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How a one-handed TD catch turned Whitman into believers

Handout photo of Chris Silverio is #5 on

Handout photo of Chris Silverio is #5 on Whitman football celebrating a touchdown Photo : Liz DeMonte Co-Director of Public Relations & District Photographer South Huntington Union Free School District Credit: Liz DeMonte

Whitman football coach Robin Rosa easily identified the moment his program turned into a winner.

"It came on a nearly impossible catch that you had to see to believe," he said. "A one-handed grab that turned a loss into a win against Ward Melville in the second game of the 2021 spring season. That was a turning point for our team. It was the moment our players believed they could win a close game."

Trailing by five with 29 seconds remaining, Whitman ran four verticals in a trips right formation and wide receiver Chris Silverio made a spectacular catch for a 42-yard touchdown for a 28-25 win over Ward Melville.

"He caught the ball with one hand against his helmet with 16 seconds left," Rosa said. "We finally were learning how to win."

He added, "In 2019, we had a 2-6 record and lost three of those games by a total of 13 points. We couldn’t win a close game. It was, ‘what could go wrong will go wrong’ because we were young with eight sophomores on the team."

Fast-forward to the fall of 2021 and Whitman knows a lot about winning.

Since "The Catch,’’ the Wildcats are 15-1, the only defeat coming in a 27-21 overtime loss to Floyd in the Suffolk Division I title game.

Whitman avenged that loss by ripping Floyd, 42-7, at Stony Brook University last Friday to capture the school’s first Suffolk title in 37 years.

"We paid our dues when we were younger and had to learn how to close out games," middle linebacker Liam Villanti said. "We knew the championship road went through Floyd. We promised each other and our coaches we’d be back in the title game and finish the job."

Whitman (11-0) will play Massapequa (10-1) for the Long Island Class I title at Hofstra University at noon on Friday. It is Whitman’s first appearance in the 29-year history of the Long Island Championships.

Massapequa won back-to-back Class I titles in 1993 and 1994 and lost to Longwood in 1998. All three games were decided by five or fewer points.

Whitman is loaded with playmakers, from quarterback Nicholas Bottoni and halfback A.J. Evans to wide receivers Brandon Ivy, Tyriek Mays-McKoy and Rasahn Thompson. The Wildcats averaged 38.4 points per game.

"We can do so many things on offense," said Bottoni, who has thrown for 2,116 yards and 26 touchdowns. "The offensive line has been excellent and gives us time to execute our plays."

Rosa said staying healthy has been a key to Whitman’s rise to the Suffolk crown. He points to two key people behind the Wildcats’ success in Mike Charles — the strength and conditioning coach — and Whitman alum Elena Tonna, the team’s private yoga instructor.

"Our players all bought in during the offseason and they’ve been lifting with Mike Charles," Rosa said. "And our strength and conditioning has been a big plus. We’ve been relatively healthy all season. We had one injury and that was a concussion."

The Monday schedule includes yoga, film work and a walk-through.

"Yoga is tough, and stretching is so important," Rosa said. "We’re building core strength and we’re getting into the meditation and mental side of concentration and focus. And something very funny: Our linemen would rather die than quit in front of the instructor. Elena is an outstanding motivator."

The Wildcats have captured the attention of the alumni and the community.

Dave Loehle, who quarterbacked Whitman’s Rutgers Trophy team in 1974, and teammate and wide receiver Jim Dietrich recently stopped by practice to speak with the team.

"They were great," Rosa said. "I’m getting letters from graduates in Whitman’s Class of 1966. Every coach should enjoy their one moment in time. It’s been very cool."

With all the excitement that swirls around the Whitman program, 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 film and want to beat Massapequa, remain undefeated and win that Rutgers Trophy."

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