On the day that Shoreham-Wading River High School retired Tom Cutinella's No. 54 jersey, his teammates found the perfect way to honor their fallen friend.
The Wildcats, playing their first game since Cutinella died after a collision with a Glenn player during a game in Elwood on Oct. 1, defeated Wyandanch, 54-0 -- a score that equaled Cutinella's number -- Saturday in Shoreham.
"It's a nice thing that happened. It's not something we were shooting for," Shoreham-Wading River coach Matt Millheiser said of the score. "It wasn't a goal or anything like that. It came about kind of on its own."
The game, even with SWR's dominance, was a sidebar to the main event, which was the tribute to Cutinella. A facsimile of his jersey hung from the press box, as did a sign reading "#54 FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS." Every SWR player wore a "54" patch on his helmet as well as a navy blue towel with "54" in gold.
In gestures that Millheiser called "very classy," the Wyandanch players all wore black wristbands with white 54 numerals, and every Wyandanch player took part in the pre-game coin toss at midfield, presenting white flowers to the Shoreham-Wading River captains and coaches.
"One of the things we learned through this whole thing is that the football family is not just here in Shoreham or there in Wyandanch,'' Millheiser said. "It's been county-wide, and we've been getting calls from all over. Football really is a family."
Before the game, it was announced that Cutinella's jersey No. 54 would be retired by his school. "I know the person that Tommy was, that we've spoke about and that people have learned about this past week," Millheiser said. "That needed to be done. I know it was important to our players and to our program. Hopefully, that jersey sits up there for generations to come and there will be people here to talk about Tommy."
A number of other teams around Suffolk County also retired No. 54 in Cutinella's honor.
Tom's brother Kevin, a sophomore on the varsity who was his brother's backup at linebacker, did not play and, according to his father, Frank, will not play for the rest of the season. But Kevin remains a part of the team. He stood among coaches and players on the sideline on Saturday, wearing a coach's jacket and hat.
"We gave him some coaching attire and told him if he's going to be a coach, he's got to look like a coach," Millheiser said with a smile.
Once the score became 42-0 after the first drive of the second half, the coaches realized that SWR could slightly manipulate the scoring to finish at Cutinella's number. The Mustangs (5-0 in Suffolk IV) took a knee on their last two extra-point tries and ran harmless dive plays into the line with the second unit to run out the clock.
"If it was difficult for them, they did a great job of hiding it. They played very, very well from start to finish," Millheiser said. "It was a little bit of a release for them, a time to get back to playing football, which they love."
Quarterback Danny Hughes scored one touchdown on a zig-zagging 36-yard run and threw for another, directing a SWR offense that scored touchdowns on its first six possessions. Isreal Squires scored on a 15-yard run and a 65-yard interception return.
"I know there were some uneasy feelings and I know there must have been a lot of things going through their minds," Millheiser said. "But over the past week, these young men have become men. They've been through a lot but they stayed focused and were ready to play. Later, there will be some tough times, when the adrenaline wears off, but I spoke to them about sticking together as a family."
Fittingly, the last two touchdowns that ensured the final tally were scored by Nick Gray (1-yard run) and Jason Curran (27-yard interception return).
They were two of Tom Cutinella's best friends.
As it turned out, 54-0 was the perfect score.