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John Corpac

By Bill Landon

A late Long Island-hit drew a penalty, leaving New York City with an even bigger advantage with two seconds left on the clock in the 22nd annual Empire Challenge football game. Monsignor Farrell kicker Paul Inzerillo tried to draw Long Island offsides without success, but just ahead of a delay of game flag, sent the ball flying as the clock ran down to zero, and nailed the 32-yard field goal attempt to snatch a second straight NYC victory, 37-35, from Long Island. The June 21 loss marks the second year in a row Long Island lost in dramatic fashion at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.

“That penalty hurt us,” Elwood John Glenn wide receiver Damien Caffrey said. “But to play in this game is a dream come true.”

“That penalty hurt us, but to play in this game is a dream come true.

—Damian Caffrey

A Long Island interception led to NYC’s first touchdown of the game, with four minutes left in the opening quarter. But Ward Melville senior John Corpac received a pass from Long Island quarterback Aaron Ruthman, of Elmont, and bolted down the right sideline for the touchdown. Christian Carrick added the extra point to tie the game, 7-7.

NYC took the lead with the team’s second touchdown of the game, but the kick failed, and left Long Island with a chance to pull ahead. Ward Melville wide receiver Dominic Pryor, already looking comfortable on his new field, where he will instead though play lacrosse next year, was found twice for big yardage. The first connection was for 18 yards to NYC’s 40-yard line and the second, was for 28 yards to the 5. Two plays later, Farmingdale running back Jordan McLune took advantage of that opportunity by capping of a six-play, 58-yard drive, and Carrick’s kick gave Long Island the lead, 14-13, with 7:14 left in the first half.

Unfortunately, the lead was short-lived as NYC scored another touchdown, put the 2-point conversion play failed.

“It’s tough to come out and play football in June, but I was so motivated to come out here and play with such great athletes, and play my hardest,” Pryor said. “[NYC is] just a hard-nose team with great athletes.”

It looked like a Ward Melville football game from there on out though, as Pryor, who caught give passes for 89 and two touchdowns, scored his first on a 24-yard pass from Elmont quarterback Aaron Rutgman on fourth-and-seven.

Pryor got the call again on the next score, as the Ruthman-Pryor tag-team connected on a 17-yard pass. Carrick’s kick lifted Long Island to a 28-19 advantage.

“[This game] it’s just something that I’m blessed to be in,” Pryor said. “It’s a great event with everything that it stands for, and I’m glad to be a part of it.” Prior to Wednesday’s game, no Patriots had played in the Empire Challenge. With cornerback Eddie Munoz also on the field, it put not two, but three Patriots in the Empire Challenge for the first time.

“[This game] it’s just something that I’m blessed to be in. It’s a great event with everything that it stands for.”

—Dominic Pryor

But New York, held to 17 yards in the second half until midway through the fourth quarter, exploded for a five-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a 45-yard touchdown from Christian Anderson to Seba Nekhet. The PAT made it 28-26 with seven minutes left in regulation. NYC’s defense forced Long Island to punt from deep in its own end and the city took advantage of the favorable field position to score on Siddiq Muhamad’s 12-yard run that made it 34-26. The special teams completed a 2-point conversion that brought the score to 36-28.

Corpac continued the strong Ward Melville showing as he handled another punt return 83 yards, going coast-to-coast to tie the game.

“I was telling my teammates on the sidelines: ‘I gotta take this one back,’” Corpac said. “’I got to do it.’ And sure enough, I saw the hole and I took it.”

Carrick, who was perfect on the evening, put Long Island ahead with 2:44 left in the final quarter.

NYC threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock, and got a gift when Long Island was flagged for a late hit. The 15-yard penalty brought NYC to Long Island’s 22-yard line.

“I was scared leading by a point with eight seconds left,” Caffrey said. “It was pretty crazy, because their offense is really good. They brought it to a whole new level.”

