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Parsley adds spice to Empire Challenge

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Victor Parsley always wanted to be Superman, to come in and save the day on the football field. That dream appeared to be on the back burner as he and his New York City teammates in the defensive backfield were torched on a regular basis by the team’s speedy offensive players in a week of practices to prepare for Saturday’s Empire Challenge.

But in the final minute of his final high school game Saturday, in came Parsley — sans red cape and tights — to save the day for New York City. The Holy Cross senior picked off Purdue-bound quarterback Kyle Smith’s sure touchdown pass to Bryan Tornee at the City 10-yard line with 57 seconds left to preserve New York City’s come-from-behind 17-10 Empire Challenge win in front of 11,373 at Hofstra Stadium.

“I don’t know how I was on my knees, but I figured if I could get the interception I should go for it,” said Parsley. “It feels great. I wanted to play in this game since the beginning and to make the game-saving interception is amazing.”

The game benefited the Boomer Esiason Foundation, the Gunnar N. Esiason Endowment Fund at Hofstra University and youth football programs in the New York metro area. Esiason, the former New York Jets quarterback, has a son Gunnar who has cystic fibrosis.

After being sacked on the first play of Long Island’s final drive, Smith from West Babylon patiently pushed his side up field from his own 23 with completed passes to Amityville’s Eugene Nottingham, Tornee from Commack and William Floyd’s Marcele Street.

On second-and-1 from the City 32, Smith spotted Tornee, who will play at Stony Brook in the fall, open in the middle of the field. A completed pass and Tornee surely would have found the end zone, but the ball tipped off his right hand and into the diving grasp of C.W. Post-bound Parsley, who won the City’s Best Practice Player award for his hard work during the week.

“It was a great catch, he wanted it badly,” said Holy Cross head coach Tom Pugh, who also coached the New York City defensive backs. “To go against that kind of speed in practice made him better. He didn’t see that kind of speed in the game. Our kids could really run to the ball.”

While Parsley’s pickoff saved the game for New York City, it was Stephen Gregory’s kickoff return that ignited the spark for the underdogs.

David Bodner from Lawrence gave Long Island a 3-0 lead with a 38-yard field goal late in the first half and just two plays into the third quarter, Long Island extended its lead to 10-0 as Commack’s Mike Prahalis hit Tobias Brown from Riverhead over the middle for a 33-yard touchdown pass.

Gregory received the ensuing kickoff 5 yards into the end zone and sped up the near sideline. The senior from Curtis picked up some key blocks, including one from Poly Prep’s Marcus Wilson that separated Bodner from his helmet, to race for a 105-yard return that revitalized the City lineup.

“I knew I could run it back, I got a lot of good blocks and I just found a seam and took it to the end zone,” said Syracuse-bound Gregory. “I thought I had to cut back but [Wilson] just wiped him out.”

“I didn’t know I hit him that hard,” added Wilson, who will attend Notre Dame in the fall. “We needed it. We were down on ourselves; we weren’t executing the way we were supposed to. That play turned us around.”

New York City also received a break on a bizarre fumble recovery late in the third quarter that started on the City 49 when Brian Nutter lost the ball and ended when DeWitt Clinton’s Edwin Alvarado pounced on the ball at the Long Island 5 after several botched attempts to pick it up along the way.

Four plays later New York City tied the game at 10 on a 35-yard field goal by John F. Kennedy’s Artem Razhkov with 3:51 left in the third quarter and went ahead 17-10 on a quarterback keeper by Poly Prep’s Christopher Legree from 5 yards out 10 seconds into the fourth quarter.

The win for New York City avenged a tough 23-18 loss in last year’s Empire Challenge.

“It feels good. Last year Long Island won and it feels good to win the all-star game,” said August Martin’s Jerome Arrington, who will attend Nassau Community College. “It shows that Long Island ain’t better, in football at least.”

Added August Martin teammate Bob-Andy Vilette, who will play at C.W. Post in the fall: “It feels great, especially to represent my school August Martin. Being the underdogs made us work harder.”

Notes: The game, which benefited the Boomer Esiason Foundation’s fight against cystic fibrosis, will be shown on MSG Network July 6 at 7:30 p.m. and will be replayed July 14 at 7:30 p.m.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:13 pm, October 10, 2011
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