Learning from a loss wasn’t part of the equation for Shoreham-Wading River in its 2014 and 2015 Long Island football championship runs. That’s because the Wildcats didn’t suffer any losses, going 24-0 during that stretch.
But SWR went 3-2 through its first five games of the 2016 season. The Wildcats weren’t exactly reeling, but they weren’t really good, either. That’s when the learning began.
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“We needed those two losses. It woke us up and we became monsters after that,” quarterback/safety Kevin Cutinella said.
Shoreham-Wading River beat Miller Place, 27-14, on Oct. 14 and didn’t lose again, winning its final seven games to become only the fourth school ever to win three straight Long Island titles. In that game, Chris Gray scored all four touchdowns and gained 239 yards on 28 carries.
“It was after the Miller Place game that it all started to click,” coach Matt Millheiser said. “We started to believe ‘we can do this.’ It took off from there.”
Gray led Suffolk in rushing with 2,234 yards and scored 37 touchdowns. He ran for three touchdowns and gained 205 yards in last Sunday’s 20-10 victory over previously undefeated Seaford in the Long Island Class IV championship game.
Gray, fearless at 5-7, 170, also excelled on defense and as a kick returner. “I love to compete. I love to run behind that big line. We all work hard for the guy next to us,” he said. “We had a bunch of great athletes with one common goal: to win the LIC. No one gave up after those two tough losses.”
The Wildcats’ best player was two-way lineman Ethan Wiederkehr, who is headed to Northwestern. At 6-6, 285 pounds, Wiederkehr was the road-grader who opened holes for Gray and an unstoppable defensive force. In the Long Island Championships, it was Wiederkehr’s dramatic throw-down sack that turned the game in the Wildcats’ favor.
Seniors Wiederkehr, Gray, Cutinella, fullback/linebacker Chris Sheehan, two-way tackle Dean Stalzer and wide receiver/safety Daniel Cassidy were members of all three championship teams. For Cutinella, it has been a particularly emotional journey.
In his sophomore season, his older brother Thomas died after a collision during a game. After taking a couple of weeks off, Kevin rejoined the team for the playoff run and played on special teams in the LIC. Last season, he was a two-way starter but had to watch the LIC from the sideline because of an injury.
He played a prominent role in 2016 and had his best game in the Suffolk semifinals, scoring four TDs and rushing for 189 yards in a 49-6 victory over Miller Place.
After the Wildcats’ three-peat and the presentation of the championship trophy, Millheiser handed the hardware directly to Cutinella, who was engulfed by joyous teammates.
“Three in a row! I never thought this would happen,” Wiederkehr said. “But we wanted to make this a football school and not just a lacrosse and baseball school.”