Corpac, who is bound for Stony Brook University’s football team in the fall, echoed his longtime teammate-s sentiment of the significance of the Empire Challenge.

“[To play in this game] — it’s a great honor,” he said. “It’s the best way I could ask to end my high school football career.”

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John Corpac. File photo by Bill Landon

In 21 years, not one Ward Melville football player has been invited to compete in the Empire Challenge. This year three Patriots will get the chance to put on the pads one more time.

John Corpac, Eddie Munoz and Dominic Pryor were chosen by the coaches of the Long Island team, all of which led their squads to county titles this year, to play in the game that pits Long Island all-stars against the best of New York City.

“It feels amazing knowing I’ll be able to suit up once more in a sport that I’ve loved since I was young,” Pryor said. “I couldn’t be more proud to represent Ward Melville, especially after what we accomplished this season.”

Dominic Pryor. File photo by Bill Landon

The three standouts were part of a Patriots team that upset No. 1 Lindenhurst in the Division I semifinals to make it to the county championship for the first time in 30 years.

“After losing in counties,” Corpac said, “this game is a redemption game for me and my teammates that made it, to show that we belonged where we were.”

Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said his three athletes, who were named All-State by the New York State Sportswriters Association, don’t need redemption, because they’ve shown they belong among the best of the best.

“They are just excellent athletes who love football, and combined those attributes with a willingness to go the extra mile — whether it was sacrificing their bodies and taking a big hit, or tackling a larger athlete, it didn’t matter — they laid it all on the line to help our team be successful,” he said. “And they’re a huge part of why we made it to the county championship this season.”

Corpac, a wide receiver and free safety who signed to play for Stony Brook University this fall, finished last season with a team-high 13 touchdowns through 11 games, four of which were on kickoff returns. The All-County and All-State honoree racked up 378 yards on 27 receptions, and rushed for 131 more and one touchdown. In total, he had 1,110 yards thanks to 532 added kickoff return yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Corpac had 58 tackles, 38 solo, and two interceptions.

While Munoz and Pryor will be playing lacrosse next year, at Stony Brook and Hofstra University, respectively, the two have also battled for big numbers at Ward Melville.

Munoz gained 454 yards on 37 receptions as a wide receiver, and rushed for 90, ending the year with eight touchdowns. He intercepted the ball twice as a strong safety, and made 57 total tackles, 37 solo.

“We put in a lot of hard work, but our teammates also helped us stand out, because without a good team we wouldn’t have been selected,” Munoz said. “Football to me is all about being tough and giving it your all on every play.”

Eddie Munoz. File photo by Bill Landon

Pryor ended his senior season with a team-high 604 receiving yards, averaging a team-high 16.3 yards per catch on his 37 receptions, rushed for 88 yards, returned kickoffs for 111 and even passed for 167. The wide receiver and defensive back also had two interceptions and made 28 tackles.

“Dom and Eddie are great examples of multi-sport athletes, and demonstrate how competing in multiple sports is a benefit,” Boltrek said. “Both of those guys have played on big stages before in lacrosse, and it was evident that those experiences paid dividends for us throughout the playoffs. I know them playing football has made them better lacrosse players. The toughness and grit that it takes to be successful in football is visible every time they step on the lacrosse field.”

Pryor credits his coaches and teammates, and playing in one of the toughest leagues on Long Island, for making him a better athlete day in and day out, but his head coach said it’s all about what the boys do.

“It’s great for the program to get this sort of recognition, but of course, the program doesn’t receive these honors without the individual efforts of these three players,” he said. “It’s no coincidence that all three of them started in all three facets of the game — offense, defense and special teams — and no matter who the opponent was, they had to game plan for these three.”

New York City opponents will have to make big plans to take down the trio, who said they have been best friends since elementary school. They’ll battle on the gridiron at Hofstra University June 21 at 7 p.m.

“I was hearing rumors that I might get selected, but once I actually got the news, I couldn’t be happier — it’s a dream to be able to play in this game,” Corpac said. “This sport is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’d do anything to play the season all over again. I cannot wait to put on the pads and play high school football one last time.”

