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