By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York City football took another step forward on Wednesday. Unfortunately it was just a small step.
After being embarrassed each of the last three years at the Empire Challenge, better known as the Boomer Game, New York City showed that it has improved when it comes to high school football by playing a tough game right down to the wire. Unfortunately, it still came up short, losing to Long Island 24-18 at Hofstra University on Wednesday night.
“I think we proved a point today that we can do it without those guys,” said New York City’s head coach Shaun O’Connor. “We had two goals, to win it and to show that we are a lot better than we were in the past pride-wise and playing-wise. Obviously we didn't win, but I think we accomplished the second thing. These guys can walk off the field very proud today.”
There were two crucial mistakes that New York City made. The first happened in the second quarter when it was Long Island ball, fourth-and-10 at its own five yard line. Long Island was forced to go for it because of a rule that limited the teams to just two punts per half. Instead of holding it there, Long Island’s Ben Kocis completed a 17-yard pass to Andrew Ris that started a 95-yard drive that made it 8-0 LI.
New York City didn’t let the game get out of hand there, though, and seemed to be gaining momentum as it trailed 18-11 in the fourth quarter. It was just starting a drive with under four minutes to play when Lawrence Prendergast picked off a pass from Anthony Cruz, of JFK High School, and ran it back 24 yards to put Long Island up 24-11.
Erasmus Hall’s Kahlil Lewin took home the MVP trophy for New York City with 102 yards rushing and a touchdown. He said after the game that it helped having his All-American teammate from Erasmus Hall, Curtis Samuel, on the sidelines giving him pointers.
“It was great having him here because he's my brother, he gives me confidence,” Lewin said of Samuel. “It was also good to have him here watching because he comes to me with what he sees and gives me advice.”
Unfortunately, Samuel (Ohio State), and some of New York City’s biggest names like Thomas Holley (Florida) and Jay Hayes (Notre Dame), were unable to play in the game as they all immediately left to attend college after their respective graduations. It hurt NYC’s chances, but none of the players really thought that was the reason they lost.
“The outcome is the outcome with those guys not here,” said Javon “Spanky” Moore, who was teammates with Holley at Lincoln High School. “We could have used their help, but I don't think those guys would have made a huge difference. We still had fun, still did what we needed to do. We put Brooklyn and New York City on the map.”
Despite the loss, nobody from New York City seemed terribly upset. It was a chance for a lot of these kids that have played against each other to be teammates for a time. It also provided them with one last hurrah and gave them a taste of what the game might be like at the next level.
“It was exciting but at the same time it's a lesson,” said Bishop Ford’s Rodney Gonzales, one of 42 players from New York City’s team that is going on to a Division I or Division III program next year. “Being on a team full of all-stars, you don’t get the ball as often as you are used to so you have to be patient. And the game is faster too. It's a lesson learned.”