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John Corpac wasted no time taking one to the house on homecoming game day.

The Ward Melville football team’s senior wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner knew if his team’s homecoming opponent, Patchogue-Medford, watched any film of his Patriots, they weren’t going to let him get his hands on the opening kickoff during their Sept. 24 contest.

“I was expecting a squib kick,” he said. “And that’s what I got.”

As the two teams collided on the opening play, Corpac picked up the ball, which the Raiders were trying to keep away from the dangerous return man, on the far right side of the field, jolted left to avoid a tackle, and, like running down an open highway, cruised all the way to the end zone for an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“I scooped the ball up, the hole was there and I only had to beat one guy,” Corpac said. “Kick returns are my favorite thing to do. It was the best feeling.”

The Ward Melville football team benefitted from a fast start during its homecoming matchup, but a strong finish proved the Patriots are ready to put up a fight this season. The team bested the Raiders 35-22 to avenge its 2015 homecoming loss.

“Last year Northport came in here and beat up a little bit on us — we lost — so for these seniors this was big for them,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “There were definitely some things that we have to clean up for the next game, but when we really needed them to step up the kids did a nice job.”

Patchogue-Medford mounted a charge up the field on its first drive following Corpac’s return touchdown, and bulled into the end zone on a 1-yard run to even the score.

“Last year Northport came in here and beat up a little bit on us — we lost — so for these seniors this was big for them.”

— Chris Bolterk

Ward Melville responded by moving the ball on its next possession, but a fumble recovered by Patchogue-Medford changed the tide. The Patriots’ defense made up for its offenses mistake, and forced Patchogue-Medford to settle for a field goal attempt, which was missed.

To open the second quarter, Ward Melville wide receiver and strong safety Eddie Munoz, who also recorded an interception, received a 29-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Wesley Manning. Munoz helped set up the score with gains of 28 yards and four yards earlier in the drive.

Manning tossed his next touchdown pass to junior running back Nick Messina. The play wouldn’t have been possible without senior cornerback and wide receiver Andrew McKenna’s second interception of the game. He also chipped in 35 yards on the ensuing drive. Messina’s 13-yard catch and senior kicker Joe LaRosa’s point after brought the score to 21-7 before halftime.

“Our special teams was excellent, our defense really came up big causing a lot of turnovers in key moments,” Boltrek said. “And offensively we did some nice things. When we got nice blocks and we scored, we threw the ball well, so there was some good and some bad, but we have to improve.”

Patchogue-Medford added seven points following another 1-yard run with 20 seconds to go in the third to pull closer, but Messina rushed the ball 52 yards for a touchdown with 6.5 seconds on the clock to re-extend the Patriots’ advantage.

Shortly into the final stanza, Messina rushed home another touchdown, this time taking the ball 22 yards to help his team jump out in front, 35-14.

“On those few plays the line did exactly what they needed to do,” Messina said. “If we could do that more often we could go far, and score more touchdowns.”

Boltrek said his team needs to clean up the blocking up front going forward, though he was impressed with his running back’s performance.

“Nick is a kid we all depend on because of his speed and his athleticism, and it’s warranted,” Boltrek said. “He had two breakaway touchdowns, he did a nice job catching along the backfield, so he did really well for us.”

Manning completed 15 of 22 passes for 240 yards, including two touchdowns. He said all the players were confident coming into the homecoming game after a strong week of practice. He said he enjoyed showing the team could get the job done through the air, and in the second half, on the ground, too.

“The feeling kept getting better and better as the game went on,” he said. “It’s great to win on your senior homecoming. There’s really nothing better. I think we’re really going to carry on momentum. We had a tough loss against Longwood and now we just have to keep the momentum going next week against Floyd.”

Ward Melville travels to William Floyd Oct. 1 for a 2 p.m. kickoff.

