Written by Phil D’Abbraccio Friday, 01 July 2011 00:00
On the evening of Tuesday, June 21, the top high school football players of Long Island (LI) squared off against New York City’s (NYC) squad, in the 16th annual United Healthcare Empire Challenge. Nearly 12,000 fans packed out Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium to watch some of New York’s most talented athletes, almost all of whom will continue their athletic careers in college.
Farmingdale High School was well represented on the field, by coach Buddy Krumenacker, and players Carl Brescia, Brian Prendergast and Kevin Wahl, even as their classmates’ graduation ceremony was taking place on the other side of Hempstead Turnpike in Hofstra’s Mack Complex.
The game started with a NYC kickoff to LI, returned by Oceanside’s Gene Garay to LI’s 39-yard line. On fourth down with four yards to go, quarterback Tyler Heuer, also an Oceanside Sailor, found receiver Seiddrik Ervin for a gain of seven yards to move the chains. After a handoff to running back Derelle Hunter for a gain of 14, Heuer went back to Ervin for a 26-yard touchdown and the game’s first points. Not even four minutes into the game, LI led 7-0.
The Empire Challenge features an interesting set of rules that are not usually seen in any level of football. The teams are not allowed to punt more than twice in the same half and the clock continually runs, even after an incomplete pass or when the ball-carrier runs out of bounds, until there are two minutes remaining in the half.
NYC returned the kickoff across midfield, but the LI defense was well prepared. On third down and 19, quarterback Terrel Hunt attempted to run for the first down but was tripped up by Brescia and after the following play, LI forced the turnover on downs.
LI began to move the chains, with a pass to Garay, a handoff to running back Travis Lock and a 15-yard penalty. Heuer mishandled a snap. NYC recovered the fumble.
Three plays later, NYC experienced the same problems and LI jumped on the fumble after the miscue. They took over inside their opponent’s 20-yard line and settled for a 26-yard field goal to take a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
NYC then threatened to score their first points, starting from their own 40-yard line and working inside the Island’s 10-yard line. Again, the LI defense was impressive. Two handoffs failed to reach the end zone and Hunt fell just short on his own attempt to score. After a false start, Lynbrook’s Mike Kozlakowski put enough pressure on Hunt to force the incomplete pass and NYC was held scoreless.
A 22-yard pass from quarterback Stephen Skon to Jack Delahunty, LI could not convert on third down and long and opted for the punt, which was downed inside NYC’s five-yard line.
The two sides then exchanged punts and NYC had just over a minute to get on the scoreboard. Led by quarterback Jordan Paul, the offense drove onto LI’s side of the field.
From the 26-yard line, Paul lofted a pass that was bobbled once but caught at the six-yard line by leaping receiver Abraham Ocasio, who easily trotted into the end zone for the touchdown. NYC drove 79 yards in just 55 seconds to cut the deficit to 10-7 at halftime.
In the first possession of the second half, NYC again tried a quarterback sneak to convert on fourth down and short. Again, LI stood its ground, but punted the ball right back.
NYC’s first play of the drive was a 58-yard end-around handoff to Steve Browne, moving inside LI’s 10-yard line. On second down, Hunt rolled to his right and put his throw only where sliding receiver James Barry could catch it.
The six-yard touchdown gave NYC its first lead of the game, 14-10, going into the fourth quarter.
After forcing a punt by LI, NYC’s offense began to kill time, running three handoffs and throwing a short screen to move the chains twice. On another fourth and short yardage situation, the quarterback sneak was stuffed and LI took possession on downs with six minutes remaining.
A misdirection handoff by Heuer to Travis Houpe brought LI into NYC territory. Heuer then connected with Gene Garay, his favorite target, to get a first down and move into the red zone. After defensive pass interference was called on a pass intended for Garay, Heuer took it himself for a two-yard touchdown run. After the extra point, LI led 17-14 with three and a half minutes left.
After a 16-yard pass moved the City across midfield, Kozkakowski struck again with a sack of Terrel Hunt, forcing them to throw deep downfield. Three incompletions later, LI regained possession with two minutes to kill.
LI’s offense was able to use up all of NYC’s timeouts, but NYC regained possession with 29 seconds left at their own 36-yard line. A successful screen pass took them past midfield. After three short passes, NYC was able to attempt a 52-yard field goal, but it fell short as time expired and LI came away with the 17-14 victory.
This game was not the last time these three Dalers will be seen in uniform; Brescia will continue to play linebacker for Merrimack College, Wahl will be a running back at Springfield College, and Prendergast will play lacrosse at Towson University.