a first and goal, but turned the ball over on downs. On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Sasso dropped back to pass, but was overwhelmed by a Wildcats blitz. He was tackled in his own end zone by senior fullback Chris Sheehan for a safety to fall behind 36-21.

“It’s unbelievable — it’s just a blessing to be in this situation,” Wiederkehr said of the win. “We came out here with something to prove … we knew we were going to get their best fight, so it’s just awesome to get the ‘W.’”

Immediately following the safety, Babylon kicked off with 48 seconds on the clock, and Shoreham-Wading River held on as the clock wound down.

“It’s different every time we win, but this one was more surreal because it’s my senior year,” Cutinella said. “It was a crazy experience to come out here for the third time. We’re all grateful for it, and proud of what we’ve done all season.”

by -
0 965
Junior running back Jason Guevara rushes up the field during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River hasn’t lost a football game since November 2013 when the Wildcats fell to their then-nemesis Babylon. Now, the team begins the 2016 campaign protecting a 24-game winning streak. The Wildcats’ winning ways will be tested after losing 18 seniors to graduation, and will have to lean on some unproven talent to keep the streak alive.

Junior quarterback Noah Block hurls the ball up the field during practice. Photo by Bill Landon
Junior quarterback Noah Block hurls the ball up the field during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Matt Millheiser is entering his seventh year as the head coach of the Wildcats, which have amassed a 44-17 record through six seasons of play, even despite his first season at the helm resulting in an 0-8 finish. In his second year, Millheiser turned his team around, posting a winning 6-3 season and helping send his team to the playoffs the very next year.

“From the beginning, the idea was to just play good football and not worry about wins and losses, but we as coaches go out and coach, teach the kids to love the game,” Millheiser said. “That caught on and that bled over into the offseason by [the kids] working out and coming into summer practices. The more they enjoyed the game, the more they played the game and got better.”

From there, he led the Wildcats to consecutive winning seasons with 7-3 records in 2012 and 2013 before his team ran the table with a pair undefeated seasons, as well as back-to-back Long Island championships, making history along the way.

The Wildcats will lean on senior Kevin Cutinella, the returning starting quarterback, who will have to survey the field to see who will be stepping up to fill the void left by the 18 departed players.

“There’s a lot more team bonding that has to be done this season because we lost so many seniors who were big impact players,” Cutinella said. “We have to get the chemistry to where it was last year with those players.”

Dean Stalzer, a senior tackle on both sides of the line of scrimmage, said the preparation was not all that different from last season.

Junior running back and defensive back Kyle Boden breaks up a play during practice. Photo by Bill Landon
Junior running back and defensive back Kyle Boden breaks up a play during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’re putting in the same amount of work as we did last year; the new seniors this year have got to step it up and to be the captains that they were,” Stalzer said regarding this season’s and last year’s leadership. “It’s early yet, and we’re not coming out like a championship team, but I like what I see. I think we’re looking good.”

The team’s 24 consecutive victories is not openly discussed, according to senior running back and defense back Chris Gray.

“The coaches aren’t talking to us about this win streak, but it’s definitely in the backs of our minds so we want to keep it going as long as we can,” he said, “Preparing for this season there’s a lot of stress on doing the little things correctly. We’re putting 100 percent effort into everything we do — that’s what the coaches have been stressing throughout practice.”

Cutinella said he’s looking forward to the league season opener at home on Sept. 9 under the lights on the new field that bears his brother’s name — the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Kickoff for that game against Center Moriches is scheduled for 7 p.m.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “Two weeks from now we’ll be on the new field, and it’ll be great to play with all of the players that I’ve played with since I was 4 years old.”

by -
0 1017

Wildcats can't overcome one-goal deficit as stellar season comes to an end

By Bill Landon

A one-goal Yorktown advantage proved too much for the Shoreham-Wading River boys’ lacrosse team to overcome, as the Wildcats’ stellar season came to an end with a 7-6 loss in the New York State semifinals Wednesday at Hofstra University.

As he’s done all postseason, junior midfielder Kevin Cutinella helped the team get on the board first, when he dished the ball to senior attack Jason Curran, who fired at the cage seven minutes in. Yorktown evened the scored with 29 seconds left in the opening quarter, but Shoreham retook the lead when eighth-grader Xavier Arline spun in front of the cage and, with an NBA-like jump shot, scored from high above the keeper’s stick to retake the lead. On the ensuing faceoff, Yorktown went the distance to retie the game, to mark the third goal scored in less than 20 seconds.

It was a new game heading into the second stanza, but neither team could pull away with a clear advantage. After a Yorktown goal, Shoreham-Wading River senior midfielder Jon Constant flicked the ball to junior attack Chris Gray, who fired a shot past the goalkeeper to even the score at 3-3 game.

“It’s been a fun ride,” Constant said previously of making it to this point with his team.

Again, Yorktown answered, but the Wildcats countered again, when Curran fed Gray on the cut, and drove his shot into the netting.

With both teams in a stalemate, Curran fed Constant on the cut this time, for a Wildcats lead in the first minute of the second half, but again Yorktown battled, scoring once at the end of the third, and again halfway through the fourth, for a 6-5 advantage.

“We made a mistake late in the game after a timeout where we didn’t have enough guys on the field,” said Shoreham Wading River head coach Mike Taylor. “I’m not sure how that happened, but someone wasn’t paying attention from the huddle and by the time I subbed a guy from the box it was too late.”

