Offense leads L.I. over NYC in Empire Challenge

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Long Island’s offense enjoyed a record-tying performance in last Friday night’s Empire Challenge senior all-star football game, which unlike each of the previous three was decided well before the closing seconds.

Led by a dynamic set of skill position players, Long Island scored on all five of its first-half possessions to build a 24-point lead on the way to a convincing 44-20 victory over New York City before a crowd of more than 8,000 at Hofstra. Quarterback Greg Campisi (St. Anthony’s) earned MVP honors by throwing for two touchdowns — both to Carey’s Nick Giacalone — and rushing for 63 yards on seven carries. Running back Kevon Hall (Roosevelt) had a team-leading 68 yards on the ground and scored twice.

“It was one of the best two weeks I’ve ever been involved with in football,” said Rich Reichert (St. Anthony’s), who served as Long Island’s head coach to cap a 41-year coaching career. “It was the classiest group of coaches and kids to work with,” he added.

The previous three Empire Challenges were decided by a combined eight points, including the past two on the final snap, although there was no drama this time as Long Island tied the mark for most points set in 2005. The game, in its 24th season, benefits the Boomer Esiason Foundation and cystic fibrosis research. Last year, L.I. held on for a 28-27 win by stopping a two-point conversion attempt with no time left on the clock. In 2017, New York City prevailed 37-35 on a field goal as time expired.

“Being a part of this game is an unbelievable experience,” said Hall, the 2018 recipient of the Thorp Award, given to Nassau County’s most outstanding player. “We made each other better every day in practice and tonight we executed and put up a lot of points,” he added.

Under the direction of offensive coordinator Mike Stanley (Carey), Long Island racked up 325 yards on 42 plays in the first half and led 30-6 following Chaminade kicker Anthony Pecorella’s 35-yard field goal at the horn.

“We were extremely deep at every position and as balanced as you can imagine,” Stanley said. “It’s such a selfless and humble group of kids. Everything they showed on the field tonight is what they brought to practice for two weeks.”

The game-opening drive saw Long Island set the tone by marching 71 yards on 13 plays, capped by Giacalone’s 3-yard touchdown grab. The defense, which yielded only 122 yards in the first half, swiftly forced a NYC punt to get the offense back in business. The second drive, quarterbacked by Matt Sluka (Kellenberg), covered 89 yards and culminated with Hall’s 15-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 lead less than a minute into the second quarter after Pecorella’s second of six PATs.

Before NYC’s offense showed any spark, the margin was 20 following Trevor Yeboah-Kodie’s (Garden City) 5-yard touchdown scamper with 5:45 remaining in the half. Tottenville quarterback Timothy Brown then directed NYC on its best possession of the night, a 91-yard drive, and finished it off with a 10-yard touchdown strike to Iona Prep’s Camari Glasgow to cut the margin to 20-6.

Long Island responded with 10 points in the final minute of the half. Oceanside wideout Jake Lazzaro keyed the ensuing drive with a 38-yard reception from Garden City’s Colin Hart off a gadget play that set up his 20-yard touchdown catch on a fade from Sluka.

Hall had a 12-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and Malverne’s Jovani Duran’s fumble recovery led to Giacalone’s 4-yard scoring grab in the fourth. Defensively, Massapequa’s Marco Musso led the unit with six tackles.

“We couldn’t have had a more talented group,” Lazzaro said. “We knew we’d be able to put up points and that our defense would play hard.”

Long Island now holds a 14-8 edge in the series. Sixteen of 22 meetings (the first two matchups featured Nassau vs. Suffolk) have been decided by fewer than eight points, including five by a point.