The identity of the Mount Sinai football program under coach Vinnie Ammirato has always been centered around the run game. The Mustangs historically view running the ball as option 1A, 1B and 1C.
Only occasionally do they slip in a passing play.
This year, the playbook has been expanded for the Mustangs behind senior quarterback Brandon Ventarola. The Mustangs can attack through the air just as effectively as on the ground.
The passing attack was vital in Saturday’s marquee matchup of unbeaten Division IV teams as the Mustangs defeated Shoreham-Wading River at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Ventarola threw for three touchdowns, including two to Matthew LoMonaco, as the Mustangs seized first place in the division with an impressive 35-21 victory in front of a crowd of more than 800.
“Everyone doubted us, so it’s great to get a win today,” LoMonaco said.
Division IV football games are often won in the trenches. And just like the Mustangs, the Wildcats historically are a run-first team.
But with both defenses’ bottling up each other’s running attacks, the game came down to who could make more plays through the air.
That was the Mustangs (5-0).
“We came in here knowing we need to throw and run the ball,” said LoMonaco, who had six catches for 169 yards and also scored on an interception return.
Big plays propelled the Mustangs. LoMonaco hauled a 70-yard reception that set up the team’s first touchdown, a two-yard run from Joseph Spallina. LoMonaco also added a 62-yard touchdown reception on top of his defensive score.
The teams combined to throw the ball more than 30 times.
“No excuses, they beat us,” said Shoreham coach Aden Smith. “We didn’t make the plays. We had an opportunity to make plays, a couple third downs that we needed to get off the field and they converted for some big drive extenders.”
The Wildcats (4-1) never led and Mount Sinai blew the game open with touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half.
Shoreham quarterback Xavier Arline scored on a 40-yard run in the final minute of the second quarter for the Wildcats’ first score. The Mustangs took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
The Mustangs opened the third quarter with a nine-play drive that ate up nearly half the quarter. On fourth-and-11 from the Wildcats’ 30, Ventarola connected on a slant play with Derek Takacs for a touchdown.
It proved to be a turning point of the game. Rather than get the ball back with a chance to tie, the Wildcats were facing another two-touchdown deficit as things only got worse.
“We knew the quarterback was able to throw it up,” Smith said. “A couple big plays here and there.”
Arline still had a big day, scoring a pair of touchdowns and rushing for 142 yards on 24 carries.
Ventarola said the players on both sides are familiar with each other dating back to when they were playing youth football.
“[Arline’s] a heck of a quarterback, we just came after him today,” he said.
The Wildcats had their chances early in the game to take control, but turnovers and missed plays were costly. Penalties were also a problem for Shoreham, as they had eight penalties enforced against them in the first half alone.
Shoreham junior Johnny Schwarz was Arline’s main target when he had to throw. Schwarz caught six passes for 91 yards. Sophomore Max Barone caught four passes as well, including a six-yard touchdown pass in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats didn’t allow much on the ground. The Mustangs totaled 99 rushing yards.
But the big plays through the air were the difference.
Robert McGee, the newest member of the Wildcats who transferred from St. Anthony’s, started at safety on defense and also played special teams. He wasn’t involved in the offense.
Smith said the team has packages for McGee on offense.
“As long as he continues to progress we continue to insert him in where we can,” Smith said.
The Mustangs walked out of Shoreham with a victory during the regular season last year as well. But it was the Wildcats who won the more important game in the county championship.
Smith said he won’t necessarily be looking to draw comparisons to last year as a takeaway from Saturday’s loss.
“I’m going to go lick my wounds, watch the film and figure out how we can get better and take it from scratch,” he said.
Top photo caption: Xavier Arline races up the sideline as Mount Sinai’s Matthew LoMonaco dives from behind. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)