By Patrick McCormack
Early missed opportunities and late mistakes equaled a fourth-straight loss for New York City in the Empire Challenge.
The five boroughs fell 24-18 to their Long Island counterparts in the 19th annual football game at Hofstra University June 25. The senior all-star event benefits the Boomer Esiason Foundation for cystic fibrosis.
Holy Cross linebacker Jordan Francklin, who had a tackle and a half of a sack, said the game came down to a couple of plays his team did not make.
“The little things count,” Francklin said. “It was a heck of an experience.”
It was one he made sure to enjoy despite the loss. Francklin said his brother Reggie missed out on a chance to play in the game because of an injury. Just suiting up was special for him.
“I was going hard,” Francklin said. “I was trying to play for him.”
The city came out and looked like they were going to strike first on the opening drive, but on 4th and 8 from the Long Island 13, Anthony Cruz’s pass to Malik Andrews was batted away by Long Island’s Jake Carlock.
St. Francis Prep running back Justin Guerre, who had 23 yards on the ground, saw his team struggle on fourth down in the opening stages of the game. New York City was just 1-for-4 on fourth down in the first half. Guerre himself was stopped on 4th and 5 from the Long Island 27 on NYC’s second drive.
“We wanted to start off running the ball; our main focus was ground and pound,” Guerre said. “We didn’t execute as well as we wanted to, but we kept our heads up and kept fighting.”
Later in the half, New York looked like they had a golden opportunity to get the ball in a great position to score. On 4th and 5 from the Long Island 5-yard line, Long Island quarterback Ben Kocis hit Andrew Ris for a 17-yard gain and a first down. This kept the drive alive and was later capped off by a 5-yard Kocis touchdown run.
Long Island ended the half with a field goal by Bryan Morris and brought an 11-0 lead into the locker room. The city came out and cut the Long Island advantage to 18-11 in the second half, and forced Long Island to turn the ball over on downs with 3:22 left in regulation.
But on their next possession, Lawson Prendergast picked off Cruz. He returned the ball 24 yards for a touchdown to end any hope of a city comeback.
New York City got within one score again when Christ the King wide receiver Lamont Bryant caught a 34-yard pass from New Dorp’s Charlie App for a touchdown with 1:50 left in regulation.
“It felt incredible. It felt amazing, just scoring in this big game. I enjoyed every bit of it,” Bryant said.
But the city squad was unable to even up the score in the final minutes.
The end result wasn’t the one the players wanted, but the final high school game still produced memories and experiences they will not forget, the players said.
“We didn’t come out with the win,” Guerre said. “But it was fun.”