This was big time for a big player.
And when it comes to big players, there weren’t many bigger at the 24th annual Empire Challenge than the 6-foot-4, 330-pound Joe Puckey.
The last of the Puckeys to come through the Shoreham-Wading River High School football program became the first Puckey to play in the senior all-star game, a fundraiser in the battle against cystic fibrosis, Friday night at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.
“It’s a great experience,” said Puckey, who played center for Long Island’s second-team offense in its 44-20 win over New York City. “It’s like a one-of-a-kind experience.”
SWR coach Aden Smith, who served on the Long Island coaching staff for the first time in his career, said Puckey “looks like he fits in on a team of all stars. It’s a great experience for him.”
Long Island won its second straight game to take a 14-8 advantage in the series.
Puckey had also played noseguard for SWR, which went 10-2 last fall and won its fourth Suffolk County Division IV championship in five years. Friday’s game represented one last chance for him to play high school football on Long Island.
“Just have a lot of fun because it will never happen again,” he said before the game.
Smith said Puckey, an All-County player, was a “critical cog in our success with his leadership and with his example and with his resiliency.”
Puckey will bring those qualities to Ithaca College, where he will join older brother Jimmy on the team for his senior season. Another Puckey brother, Bobby, recently graduated from Ithaca.
Joe Puckey said he learned a lot in two weeks of practice with the Long Island team. He had to develop a chemistry with the second-team quarterback, Kellenberg’s Matt Sluka.
“The first couple of days, not that they were rocky, but it was just more like a learning experience, learning what a center has to do with the quarterback and the cadences and how we want to stack and everything because it’s all about timing,” said Sluka.
Sluka said Puckey “looks great, all over the field, just making plays. It comes down to everyone, though. Everyone’s doing their job, everyone’s making everyone better and he’s really just doing great.”
Did Smith have any advice for Puckey beforehand?
“The expectations are high. The stage is set,” Smith said before the game. “I just told him to go out here and do his job. That’s what I teach all the kids before every game, ‘Do your job. Do what you have been coached to do and you’ll be fine.’ ”
Puckey was the biggest player on the field, with the exception of New York City’s 6-5, 330-pound offensive tackle, Peter Sluder (St. Peter’s).
Puckey’s first two plays were as a left tackle for Long Island’s extra-point team. Those followed touchdowns by Nick Giacolone (3-yard catch from Greg Campisi) and Kevon Hall (15-yard run). Campisi, the game MVP from St. Anthony’s, went 9-for-15 for 57 yards and two TD passes. He also ran for 64 yards.
Puckey’s first play from scrimmage came with 8 minutes, 57 seconds left in the second quarter. He made a shotgun snap to Campisi, who handed off to Trevor Yeboah-Kodie, who broke off a 17-yard gain. It was a good omen for Long Island.
A 5-yard run by Yeboah-Kodie stretched that lead to 20-0 with 5:45 to go in the second quarter.
New York City got on the scoreboard when Timothy Brown (21-for-26, 253 yards, two TDs, one interception), the player of the game, found Camari Glasgow for a 10-yard TD pass.
But Long Island closed out the first half on Sluka’s 20-yard TD connection with Jake Lazzaro and a 35-yard Anthony Pecorella field goal as time expired for a 30-6 halftime lead.
“We had a few good players [at SWR] but everyone here is a great player,” said Puckey.
Long Island continued its fine play in the third quarter. After stopping a 16-play New York City drive at its own 6-yard line, Long Island mounted a drive of its own that ended with Hall finding his way 12 yards around the left side for his second TD.
In the fourth quarter, Campisi flipped a 4-yard pass for Giacolone’s second TD. New York City replied with Brown’s 20-yard TD pass to Shawn Harris.
What has it been like coaching Puckey?
“It’s been a pleasure,” Smith said. “It’s been an honor. It’s just an honor for me to coach all of my kids. I don’t take that lightly, that the parents trust me with their most precious gifts.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River center Joe Puckey (79) snaps the ball to Long Island quarterback Greg Campisi and blocks New York City’s Joe Garbowski (95) during the 24th annual Empire Challenge Friday night at Hofstra University. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)