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.
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.
“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.”