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Monday, May 30, 2016
L.I. continues streak over NYC
Huntington's Kocis named MVP of Empire Challenge
Jeff Wilson/Herald
James Kretkowski, right, of Oceanside High School, fended off New York City's Jordan Francklin during the first quarter of the Empire Challenge.

Despite allowing 268 rushing yards and going 1-for-9 on third-down conversions, Long Island continued its recent dominance of New York City by capturing the 19th annual UnitedHealthcare Empire Challenge football all-star game, 24-18, before a record-crowd of 9,762 at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium on June 25.

Long Island never trailed in winning a fourth straight matchup and for the fifth time in six years. Quarterback Ben Kocis (Huntington), who directed a 95-yard scoring drive in the second quarter and threw a touchdown pass in the fourth, took home MVP honors. Linebacker Lawson Prendergast (St. John The Baptist) had a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth and six tackles.

“It was such an honor to play with all of these all-stars,” said Kocis, who completed 10 of 15 passes for 165 yards. “It’s the last time I put on a football helmet, so I wanted to leave everything on this field.”

Lawrence quarterback Joe Capobianco (3-for-7, 73 yards) led a scoring drive late in the first half, Carey’s Andrew Ris had three receptions for 51 yards, Sewanhaka’s Elijah Smith recovered a fumble, and James Kretkowski (Oceanside) and Brian Burke (Lynbrook) were key parts of an offensive line coached by Mike Stanley of Carey.

“It was a great two weeks working with the kids and coaches,” said Rick Punzone, who served as Long Island’s head coach after guiding Babylon to a second straight L.I. Class IV title. “We wanted to win and keep the streak going. The kids pushed each other in a friendly way and did everything the coaches asked.”

Established in 1996, the Empire Challenge showcases some of the best football talent in the state and benefits the Boomer Esiason Foundation for cystic fibrosis, the Gunnar H. Esiason Scholarship Fund at Hofstra, and local youth sports programs. “It is a night when we acknowledge the outstanding skills of the coaches, the athleticism of the players, and the strength of the football programs in our area,” Boomer Esiason said.


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