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.”
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.
“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.”