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Eddie Munoz leads the pack as he gains yards during a game last season. File photo by Mark D'Angio

By Joseph Wolkin

Ward Melville’s football team lost four key members during the offseason, each departing for collegiate play at a Division II or Division III school.

The Patriots will be without quarterback Matt O’Hea, linebacker Patrick Morelli, defensive end Tom Lorusso and running back Nick Cervone in 2016, leaving major holes in the team’s roster.

Wesley Manning evades a tackle and moves the ball up the field in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Wesley Manning evades a tackle and moves the ball up the field in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

However, for head coach Chris Boltrek, who enters his third year at the helm of the Patriots, improving on last year’s 5-3 record is the goal.

“Our expectations are pretty high,” Boltrek said. “We received the No. 3 seed out of 14 teams in the division. That shows everybody that the coaches in our league see us as being a pretty good team. Our expectations are to live up to those standards.”

Despite losing four seniors, 22 seniors return to the Patriots this year, making them a title contender after finishing 2015 tied for third in the division with Northport and Connetquot.

With O’Hea’s departure, Ward Melville looks to replace the young man who threw for 1,933 yards last year, good enough for 11th in New York.

“We return a lot of out skill players — key players from last year’s team after getting a year of experience under their belt,” the coach said. “I think this is a team with a lot of potential.”

Senior Wesley Manning will receive the majority of playing time at quarterback, with junior Peyton Capizzi beginning to show off his skills in preparation for his senior year. Manning enters this season with six pass attempts on his resume, featuring four completions for 79 yards, including a 19-yard pass for a touchdown against Northport.

In addition to a new quarterback, Boltrek is prepared to evaluate the team’s surplus of returning players.

John Corpac carries the ball across the gridiron in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
John Corpac carries the ball across the gridiron in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

“Our biggest strength, really, is we’re returning real football kids, even though they might play other sports,” he said. “They just love football, and when you have that mentality, coupled with their skill and athleticism, that’s a real strength and asset.”

The team’s wide receiver core remains largely unchanged for 2016.

Senior Eddie Munoz, an All-State honorable mention, is coming off a year that featured eight touchdown catches along with a total of 516 receiving yards. He will also continue to be a safety for the team after intercepting three passes last year in addition to piling up 41 tackles.

Fellow senior John Corpac is back as a wideout for the Patriots. After catching seven touchdown passes last year, the first-time All-Division receiver looks to lead the team’s offense.

As the Patriots look to move from being a solid playoff contender to one that’s in the title hunt, Boltrek said he believes there is still work that needs to be done to bring Ward Melville to the next level.

“I think the biggest thing is we need our offensive line to gel at the beginning of the season,” Boltrek said. “Last year, our offensive line was young. We had a junior playing center and two other linemen who were sophomores. The two other guys were seniors, but they were both first-year starters. This year, we’re sort of lucky that we get our center back to have a senior at the middle of the line. Stability and continuity is what we’re doing up front. It’ll be huge for us during the season.”

The Ward Melville football team got on the scoreboard first Saturday in a battle on the gridiron against visiting Northport, but the Tigers ultimately spoiled the Patriots’ homecoming celebration, winning 35-21.

Ward Melville (1-2) opened the scoring with an impressive 16-play, 82-yard drive, capped by senior running back Nick Cervone’s 7-yard touchdown run and junior kicker Joe LaRosa’s point after, to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.

But Northport responded with a touchdown run of its own to tie it up.

With 1:57 left in the quarter, Ryan Elliot punctuated a nine-play, 65-yard march with a 13-yard touchdown run. With the point-after attempt successful by Ryan Tromblee, the game was tied, 7-7.

On the next possession, Northport intercepted senior quarterback Matthew O’Hea’s pass over the middle. The pass, which was intercepted by Northport safety Dan Preston, was returned 70 yards for the tiebreaking score.

Northport continued to light up the scoreboard, and took advantage of two turnovers, scoring three touchdowns to end the first half leading 35-7.

