Thanks largely to its defense and Xavier Arline, the Shoreham-Wading River High School football team will have an opportunity to defend its county championship.
As it has for virtually all of this season, that defense/Arline mix has been a winning combination for SWR, and that was the case once again Friday night.
That defense made things difficult for Bayport-Blue Point’s offense, and Arline figured in all of SWR’s touchdowns, running for five of them and passing for the other. It added up to a 40-14 SWR victory in the Suffolk County Division IV semifinal, the Wildcats’ final game of the year at their Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. With that, the second-seeded Wildcats earned a place in their fifth county final in six years and a shot at redemption. SWR (9-1) will face No. 1 Mount Sinai (10-0) for the championship Nov. 24 at Stony Brook University.
Mount Sinai had finished the regular season in first place with the aid of a 35-21 triumph at Shoreham on Oct. 12. The Mustangs won their semifinal Friday night over No. 4 Babylon, 28-6.
“It’s huge,” said guard/defensive end Matt Zahn, who made five tackles, assisted on another, batted down a pass and had one of SWR’s three sacks (the other two came from Jake Wilson and Mike Casazza). “But I think we set the expectation for ourselves early this season, and ultimately this is just another step closer to reaching our end goal, which is an LIC [Long Island championship], so I think we’re moving in the right direction, for sure.”
It would be hard to argue that point.
Arline, as he is prone to do, put on a show. The senior quarterback/cornerback ran for 214 yards on 20 carries. His final run was a beauty, an extraordinary 75-yard dash to the end zone in which he slipped away from tacklers and was the beneficiary of a key block by Zahn. Earlier, Arline showed speed and determination in racing around the right side before stretching near the pylon for his fourth TD of the game.
“It’s usual ‘X’,” Zahn said. “It’s crazy that we’re used to it at this point, but still, once you see it on film …”
On the passing end, Arline went 7-for-15 for 132 yards with an interception and an 18-yard TD pass in which he rolled to his left before finding Tyler Schwarz on an out pattern. He also threw a two-point pass to Wilson.
Arline seemed most excited, however, about his interception in the third quarter that set up one of his TD runs. After that pick, he turned toward the SWR sideline with his arms outstretched in a dramatic manner and the ball in his right hand. He has run for 34 TDs and passed for eight this season. Going into the game, he was Suffolk’s rushing leader with 1,602 yards, according to Newsday.
But Arline’s friends helped out a lot, especially on the defensive side of the ball. SWR held No. 3 Bayport (6-4) to only 39 rushing yards, 63 yards of offense and three first downs in the first half. For the game, SWR outgained the Phantoms, 424-216.
“We just came out from the first whistle, just wanting to set the tone early,” said Robert McGee, who made six tackles, three for losses.
Casazza, who made a game-high seven tackles from his middle linebacker position, said: “I just loved the hitting … I think we had an attitude tonight. We came in saying that we were going to hit some guys and move them around, and I think we did that all night.”
One player who did cause SWR trouble was Jameson Smith (seven catches, 109 yards). After SWR forged a 26-0 lead, Smith caught two TD passes from Luke Schartner (15-for-28, 149 yards), including a great grab of a 28-yarder in the end zone.
It was after that score, though, when SWR suffered a loss. Gavin Gregorek, returning the kickoff, had his left leg in an awkward position when a Bayport player fell on it. The senior, who plays running back and cornerback, was helped off the field without putting pressure on the leg.
“Obviously you hate to see it,” Zahn said. “He’s a great player, a great kid, but he’s just got to move forward, focus on recovering and someone else is going to have to step up.”
Casazza said: “It was an awful sight because he’s such a great friend and a great kid, and obviously I want him back on the field, but it seems serious, so hopefully he gets better down the road.”
SWR was already without running back/cornerback Max Barone (ankle).
Now SWR gets a shot at another county crown.
“Going back [to the final], it’s exciting, and we’re just looking to get it done,” said kicker Jake Ekert.
Casazza said: “It means everything, you know. The whole offseason, this was our goal, to come back here and just do it again, and I’m excited. I’m excited to be back.”
Photo caption: An exultant Xavier Arline reacts following his interception for Shoreham-Wading River, as does Bayport-Blue Point’s intended receiver, Logan James. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)