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Football: Wildcats clear first playoff hurdle

The high school football playoffs are a different animal because with the playoffs comes the pressure of finality. One loss and it’s all over.

“It’s just a different atmosphere,” Shoreham-Wading River junior Chris Visintin said. “… It could be the last game of the season. You don’t want to let the older guys down as underclassmen.”

Second-seeded SWR didn’t suffer a letdown of any sort Friday night when it beat No. 6 Center Moriches soundly, 54-6, in a Suffolk County Division IV qualifying-round game (essentially a quarterfinal) at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field.

The defending county champion Wildcats blew the game open with a 35-point second quarter for a 41-0 halftime lead on a frigid night, with temperatures dropping into the low 30s. Xavier Arline ran for four touchdowns, a two-point conversion and 210 yards, David Tedesco scored two TDs and SWR turned three Center Moriches turnovers into TDs (SWR had no turnovers). One of those was a pick-six by Visintin from his free safety position.

All in all, it was the sort of dominating performance that has come to be expected of SWR (8-1) this year.

“Just the way we were clicking all cylinders — offense, defense, special teams,” Arline said. “It really showed that football is a team game. What we did today really showed what we’re about.”

Arline did his thing, scoring on runs of 8, 27, 20 and 10 yards, among his 21 carries before he was replaced at quarterback by Visintin in the second half. The senior now has 1,602 rushing yards and 29 TD runs for the year.

“He’s a dynamic player,” SWR coach Aden Smith said. “I think he’s the best player in the county, so it’s time that he gets the credit that he deserves.”

Playing Center Moriches (5-4) for the second time in 15 days (SWR was a 57-14 winner at Center Moriches on Oct. 25), the Wildcats showed they meant business with their strong second quarter.

The SWR defense even got into the scoring act with Visintin’s interception — his third of the year — returned 65 yards for a score. Anthony Giordano nearly had a pick-six himself, returning his first interception of the year to the Center Moriches 2-yard line, setting up Tedesco’s second TD with one minute and 17 seconds left in the second quarter.

“It’s a great start,” Giordano said. “I mean, 41-nothing at half. We just had the momentum going. The defense made a turnover and the offense capitalized.”

Following Arline’s fourth TD on the first possession of the third quarter, Center Moriches fumbled on the kickoff return. SWR’s Sean Miller came up with the ball and seven plays later Gavin Gregorek scooted in for the score, making it 54-0.

There’s no question that 54 is SWR’s favorite number. It’s the number that was worn by Thomas Cutinella, the late former player SWR’s field is named after. To keep the score at 54, kicker Jake Ekert purposefully missed the extra point, kicking the ball low into the turf.

SWR’s shutout was lost on the third play of the next series when Emond Frazier broke away for a 58-yard TD run.

“The team really rallied together,” Giordano said. “We went out there and we said we were going to play our hardest and we did, and we just looked really good as a unit all around. We were waiting for this. We were prepared for this. We just came out here and played our game.”

Arline said: “I was really proud of the way we came out. Playoffs is a whole other season, so teams are going to come out, try to give us [their] best, but we didn’t take anyone lightly. Everyone had a great mindset. We came in and we did what we had to do.”

SWR will play another home game next Friday night against No. 3 Bayport-Blue Point (6-3) in a county semifinal. Smith said his players understand the stakes.

“They know what this part of the season is about. It’s win or go home,” he said. “You got to earn the right to play the next week. Everybody wants to play the next week or everybody wants to win their last game, and if you don’t earn the right to win your last game, you’re disappointed. Everybody’s fighting.”

Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River quarterback Xavier Arline (four TDs, 210 rushing yards) tries to find running room against Center Moriches’ defense. (Credit: Bill Landon)

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