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Football: New starting QB, running game shines in SWR’s opener

Chris Visintin could have done a whole lot worse for a quarterback mentor.

Visintin was the backup to Xavier Arline when Arline quarterbacked Shoreham-Wading River. Arline, a two-time Riverhead News-Review Athlete of the Year and a finalist for the Hansen Award, given to Suffolk County’s most outstanding football player, started at quarterback for Navy in the Army-Navy game last fall as a freshman. When Arline played for SWR, Visintin soaked in the knowledge.

“He was a great teacher,” said Visintin.

Not only that, but Visintin also gained valuable playing time behind center in 2019. Because SWR’s powerhouse team was involved in so many blowouts, it wasn’t unusual for the second half to become Visintin’s time when Arline was pulled out of games with victory safe in hand.

So, Sunday provided an interesting twist when Visintin, making his first varsity start at quarterback, did not play a single offensive snap in the second half. By then, the League VII season-opening win was all but in the bag.

SWR sprang into action in dominating fashion, bulldozing its way to a 61-7 pounding of Amityville before a limited crowd of about 70 at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field in Shoreham. It was SWR’s eighth straight win dating back three years. In its first game since winning its fourth Long Island championship in 2019, SWR looked sharp, as if it hadn’t missed a beat. The Wildcats ran for eight touchdowns (including two apiece by Max Barone, Visintin and Dylan Zahn) and capitalized on seven Amityville turnovers.

From the time Dylan Blanco led the Wildcats’ pregame charge onto the field, running while holding the team’s No. 54 flag high above his head in honor of the late Cutinella (a former SWR player who died after suffering a head injury during a game in 2016), it was all SWR.

“We came out with a bang,” said wide receiver/strong safety Johnny Schwarz.

And Visintin, looking poised and up to the job, did his part. “I’m always a little nervous, my first game, my first start at quarterback,” he said, “but Xavier [in 2019] taught me well. I was just ready for the moment.”

The senior completed all five of his passes for 61 yards. Among them was a 22-yard TD flip to Jake Wilson. Visintin also had TD runs of 21 and 27 yards on a scamper along the right sideline and a quarterback draw, respectively.

SWR coach Aden Smith said Visintin “rose to [the] expectations. X set the expectations very high, and Chris understands. He’s a very bright kid. He understands the level of focus needed to be able to match that.”

Wilson said: “Chris played remarkably. He’s got some big shoes to fill, and he did just that today. All his balls were on point and his run game was amazing.”

The same could be said of the Wildcats as a whole as they ran over Amityville — literally in some instances. Seven SWR ballcarriers totaled 341 yards on the ground. Barone was responsible for 97 of them from 10 carries. Among those with TD runs were Schwarz and Sean Miller.

Zahn, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, relieved Visintin at QB in the second half and ran for 81 yards. One of his two TDs was a 56-yard effort.

Meanwhile, the SWR defense did its job, holding Amityville to minus-24 yards rushing and 51 total yards. SWR benefitted from interceptions by Schwarz and Daniel Mercado and fumble recoveries by Dylan Kiely, Jeffrey Lachenmeyer, Aidan Franks, Visintin and Aidan Clifford. Sacks by Lachenmeyer, Blanco, Connor Hughes and a shared sack by Clifford and Steven Opiela cost Amityville 17 yards.

“Everybody came out with some juice and ready to get back at it,” Wilson said. “It was awesome.”

Amityville’s TD came on Myles Goddard’s 11-yard reception, set up by his 51-yard catch of a Joshua Garrett pass.

SWR, which had won five of the last six Suffolk Division IV titles, went 11-1 in 2019 while Amityville went 0-8. This past fall the football season was postponed and pushed back to March and April. Following a five-game regular season, the top two teams in each of Suffolk’s eight six-team leagues will advance to conference semifinals.

Of course, with the coronavirus pandemic, this season could be fragile. Every moment and every game must be appreciated. There are no guarantees.

“I think we’re talented, you know, but under the guidelines and the restrictions, you could lose a kid here and there because of quarantine,” Smith said. “The pandemic makes it very, very uncertain.”

One thing seems certain, though. The Wildcats have a quarterback.