All-star games can lead to some peculiar game situations. Especially in a football game like the Empire Challenge, the annual showcase event featuring the best of Long Island against New York City.
Early in the second quarter Wednesday night at Hofstra University, the Long Island squad had already exhausted its two allotted punts for the half when it found itself facing a fourth-and-10 from its own 5 yard line.
A no-doubt punt situation, Long Island had to go for it, leading to a few confused looks from a record-crowd of 9,762 packed inside the stadium.
On a desperate play, quarterback Ben Kocis found Andrew Ris for a 17-yard gain. The completion led to the unlikeliest of drives: 10 plays, 95 yards, capped by a touchdown from Kocis. He ran in a 5-yard keeper with 8:06 left and a two-point conversion put Long Island ahead 8-0.
The score helped propel Long Island to a 24-18 victory over NYC in a game that featured two locals: Riverhead’s Jeremiah Cheatom and Shoreham-Wading River’s Tyler Anderson. In an often sloppy game that featured its share of miscues that comes with the territory of an all-star game, Long Island went to the air behind the arm of the Huntington High School quarterback Kocis to emerge victorious. Kocis was the games’ Most Valuable Player, completing 10 of 15 passes for 165 yards.
New York City held a huge advantage in rushing yards — 208 to 45 — but it wasn’t enough.
Cheatom played running back and had a handful of carries, gaining 23 yards, which actually ended up leading the team. He also played on special teams as a kick returner. Cheatom gained nine yards on a key play late to help Long Island close out the game after New York City scored a late touchdown to get back within seven.
Anderson saw time on defense at outside linebacker. Riverhead varsity coach Leif Shay was an assistant coach for Long Island under Babylon coach Rick Punzone.
Long Island won the Empire Challenge for the third straight year.
An interception from Long Island’s Lawson Prendergast helped seal the victory for Long Island with 3:14 left. He picked off a pass from Anthony Cruz and returned it 25 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown, extending Long Island’s lead back to two possessions.
Long Island led 11-0 before New York City got on the board in the third quarter. On 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line, Kahil Lewin leaped toward the goal line and stretched out his arms to put the ball across. A two-point conversion trimmed Long Island’s lead to 11-8. Lewin was the star for New York City, which did most of its damage on the ground. Lewin carried 15 times for 99 yards and received New York City’s MVP award.
The momentum swung back into Long Island’s favor when New York City coughed the ball up on its second play after having just got the ball back on a turnover on downs. Long Island took over just before the start of the fourth quarter in New York City territory and immediately capitalized.
Kocis scored again, this time on a short pass left to tight end Josh Valentin, who scampered 44 yards up the left sideline for the score. The extra point made it 18-8.
New York City coughed it up again on the kickoff, giving the ball back to Long Island in prime scoring position. Cheatom ripped off a 16-yard run on first down to set up first and goal from the 10. But Long Island went backward on its next four plays and turned it over on downs.
New York City ran off an 11-play, 70-yard drive capped by a 23-yard field goal from Michael Guzman that trimmed the lead to 18-11 with 6:20 left.