The message was spelled out in small but prominently displayed capital letters across the chest of every player on the 2015 Shoreham-Wading River football team. “TOMMY TOUGH.”
“There’s never a day when you don’t think about him,” SWR senior quarterback Jason Curran said of his close friend Thomas Cutinella, who died after an on-field collision in 2014.
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For the second year in a row, the Wildcats honored their friend and former teammate by hoisting a Long Island Class IV championship trophy. Last year it was at Stony Brook and this year it was at Hofstra, after a 35-7 victory over Locust Valley on Nov. 27.
Both titles capped unbeaten seasons as Shoreham-Wading River has won 24 consecutive games, the best current streak on Long Island. And both games were preceded by the team walking onto the field double-file, arms linked, carrying a banner with Cutinella’s number 54, and were followed by a giddy team photo in which players held Cutinella’s game jersey from the 2014 season, when he was a two-way starter.
“Last season was tragic and triumphant. The players and the community persevered through tremendous sadness and adversity,” coach Matt Millheiser said. “This season was no longer an effort to win for Tom, but a continuation of our new motto ‘Tommy Tough.’ The players prepared and played in a way that was representative of Tom’s dedication, work ethic, and overall high moral character.”
The Wildcats were run-oriented, led by senior Chris Rosati, who gained 1,518 yards, averaging 10 yards a carry, and scored 30 touchdowns, four in the LIC. Curran added 486 yards, Jon Constant 408 and Kevin Cutinella, Tom’s brother, 309. Kevin had to watch the LIC from the bench after surgery for a torn ligament in his left ankle suffered in the Suffolk IV championship game against Glenn.
He had filled in admirably at running quarterback when Curran missed three games because of injury, and Constant (90 yards) did the same for Cutinella in the LIC. “That was part of the next-man-up philosophy we had all season,” Millheiser said.
The Wildcats’ line, led by 2015 Newsday All-Long Island selection Ethan Wiederkehr, a junior, and seniors Dalten Stalzer, Ryan Letscher and James Puckey, sparkled all season on both sides of the ball. Linebackers Ethan Baumack, Will Loper, Cutinella and Constant and a secondary led by Rosati and Fehmel helped the defense surrender only 6.8 points per game.
“Going 24-0 was a milestone I always wanted to reach,” Rosati said. “We felt a lot of pressure coming into the season. We got everyone’s best game and we knew we were the team to beat.”
That was unfamiliar territory for Shoreham-Wading River, which won its first county title last season.
“This season started like no other. We were, for the first time, the team that everyone else was chasing,” Millheiser said. “We knew we had a very good team despite the many seniors that graduated last year. The key was trying to figure out how the new pieces would fit. When we won a close, hard-fought victory over Glenn late in the regular season, we believed we could make another run.”
A run that not only ended in a second straight Long Island Championship but also in what the players believe will be their legacy. “24-and-0,’’ Curran said. “We are changing the way people look at football in Shoreham and Wading River,”