Jake Wilson’s size as a young kid naturally translated to him playing as a lineman when he first stepped on the football field. Only so many kids can be the ones who get the majority of carries or passes thrown their direction.
Johnny Schwarz, one of several teammates for Shoreham-Wading River who grew up together playing Pee Wee football, recalled how when the team needed a key run, they would turn to Wilson.
“We’d give it to him right up the middle and he’d just run people over,” Schwarz said.
On Saturday afternoon, in his final high school football game, it was a flashback to those days on the youth field as Wilson — now 6-foot-1, 210 pounds — put together a remarkable four touchdown performance to lift the Wildcats to the Conference IV title.
Wilson, who steamrolled his way to three goal-line touchdowns, effectively sealed the game when he broke a 50-yard run late in the fourth quarter as SWR defeated Mount Sinai, 34-20, at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field.
“Absolute animal, kid can’t be stopped,” said senior quarterback Chris Visintin.
It was a career high in touchdowns for Wilson, who spent nearly the entirety of his varsity career as the player helping carve open holes for other runners.
The win capped an undefeated season for the Wildcats (7-0), who dominated all throughout the delayed and pandemic-abbreviated spring season. SWR won its third straight county title — all against Mount Sinai — and have now won six of the last seven starting with the program’s first title in 2014.
In any other year, the county championship would have been played at Stony Brook University on a typically chilly late November day. Instead, the Wildcats won on their home field on a gorgeous 70-degree day.
“I was telling my dad this morning, we’re playing football in the middle of April in lacrosse season,” Schwarz said. “It’s so crazy. Like a year ago today, I would have never thought we’d be playing football in the middle of April.”
The unusual season and circumstances didn’t damper the accomplishment for a veteran team that arrived at the first practice in March prepared for what was to come. In the fall, players got together to run 7-on-7 drills, even with the uncertainty of whether the seniors would ever get one more shot.
Then the text message arrive in late winter from their coach: The season was on.
“I’ve been playing football with these boys for 8-10 years, and I’m just blessed to go out with a win,” Wilson said.
Wilson, who’s listed as an H-back on the roster for offense, can do it all. Even after scoring touchdowns, he didn’t come off the field for a breather, but rather got right into formation to line up to block on the extra point. He doesn’t miss a snap on defense, either.
Wilson scored on a 4-yard run early in the fourth quarter to put the Wildcats ahead 27-14. After both teams traded possessions, the Mustangs (3-2) rallied with an impressive drive, capped by a fourth-and-goal touchdown pass from quarterback Joseph Spallina to Gavin Takacs from 17 yards out.
And with 3:52 left, the Wildcats’ lead was trimmed to 27-20.
After the Wildcats recovered an onside kick, Wilson immediately got to work, ripping off the 50-yard run on the first play of the drive.
“The hole was closed so I bounced it outside and kept going for extra yards and got lucky,” Wilson said.
The Wildcats had a balanced attack on offense with five players getting at least six carries. Visintin opened the scoring with a 33-yard touchdown run on the first possession of the game to cap a 13-play drive. Senior David Tedesco carried the ball early and junior Max Barone chipped picked up more of the load in the second half.
But when the Wildcats got within the red zone, it was the Wilson show. He scored from 1-yard out and 2-yards out for his first two scores.
“It’s his turn,” SWR coach Aden Smith said of Wilson’s evolving role on the offense. “He’s a senior, our best player. Good coaching is giving the ball to your best player. It makes you look like a good coach.”
Still, the Wildcats rarely relied on Wilson this season in the running game. His offensive playmaking was more reserved for the passing game when he wasn’t otherwise blocking.
“The credit all goes to the line,” Wilson said, echoing a statement usually said in reference to him as a blocker. “Without them, I wouldn’t be in the spot I am right now.”
The Wildcats found themselves in a unique situation at halftime when the game was tied at 14. The Wildcats had dominated so much in every other game, they never found themselves in a close game in the second half.
The Wildcats shut out the Mustangs in their first meeting in mid-March, but the Mustangs were missing several key players that game due to COVID protocols.
The Mustangs had some success throwing the ball as Spallina threw for a pair of scores. The Wildcats had the advantage in the trenches, making it difficult for Mount Sinai to break big runs in the ground game.
“We just knew we had to come out fired up,” Visintin said of their mentality at halftime. “Stick to our fundamentals.”
The typical pomp and circumstance that comes with a county title was slightly muted. After shaking hands with their opponent, the Wildcats turned to head toward the end zone where they typically gather for the postgame talk from the coaches. Athletic director Mark Passamonte reminded the players to gather at midfield so he could hand the captains the championship plaque.
On the field where their season began, the Wildcats smiled, cheered and cherished the moment to be champions once again.
Afterward, Smith couldn’t help but wonder what else the team could have accomplished in the Long Island Championships.
“It’s too bad there’s not one more game to play,” he said.