All week Long Island players heard how big and tough New York City would be. They heard their practices weren’t as fervent as the city, that their players weren’t taking it as seriously as they should be.
Then Tuesday night came, and Long Island used its defense to outmuscle their opponents from the west, 17-14, in the 16th annual United Healthcare Empire Challenge before a record crowd of 11,992 at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.
Mepham senior Nick White took part in the game for Long Island.
Long Island took an 8-6 lead in the all-time series for a game that pits the best on the island against the best in the city to raise money for the Boomer Esiason Foundation's battle against cystic fibrosis.
New York City felt the full wrath of Long Island when game MVP Mike Kozlakowski barreled through a massive line to sack Terrell Hunt with 2:43 left to secure the victory.
Kozlakowski, who helped Lynbrook win a Long Island championship with that same thrashing power, finished with two sacks and six tackles and broke up one pass.
“We practiced strong all week, and came together today to get the job done,” he said. “It meant a lot to me to finish off like this, ending my regular season with a championship. I had to finish off my career with a win.”
Mike Marando had the game on his foot as he attempted a 52-yard field goal in the final 6 seconds of the contest. City quarterback Scott Gadsden completed three passes on the final drive, but his momentum was eventually spoiled.
“Our defense played their backs off today,” said Lindenhurst quarterback Steve Skon, who was 5-for-13, passing for 51 yards. “They were in sync and got after the ball. A lot of credit goes to them.”
Long Island led 10-0 at the half after a 26-yard touchdown pass from Oceanside’s Tyler Heuer to Lawrence’s Seiddrik Ervin and a converted field goal by Kellenberg’s Eric Wienclaw. On that drive, Derelle Hunter, out of St. John the Baptist, completed a 14-yard run, and Ervin caught another pass for 7 yards.
The City made it interesting when Paul Jordan (New Utrecht), who was named Player of the Game for his team, threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Abraham Ocasio (Cardinal Hayes) with 15 seconds left in the first half. The score was 10-7 in Long Island's favor before they took a 14-10 lead on a James Barry (Poly Prep) touchdown to open the third quarter.
“When we went down we realized we had to step it up and smack them in the mouth a little bit,” said St. Anthony’s wide receiver Brian Kensil.
Heuer, who finished 6-of-14, passing for 67 yards, scored on a two-yard dive run with 3:30 left in the ball game to put Long Island ahead.
The game symbolizes the end of high school football careers for all players.
“It was awesome to play with scenery like this,” said Kensil, who played his final football game since he will play lacrosse at Jacksonville State next year. “It doesn’t get better with the lights and fans like this.”
1 2 3 4 F Long Island 7 3 0 7 17 New York City 0 7 7 0 14
- LI, Heuer to Ervin, 26-yard TD
- LI, Wienclaw, FG
- NYC, Jordan to Ocasio, 26-yard TD
- NYC, Barry TD
- LI, Heuer, two-yard TD