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.
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.”
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.”