How a one-handed TD fishing turned Whitman into a believer
Whitman football coach Ruben Rosa easily identified the moment when his program turned into a winner.
“It happened in an almost impossible hunt that you had to imagine to believe,” he said. “A one-handed grab turned a loss into a win over Ward Melville in Game Two of the Spring 2021 season. It was a turning point for our team. It was the moment our players thought they could win in a close match.”
Lagging by five with 29 seconds left, Whitman ran four poles in a right-handed Tours formation, and wide receiver Chris Silverio made a stunning catch for a 42-yard drop for a 28-25 win over Ward Melville.
“He grabbed the ball with one hand on his helmet 16 seconds before the end of the match,” Rosa said. “Finally we were learning how to win.”
Rosa continued, “In 2019, we had a record 2-6 and lost three of those games for a total of 13 points. We couldn’t win a close match. It was, ‘What can go wrong, goes wrong’ because we were young with eight students a year. second in the team.
Fast forward to fall 2021 and Whitman knows a lot about winning.
Since “The Catch,” the Wildcats’ only loss has been 15-1, the only 27-21 loss of overtime for Floyd in a Suffolk Division I title match.
Whitman avenged that loss when he tore Floyd, 42-7, at Stony Brook University last Friday to claim the school’s first Suffolk title in 37 years.
“We paid our dues when we were younger and had to learn how to finish matches,” said midfielder Liam Villante. “We knew the road to the championship went through Floyd. We promised each other and our coaches that we would go back to the title match and finish the job.”
Whitman (11-0) plays Masabiqua (10-1) for the Long Island First Category title at Hofstra University on Friday afternoon. It’s Whitman’s debut in 29 years of LIC history.
Masabeca won back-to-back First Division titles in 1993 and 1994 and lost to Longwood in 1998. All three matches were the Barnburners and were decided by five points or less.
Whitman is filled with playmakers, from quarterback Nicolas Botoni and full back AJ Evans to wide receivers Brandon Ivey, Terek Miss McCoy and Rasan Thompson. The Wildcats average 39 points per game.
“We can do a lot of things when attacking,” said Butoni, who threw for 2,116 yards and 26 touchdowns. “The offensive line was excellent and gives us time to play our plays.”
Rosa said maintaining her health was a key factor in Whitman’s rise to the crown of Suffolk. He points to the two main people behind the Wildcats’ success in Mike Charles, the strength and conditioning coach, and Elena Tuna, Khirbet Whitman, the team’s yoga instructor.
“Our players have all bought over the holiday season and have been raising the bar with Mike Charles,” Rosa said. “And our strength and conditioning was a big plus. We were relatively healthy all season. We had one injury and that was a concussion.”
Monday’s schedule includes yoga, movie action, and walks through.
“Yoga is hard, and stretching is very important,” Rosa said. “We build core strength as we get into the mental aspect of meditation and focus. And the very funny thing, our cleaners would rather die than quit smoking in front of the coach. Elena is a wonderful motivator.”
The Wildcats have captured the attention of alumni and the community.
Dave Lowell, who captained Whitman’s team to the Rutgers Cup in 1974, recently stopped by training to speak with Whitman. He was accompanied by former teammate and future wide Jim Dietrich.
“They were great,” Rosa said. “I receive letters from alumni of the 1966 Whitman class. Every coach should enjoy one moment of time. It was absolutely fantastic.”
With all the excitement swirling around the Whitman show, Rosa knows there’s still work to be done.
“They’re definitely on a cloud but they’re still focused,” he said. “We’re still watching the movie and we want to beat Masabeca, stay undefeated and win the Rutgers Cup.”