The Tigers didn’t score after the halftime break, while Ward Melville capitalized on two opportunities in the fourth to close the gap, 35-21.

First, junior wide receiver John Corpac scored on a 15-yard pass from O’Hea, who finished the game going 10-for-16 with 101 yards and two interceptions, and after, senior wide receiver Vincent Negri scored off a 1-yard pass from junior quarterback Wesley Manning.

Ward Melville looks to bounce back from the loss when the Patriots travel to Sachem North Friday, with the hopes of spoiling their opponent’s homecoming festivities. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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Ward Melville junior wide receiver John Corpac cuts up the middle in the Patriots' 28-13 loss to Lindenhurst Friday. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Ward Melville football team was able to stay within striking distance through two quarters of play in its season opener, but visiting Lindenhurst broke the game open in the second half to defeat the Patriots 28-13 in League I gridiron action Friday night.

After a slow start, the Bulldogs struck first three minutes into the second quarter when senior quarterback Ryan Hofmann connected with junior wide receiver Steven Ramirez for the score, and with the extra point good, the team led 7-0.

With just over a minute left in the half, Ward Melville senior quarterback Matthew O’Hea found junior wide receiver John Corpac, who turned the corner and flew down the right sideline to go the distance for the touchdown. It was a 61-yard pass play that put the Patriots on the scoreboard, but when the point after attempt pushed wide left, Ward Melville trailed 7-6.

Ward Melville senior running back Nick Cervone draws a crowd as he rushes with the ball in the Patriots' 28-13 loss to Lindenhurst Friday. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville senior running back Nick Cervone draws a crowd as he rushes with the ball in the Patriots’ 28-13 loss to Lindenhurst Friday. Photo by Bill Landon

It became a game riddled with cramps and penalties, and the Patriots led the way in both categories.

“You can’t let officiating determine a games [outcome], it’s got to be decided on the field by the players,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “And unfortunately, our guys didn’t do what we asked them to do [tonight].”

The Hofmann–Ramirez tandem answered back on the last play of the half for another touchdown. After a failed point after, the Bulldogs took a 13-6 lead into the halftime break.

Boltrek said that going into the third quarter being one score down to the reigning county champions wasn’t a bad thing.

“I thought we had a chance the entire time, but between penalties and cramped players, we don’t have the depth to pull that off,” he said.

Lindenhurst looked to put the game away on the second play from scrimmage to open the second half, and it did. Senior running back Joe Barber pushed his way up the middle, breaking several tackles, and made his way 65 yards downfield for the score to put the Bulldogs out in front, 19-6. Junior quarterback Austin Perri scored next for the Bulldogs, as he plowed his way into the end zone for a two-point conversion, to help his team break out to a 21-6 lead.

Ward Melville was unable to answer, and again fell victim to the Hofmann–Ramirez combination. The two paired up on a pass play and Lindenhurst took a commanding 28-6 advantage.

Ward Melville senior quarterback Matthew O-Hea makes a deep pass in the Patriots' 28-13 loss to Lindenhurst Friday. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville senior quarterback Matthew O’Hea makes a deep pass in the Patriots’ 28-13 loss to Lindenhurst Friday. Photo by Bill Landon

Deep in their own territory, Ward Melville senior running back Nick Cervone provided the spark to make it a two-score game when he broke outside and cut to the middle of the field. After the dust settled, he went 81 yards for the score to trim the Ward Melville deficit, and sophomore kicker Joe LaRosa split the uprights to trail 28-13.

The Bulldogs threatened again deep into the Patriots’ territory but on a rare miscue, coughed up the ball as Ward Melville recovered the fumble on their own 15-yard line.

With just under five minutes remaining in the game, the Patriots ran the hurry-up offense as O’Hea aired the ball out the rest of the way, but no open receiver could be found.

“I thought we let it get away from us,” Boltrek said. “We’ve got to fix the mistakes, but it was great that we hung with the defending county champs.”