“It’s been a fun ride.”
—Jon Constant

With 1:11 left in regulation, the Wildcats went a man down for a slashing penalty that proved costly. Yorktown capitalized on the advantage to make it a two-goal game for the first time all afternoon.

With 11 seconds left and Shoreham back at full strength, Curran went the distance and buried a shot to draw within one goal with few precious seconds left. With five seconds remaining, the Wildcats ran out of time.

“This is a big-time moment in lacrosse and I think we were nervous at the beginning of the game,” Taylor said. “Yorktown is resilient — they’re methodical, they do several things well and they wear you down — they take advantage of when you make mistakes and every time we made a mistake they capitalized.”

Shoreham-Wading River finished the regular season 14-2 and had a tough postseason schedule leading up to the state semifinal round, picking off Eastport-South Manor, Comsewogue and Sayville for the Suffolk County Class B crown, before defeating Garden City for the Long Island Championship title to finish with an 18-2 record.

“It’s something special,” Taylor said previously of the team’s season. “I wish this could go on forever.”

by -
1 1194

Kevin Cutinella leads Wildcats with four goals, receives championship plaque from parents

Jimmy Puckey doesn’t even like lacrosse. But now, he’s a champion.

“It’s not my favorite sport,” Puckey said. “It’s nothing like football, but you have to do what you have to do. You have to play.”

What would get him to like the sport more?

“More hitting,” he said. “Less getting hit with the ball also helps.”

What Puckey does between the pipes is special. And he did it for his Wildcats, making save after save when it counted to help Shoreham-Wading River to its first Long Island championship title since 2012, with an 8-6 win over Garden City Saturday at Hofstra University.

“Jimmy might not like lacrosse, but he’s playing for his friends, and he has such a passion for his brothers that he doesn’t want to let them down,” head coach Mike Taylor said. “He might not like lacrosse, but he loves his friends.”

It was a different first quarter from what teams have recently seen from the Wildcats, and junior Kevin Cutinella stole the show, finishing the game with four goals on five shots.

The midfielder scored early unassisted, and junior attack Chris Gray added a tally off an assist from senior attack Jason Curran with a man-up advantage for the 2-0 lead.

“He doesn’t panic, and we lean on him because he calms everyone down,” Taylor said of Cutinella. “He’s just a great kid.”

Puckey clipped the ball and made a save seven seconds later, and at the 5:42 mark, Cutinella scored his second goal off a pass from senior midfielder Jon Constant to finish a 3-0 run.

Garden City saved a shot by junior midfielder Joe Miller, and Puckey made another block before Garden City put its first point on the board with 1:40 left to end the scoring for the first quarter.

“Communication was key, not making too many errors on offense and just playing fast,” Cutinella said. “Just playing our game.”

Garden City scored four unanswered goals to take the lead, but Cutinella wasn’t having any of it, and passed the ball to junior Joe Miller who, with a back-door cut, leaped in front of the net and dumped it in for the tying goal with 22.8 seconds left in the first half.

“We have said that we haven’t really played four complete quarters, and I think even today, we played a great first quarter, a poor second quarter, and then a great third and fourth,” Taylor said. “I’m still waiting for four full quarters and when we do that I think we’ll win a state championship.”

Gray received two feeds from Miller, but both shots were blocked with Garden City heavily defending the team’s top scorer.

With 4:52 left in the third, Cutinella scored unassisted for his hat trick goal.

“They had the long pole on Jonny [Constant] which led me to have the shortstick defensive midfielder on me and I just took advantage of that,” Cutinella said. “We weren’t talking in the beginning and then we changed that around, and when our defense plays good, our offense plays good.”

After a few missed Wildcat shots, Constant scored unassisted for a 6-4 advantage with 27 seconds left in the quarter.

“We never beat Garden City and it was great to beat them here in my senior year,” he said. “We had to stop them on defense first and then we had to put them in on offense with great ball movement. The chemistry is good and it’s been a fun ride.”

Puckey, knowing what to do to secure the lead, batted the ball out of bounds to his left with 1.2 seconds on the clock.

“He just showed up and is playing his A game,” Cutinella said. “He likes lacrosse now.”

Cutinella’s parents, pre-planned, but surprisingly to their son, presented the team with the championship plaque.

“Seeing them on the field made my day even more,” he said. “You can’t really put the words together for that stuff. It’s a great experience and I love them. They’ve been there for me.”

Cutinella said this win means everything, adding that the team had one goal at the beginning of the season, and they’ve almost achieved it.

Taylor is also proud to see his team come through with this kind of success after the school scored its second consecutive Long Island championship crown in football this school year.

“This is what you work for the entire year and to see all the hard work pay off and to get to this moment, this is what you play for,” he said. “We’ll celebrate today, but I think now we have unfinished business. I have a lot of the football players on this squad and I think some of their successes is translating over onto the lacrosse field. The kids are playing well in big moments.”

He’s sad to see this season coming to a close, but couldn’t be more thrilled for the special moments these boys have had throughout this memorable season.

“The saddest moment is realizing right now I have four more practices left with these kids,” he said. “Having limited time with a special group of kids, I wish it could go on forever.”

One of the most special moments so far, was for him to see Cutinella receive the plaque from his parents, especially after the game he’d had.

“That’s an ironic moment — especially when it was planned prior to this — for him to have that type of game,” he said, fighting back tears. “These kids have been through so much tragedy, they just deserve this. I think someone might be looking down from above.”