By Bill Landon
As senior quarterback Kevin Cutinella walked onto his home field, his heart weighed heavy.
Although his Shoreham-Wading River football team picked it back up where the Wildcats left off last season, extending their winning streak to 25 games with a 56-0 win over Center Moriches, things looked a bit different this time.
Down the field, between the 35-yard lines on both sides of the field, read “Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field.”
On the evening of Sept. 9, in front of a standing room only crowd, the field was dedicated to the former Wildcat who died in October 2014 from a head injury sustained during a game at John Glenn.
“A lot was going through my mind,” Cutinella said. “It’s extremely sentimental that this field, in a football game, is officially dedicated to Tom. This is a team sport and we leaned on everyone to make a contribution, and that’s what Tom would do and that’s what Tom would want.”
Shoreham-Wading River senior running back Chris Gray struck first on a muffed punt by Center Moriches, scooping up the ball and going the distance. Three plays later, freshman cornerback Xavier Arline intercepted a pass and took the ball to the end zone for the Wildcats’ second score. Unable to move the chains, the Red Devils punted the ball away, and again mishandled the kick. Shoreham-Wading River senior fullback Chris Sheehan scooped up the live ball and zig zagged across the field until he too reached the end zone. Kyle Boden, a junior running back, answered next on a handoff, bouncing outside and racing toward the finish line. The point-after attempt by junior kicker Tyler McAuley was good in three our of the four attempts, to make it a 27-0 game just eight minutes into the contest.
Senior quarterback and captain, Cutinella, struck next on a keeper play. He scored on a 54-yard run, his brother’s jersey number, along the left sideline, and McAuley’s kick put the Wildcats out in front 34-0 with two minutes left in the first quarter..
“I had no expectations, but we practiced hard all week and we came out flying,” Cutinella said. “Because we came out playing 150 percent, the score was a result of that.”
“It’s extremely sentimental that this field, in a football game, is officially dedicated to Tom. This is a team sport and we leaned on everyone to make a contribution, and that’s what Tom would do and that’s what Tom would want.”
Gray scored again 90 seconds into the second when he shot through a hole up the middle and strode into the end zone untouched. He said despite big losses from last season, his new team, including the players who didn’t know Tom, have been dedicated to keeping their winning ways and “Tommy Tough” motto alive.
“We came out hard and maintained that momentum the whole game, and that really helped us,” he said. “Yeah, we lost 18 seniors to graduation — [Chris] Rosati, [Dean] Stalzer [Jimmy] Puckey [and Jon] Constant — but we have players that’ve been waiting their turn and they work hard in practice and that shows on the field.”
The Red Devils’ running game was extinguished by the Wildcats’ swarming defense. As a result, Center Moriches endured multiple three-and-out situations, and Shoreham-Wading River head coach Matt Millheiser leaned on his bench the rest of the way.
“With tonight’s atmosphere, the kids just came out ready to play and this team wasn’t going to let anyone stand in their way on this field tonight,” he said. “The breaks went our way early with the blocked kick and the good field position, and Xavier with that interception and took it back to the house, and after that, the kids relaxed a little bit and they played very loose, so it was a perfect storm for us.”
After a touchdown from senior running back Christian Aliperi, the Wildcats took a 47-0 lead into the halftime break.
Unable to mount any kind of a running game, the Red Devils were forced to throw deep, and Shoreham-Wading River junior cornerback Kyle Lutz intercepted a second-half pass. There was buzz along the sideline that another touchdown and extra-point kick would bring the Wildcats’ lead to 54, but a bad snap by Center Moriches left the quarterback chasing the loose ball into the end zone, where he was tackled for a safety that put Shoreham-Wading River out in front 49-0.
Sheehan fielded a free kick cleanly and plowed his way to the goal post for six more points, McAuley’s foot made it seven, for the 56-0 win.
Shoreham-Wading River hasn’t lost a game since November 2013, when the team fell to Babylon in the second round of the playoffs. Last season, the Wildcats claimed their second consecutive Long Island championship title.
Although it’s a new season with a new field, the expectations within the team remain the same.
“We’ve talked about ‘Tommy Tough’ for years now — what it means by how we play and how we carry ourselves,” Millheiser said. “So I think it was important, especially tonight, to play with that intensity and play with that execution and play with heart — and they did that from the opening play.”
For Kelli Cutinella, Thomas and Kevin’s mother, she felt both exhilarated and heartbroken during the first game on the newly-dedicated field.
“Emotionally I felt excitement for them, but it makes me sad that the field is named after my son,” she said. ”I wish that he was here with us, but Kevin is an amazing person — he made us feel excited for tonight — he has that kind of influence on us. I’m humbled by how the community came out, supported us and supported the football team and for the beautiful tribute to my son.”