New York City drops fourth straight to Long Island at Empire Challenge

Anthony Cruz refused to hang his head after New York City’s comeback attempt fell short in the Empire Challenge senior all-star football game.

The Kennedy quarterback had set up his team’s first touchdown earlier in the game, but made one of two crucial mistakes late in the matchup that cost NYC a chance at making a serious run at Long Island in the annual event that pits city players against their Long Island counterparts on June 25 at Hoftra University. New York City fell 24-18 to Long Island for its fourth-straight defeat in the game that benefits the Boomer Esiason Foundation for cystic fibrosis.

“It’s a little heart breaking, but at the end of the day, we are suppose to have fun,” Cruz said.

He put forth a solid showing. Cruz rushed for 17 yards on four carries. One included hurdling a Long Island defender for an 8-yard gain. His 9-yard pass to teammate Christian Perez helped set up New York City’s first touchdown with 4:20 to go in the third quarter. Cruz’s two-point conversion pass to Perez pulled NYC to within 11-8.

“We had the motivation that nobody is going to stop us and beat us by 40,” Cruz said. “We knew some of the weakness of the defense and we attacked.”

The five boroughs had a chance drive to win the contest, down just 18-11 with 3:22 to go in the fourth quarter. But Cruz couldn’t make it happen. UConn-bound linebacker Lawson Prendergast of St. John the Baptist in Long Island picked off Cruz’s pass on the first play and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown.

“It’s my fault,” Cruz said. “I read the wrong route. I was supposed to hit the slot and I read it totally wrong.”

Defensively the city had no answer for Huntington quarterback Ben Kocis, who was named the game’s most valuable player. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score. Kocis made arguably the biggest play of the game when he connected with Joe Capobianco for a 17-yard gain for a first down on fourth and 10 from the Long Island 5-yard line.

The game was still scoreless at the time. Kocis went on to lead Long Island to a 10-play, 95-yard drive that put his team up 8-0. Cardinal Hayes safety Shawn Antoine, who is headed to Rhode Island, felt Kocis’ attacks on the defense were the craftiest of the Long Island quarterbacks. Kennedy defensive tackle Mashawn Simmons added three tackles, including one for a loss of yardage.

“[Kocis] was looking the safeties off a little bit,” said Antoine, who had two tackles and two for a loss of yardage. “It was just good plays. He was getting in the seams. He was making good reads.”

Despite the loss, the players were happy with how they represented New York City after the city team had fallen by combined score of 71-15 the previous two years. Victory was there for the taking, but the winning play escaped New York City this year.

“It was a little disappointing,” Antoine said. “We played hard. Everybody gave their best, but sometimes you just can’t finish it out.”

Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at jstaszewski@cnglocal.com. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.

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