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Ethan Wiederkehr’s defense, Chris Gray’s offense lead SWR to LIC Class IV title

Shoreham-Wading River defeated Seaford, 20-10, to win its third straight Class IV Long Island championship, at Stony Brook University, on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (Credit: Newsday / Owen O'Brien)

It was a statement sack, a sack that had the look and feel of finality. If it was, indeed, the last sack of Ethan Wiederkehr’s career, it served as an emphatic exclamation point to a sentence that ended with the words “three-time Long Island champions.’’

Wiederkehr, Shoreham-Wading River’s 6-6, 285-pound defensive end, bull-rushed past a blocker and tossed Seaford quarterback A.J. Cain to the ground for a huge 13-yard loss that helped the Wildcats to a 20-10 victory Sunday night in the Long Island Class IV championship game before more than 3,000 at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium.

“I knew I had to take things in my own hands,” said Wiederkehr, whose sack led to a short punt and a short field that SWR turned into a 17-yard touchdown run by Chris Gray (30 carries, 205 yards, all three touchdowns) and a 13-3 lead with 4:32 left in the third quarter.

“This could be my last game on defense,” said Wiederkehr, who expects to be an offensive tackle at Big Ten school Northwestern beginning next year. “I wanted to go out with a spark.”

He and the Wildcats (10-2) went out with a bang, winning their third consecutive Long Island championship and handing Seaford (11-1) its first loss.

Wiederkehr, Joe Miller (8 1⁄2 tackles each) and Chris Sheehan (6 1⁄2 tackles) led a defense that held Danny Roell — who finished the season with 2,179 rushing yards — to 67 yards on 23 carries.

Seaford threw the ball more than usual and had success with Cain (14-for-27, 219 yards) and Kevin Murphy (10 catches, 166 yards). They teamed up for an 18-yard touchdown with 3:45 left, when the game was all but over.

That’s because what Wiederkehr did on defense, Gray did on offense: take matters into his own hands. “He’s a warrior and definitely our leader,” Wiederkehr said of the scrappy senior, who stands 5-7 and weighs 170 but finished his final season with 2,234 yards and 37 touchdowns. “We know he’s going to run hard on every play, and that makes the line want to block hard for him on every play.”

That formula worked when SWR needed it most. The Wildcats were trailing 3-0 late in the second quarter, and having trouble moving the ball, when Gray exploded for a 63-yard run to the Seaford 15. That set up his 6-yard touchdown run and a lead the Wildcats never relinquished. “It was a quick trap. The line opened the hole and that was a great feeling to break away,” Gray said. “I thought that play was a game-changer.”

So was Wiederkehr’s sack. It came on a third-and-5 from the Vikings’ 21 and forced them to punt from their own end zone. Gray returned it 11 yards to the Seaford 23 and, two plays later, high-stepped through a huge hole for a 17-yard TD and a 13-3 lead. He was untouched, and SWR was untouchable after that.

Wiederkehr made two big stops on running plays, and when Seaford failed to convert a fourth-and-5 from its own 33, Gray finished yet another short drive with a juke-filled 24-yard scoring run. Tyler McAuley’s kick made it 20-3 with 1:55 left in the third quarter and made Seaford’s 3-0 lead after the game’s first drive a distant memory.

“They had us on our heels a little in the first half,” SWR coach Matt Millheiser said. “Then there were a handful of times where Ethan just dominated his guy and made a big play.”

Gray’s big plays were more finesse than fury. “We only had three or four possessions in the first half and couldn’t get our rhythm,” Millheiser said. “Chris’s run was huge for our psyche.”

Naturally, Gray ran to Wiederkehr’s side of the line. It’s definitely not his final game as a path-clearing blocker. That’s a sentence that is just beginning.

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