By Desirée Keegan & Bill Landon
The Miller Place football team has seemingly been playing catch-up all season, and with a 21-14 homecoming win over Shoreham-Wading River Oct. 14, the Panthers have climbed up another rung on the ladder toward their destination: the top of the Division IV leaderboard.
“It’s kind of been our M.O. all season — we’ve been playing catch up a lot this year, but the kids believe,” Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said. “They believe that they’re going to get it done and these kids have tremendous character. I couldn’t be prouder of this bunch.”
The Panthers snapped the Wildcats’ 12-game winning streak, and with the victory, also avenged a 49-6 blowout at the hands of Shoreham-Wading River in the Suffolk County semifinals last season. Junior tight end Tom Nealis sealed the homecoming victory with a 5-yard go-ahead touchdown catch from senior quarterback Anthony Seymour with six minutes left in the game.
Seymour faked a handoff and dropped back to pass to Nealis, running a slant pattern, who despite having double coverage on him, came down with the ball as he slid on his knees in the end zone.
“Our defense played their butts off — we only allowed 14 points from a lethal offense [like theirs],” Nealis said. “We ended their 12-game winning streak. They came here [on our homecoming] and we ended it — that really means a lot.”
During that game-winning play, Nealis was matched up with Shoreham-Wading River sophomore quarterback and defensive back Xavier Arline, who had a 48-yard touchdown run of his own in the game.
“Arline, he’s a great defender,” Seymour said. “But [Nealis] came down with the ball for the touchdown — he’s been really big for us this year.”
Shoreham-Wading River senior running back Kyle Boden struck first for the Wildcats, but things changed when he went down with a knee injury late in the third quarter and sat out the rest of the game.
Miller Place’s Sebastian Cannon helped propel the Panthers to tie the game up first, after the Wildcats jumped out to a 14-0 lead with three minutes left in the first half. The junior running back returned a kickoff 60 yards before being forced out of bounds at the 8-yard line, and then finished what he started two plays later on a 14-yard dash into the end zone for his team’s first score. He also ran in an 8-yard touchdown to tie the game on the way to 48 yards on eight attempts in the contest.
“We jumped on them early, and we had a chance to capitalize on that momentum, but I think one of the big plays was that kickoff return after [our] second touchdown,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Matt Millheiser said. “It was a big return which gave them some momentum — it got the crowd into it because they had been quiet for awhile. When they scored on that drive, that put us on our heels.”
Cannon said his team was poised to make the plays needed to turn the game around.
“I was confident that we could make a comeback — giving us momentum going into the second half,” Cannon said. “But it was our defense that won the game for us.”
Shoreham-Wading River and Miller Place are now tied at 5-1 behind undefeated Babylon in the standings. The Wildcats have dominated their division like few other Long Island teams ever have, winning the last three Long Island championship titles. No team has ever won four straight since the LIC began in 1992.
“In the end they out played us, they out coached us; they did a great job and they beat us all the way around,” Millheiser said. “We’ve been here before, so we’ll get back to work on Monday [to get ready for Babylon at 6 p.m. Oct. 20] and see if we can right the ship.”