No. 54 was everywhere.
Shoreham-Wading River's players marched into a nearly empty LaValle Stadium on the Stony Brook University campus Sunday afternoon carrying Tom Cutinella's jersey. A small group of Carey High School fans, still lingering after their team's victory in the Long Island Class II championship game, stood and cheered.
A much larger crowd -- the school district's two communities must have been deserted Sunday -- gave the first of many standing ovations when the players were introduced. All of them wore No. 54 on their towels and most of them also had the number and initials "TC" inked on their legs, a tribute to Cutinella, 16, an SWR junior who died after a collision during a game Oct. 1.
Then, just before the pregame coin toss, Roosevelt's captains delivered a No. 54 Roosevelt jersey to the SWR captains.
"That touched our hearts," SWR running back/safety Chris Rosati said. "It was a classy gesture and showed that they were thinking of Tom. Everything we do, he's around us, and tonight he was on the field next to us."
All of Wildcat Nation was thinking of Tom, especially after Shoreham-Wading River rolled to a 47-13 victory in the Long Island Class IV championship game, bringing home the school's first Long Island championship in football.
"I described it last week as bittersweet, and I can't think of a different word now," SWR coach Matt Millheiser said. "But I couldn't be happier for these kids."
Among the kids who excelled for the 12-0 Wildcats were quarterback Danny Hughes (119 yards rushing, three touchdowns; 94 yards passing, one TD), Rosati (121 yards, one touchdown, eight tackles) and Isreal Squires (80-yard TD reception, 17-yard TD run).
"We were so high on emotions today. To accomplish this for Tommy is a great feeling," Hughes said.
He hooked up with Squires on the exciting 80-yard touchdown pass with 1:06 left in the first half. Hughes also scored on a 13-yard run early in the third quarter for a 34-13 lead, putting SWR in clear control after a shaky first half in which it allowed two long pass plays and more points than it had allowed in a game all season.
"We just settled in. Coach always says the first seven minutes is like weathering a storm," Hughes said. "After that, we did what we do best and put up points."
Rosati, who scored on a 31-yard run in the second quarter for a 20-13 SWR lead, said: "We had a couple of blown plays and after that, we made adjustments in the secondary. Our focus was on stopping the run."
SWR limited Shamari Kirkpatrick -- Long Island's rushing leader with 2,340 yards -- to 126 yards on 26 carries.
"Once we got ahead, I knew we'd pull away," tight end/defensive end Ethan Wiederkehr said. "We're in the history books. We've started something here. We're all excited, but there is an empty hole in our hearts. It's still a losing season because we lost Tommy."
When SWR assembled for a team photo in the end zone, Cutinella's jersey was hoisted in front. The players yelled "Five-four!" and posed for another photo with everyone holding up five fingers on one hand and four on the other. They also chanted "Tommy Tough" for one final photo, a motto that was on the shirt Millheiser wore during warm-ups.
Tom's brother Kevin, a sophomore, played on special teams for a second straight week and made 11/2 tackles, including a beauty in the open field on a kickoff return. He wore a white band around his left calf with the letters "TC."
"I was very excited the whole game," Kevin said. "Every time I looked back, I saw Tom's jersey draped on the bench. It inspired me. This is one of the best experiences of my life, but it would've been better if he was here."
In many ways, he was.