Judging by his postgame reaction, one could have easily thought that Tyler McAuley had just kicked the game-winning field goal in the 23rd annual Empire Challenge senior all-star football game Friday night.
A gutsy decision by New York City coach Anthony Odita to go for two points and the win after a touchdown with no time left backfired. Michael Nicosia’s pass attempt failed and Long Island won a thriller, 28-27.
Players from the Long Island bench, including McAuley, a kicker from Shoreham-Wading River High School, charged onto the field at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium to celebrate. The a 5-foot-5, 170-pound McAuley was so charged up that he leapt in the air to do a shoulder bump with 6-1, 210-pound defensive end Jack Lavache. McAuley landed on his backside, but he was smiling the whole time.
“I was just going nuts because in a situation like that you got to go crazy,” he said. “Even though I got knocked on my butt, it was really worth it.”
It was a wild ending.
Long Island pulled ahead on a flea flicker with 41 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Tommy Heuer (9-for-19, one touchdown, one interception) received a pitch from Derek Cruz before floating a 34-yard pass to Owen Glascoe in the end zone. Briant DeFelice’s extra point made it 28-21.
New York City then mounted an unlikely scoring drive, capped when Titus Leo pulled down a Nicosia pass in the corner of the end zone with no time left. That preceded the unsuccessful two-point attempt.
“I did not think that they were going to do that, but they have a lot of guts to go for two,” said McAuley.
Nicosia (8-for-13, 109 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), named the player of the game, said: “I told everybody just to keep calm and I would take us to the promised land. Obviously, we came up a point short.”
Asked if he had any doubt about the decision to attempt the two-point conversion, Odita said: “There was some doubt, but we played hard to get in that situation.”
Long Island’s Dylan Laube was named the game MVP. The Westhampton Beach running back ran the ball 13 times for 80 yards and three touchdowns. He also made two catches for 25 yards.
“It was a fun time,” he said.
McAuley pretty much said the same thing, even though he did not step onto the field for a single play. Even though he did not take a kick, he got a kick out of the game.
“Just getting the experience was just great, and I’m just so glad to be a part of one of the 50 kids to be selected to the Empire Challenge,” he said.
McAuley, who also played soccer for Shoreham and said he may play soccer for Mitchell College in Connecticut, had his own rooting section. Among those in the announced crowd of 8,452 were his parents, Maura and Jeff, his older brother, Zach, who had also kicked for Shoreham before graduating, and Tyler’s girlfriend, Julianna Asaro.
DeFelice, who is from Farmingdale, handled all the kicking for Long Island. He went 4-for-4 on extra-point attempts and took five kickoffs covering 278 yards.
Long Island leads the series, 13-8. The first two games were between Nassau and Suffolk.
After three punts to open the game, New York City struck first, with Tyler Winston (five catches, 102 yards) getting behind his man and reeling in an 18-yard fade from Nicosia for a first-quarter touchdown.
Long Island evened things on the first play of the second quarter, Laube receiving a snap direct from center for a 5-yard scoring run.
New York City then mounted a 16-play, 81-yard drive but got nothing out of it. Jonathan Cato made a reception close to the goal line, but fumbled the ball out the side of the end zone for a touchback.
Laube was effective out of the Wildcat. He took a direct snap and darted around the left side, appearing to catch a corner of the end zone. It was initially ruled a touchdown by a linesman, but then overturned. No matter. On the next play, Laube took another snap and went in from a yard out with 3:24 left in the half.
But New York City drew even at 14-14, thanks to Shamar Logan’s spin off a tackle on the way to his 20-yard run with 1:25 left in the second quarter.
An acrobatic interception by New York City’s Randy Brito not only prevented another Long Island score with 26 seconds left in the half, but earned him a double high-five from Boomer Esiason on the sideline.
Laube and Cato exchanged 1-yard TD runs in the third and fourth quarters to even the score at 21-21, setting up the late-game dramatics.
Said McAuley, “I knew we would get the job done.”
Photo caption: Happy Shoreham-Wading River kicker Tyler McAuley runs off the field after Long Island holds on for a dramatic victory over New York City in the Empire Challenge. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)