Motivation wasn’t a problem for the Shoreham-Wading River football team Friday night. Rival Mount Sinai was in town for an anticipated matchup between the only two undefeated teams in Suffolk County Division IV, both tied for first place.
And yet, that may not have been the greatest motivating factor.
Friday marked the seventh anniversary of the tragic death of Thomas Cutinella, a SWR player who died while playing in a game at Elwood/John Glenn.
The Wildcats sought to honor his memory the best way they know how. They donned their gold “TOMMY TOUGH” jerseys, which they usually reserve for playoff games. “This was a big night, so we thought it was right to bring it out,” senior Dylan Kiely told reporters afterward.
Before the game they visited a monument with a statue of Cutinella. Zack Wilson, carrying a banner bearing Cutinella’s retired No. 54, led the Wildcats as they charged onto the field named after Cutinella. And then the Wildcats battled hard against a tough Mount Sinai team, stopping a late drive by the Mustangs on downs to hold on for a 20-13 triumph. It was SWR’s 18th consecutive win over a three-year span.
Cutinella would have heartily approved.
“Any time you beat Mount Sinai it’s a good win,” SWR coach Aden Smith said, “because you know that they are going to be prepared, they’re going to want to beat you and they’re gonna fight you for four quarters, so that’s a great win.”
SWR (4-0) had taken a 20-0 lead on Dylan Zahn’s 33-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to a streaking Liam Leonard, followed by Max Barone’s two-point run with 2 minutes, 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
“When the big plays were there we hit them,” said Barone.
But Mount Sinai (3-1) wasn’t done. Devin Carros’ 58-yard pass to James Carretta set up Carretta’s 2-yard TD run late in the quarter. Three plays into the fourth, Carretta returned a punt 70 yards for a TD, making it a one-score game.
Mount Sinai recovered a SWR fumble on the Mustangs’ 23-yard line with 1:19 to go. On the next play Gavin Takacs made a 36-yard reception to bring the ball into SWR territory, but the Wildcats held on, breaking up a fourth-down pass with 17 seconds left. Zahn then took a knee to end it.
“They play us tough, you know,” Smith said. “We’ve found a way to, you know, secure a victory and, you know, our kids believe and they fight hard for four quarters, 48 minutes, every single play. That’s what we preach. And it came down to the last couple seconds here.”
SWR has defeated Mount Sinai in the last three Suffolk Division IV finals. They’re familiar foes.
“Our biggest rival is definitely Mount Sinai, for years,” Kiely said. “Just people know each other. They jaw off-season, in season, so it gets pretty chippy.”
Mount Sinai wasn’t at full strength. Not only were the Mustangs without their No. 1 quarterback, Joseph Spallina (torn meniscus), but they were also minus their No. 2 QB, Jaden Rotella (collarbone), and top receiver, Jake Lumley (collarbone), said coach Vinnie Ammirato. The starting assignment went to the third-string quarterback, Carretta, who split time behind center with Devin Carros.
“That’s a testament to their program,” Smith said. “If that’s their number three quarterback, it looks like offensively they haven’t missed a beat.”
Neither has Barone, who ran for 145 yards on 27 carries. He burst through the middle for a 13-yard score, his 10th rushing TD of the season. Zahn ran for 69 yards, a 7-yard TD and passed for 120 yards.
Kiely (two catches, 77 yards) said SWR had been waiting for the right time to call some passing plays when the Mount Sinai safeties crept up.
“Those are the right moments,” he said, adding: “Virgil Romer, our offensive coordinator, is a great, great offensive coordinator. He knows what he’s doing.”