New York City edges Long Island

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The high school all-star football game lasted three hours and six minutes, was complete with...

By Joseph Manniello

The ninth annual Outback Steakhouse Empire Challenge had a little bit of everything for the crowd of 9,752 at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium last Thursday.

The high school all-star football game lasted three hours and six minutes, was complete with the good (an exciting, dramatic finish and a fireworks display that followed), the bad (several fights, one resulting in two players being ejected) and the sloppy (a combined 11 fumbles and 12 total penalties).

But in the end New York, which lost last year 7-6 and trailed 7-0 before tying the game on the last play of regulation in the first half (a 39-yard touchdown pass from Fort Hamilton’s Anwar Isaacs to Lehman’s Lynell Suggs on fourth down), pulled out its first victory since 2001, 10-7 in the first overtime finish in the all-star game’s history.

New York improved to 3-4 against Long Island. The first two games (in 1996 and 1997) were between Suffolk County and Nassau County until the format was altered in 1998.

In overtime, the ball was placed at the 25-yard line for both squads. Long Island won the coin toss but chose to play defense. On 4th-and-1, New York sent in Port Richmond kicker Victor D’Arrigo, who booted a 21-yard field goal through the uprights for a three-point advantage.

In a similar scenario, New York head coach Jim Munson kept D’Arrigo on the sidelines on the team’s second possession in the third quarter. Instead of going for the field goal, Munson gambled and his team was stopped, preserving the 7-all tie.

“I probably should have gone for the field goal earlier in the game,” said Munson, the Tottenville head coach. “To have another chance is just amazing.”

It didn’t stop there.

Long Island, which had a touchdown called back in the first half due to a penalty, revisited its nightmares when an illegal formation penalty negated an Eddie Wansor touchdown pass to Holy Trinity’s Rich Pennecke that would have given Long Island its fourth consecutive win.

On the next play Wansor, who helped lead Riverhead to the Suffolk County Division II crown, found T.J. Sonnenberg wide open in the back of the endzone. But the running back from North Babylon dropped the pass, setting up the dramatic finish.

A poor snap and defensive pressure from New York defensive lineman Tyshawn McClinton halted Chris Lynch’s game-tying field goal attempt. Christ the King linebacker Steven Morrison, who will play at Division I-A Toledo next season, chased Wansor until he threw an incomplete pass to put an end to the bizarre game.

Long Island coach Russ Cellan said it was “very strange” for two plays that were touchdowns to be called back in an all-star game

“They (the referees) usually let stuff go (in these types of games),” the Freeport coach said.

The game benefited the Boomer Esiason Foundation, the Gunnar H. Esiason Endowment Fund at Hofstra University and youth football programs in the New York metro area.

“It’s always played like this,” Esiason said, referring to the low-scoring, tightly fought affair. “The quarterbacks are nervous and that’s normal…They’re kids. It happens.”

The former New York Jets quarterback also noted that there has never been a lopsided contest, and all have been competitively close. In fact, the largest margin of difference was in 1998, when Long Island won by two touchdowns.

“The kids are really fighting for it,” he added.

A former Long Island high school standout, Esiason laughed when asked if it was hard to have to sit through such a low-scoring game.

“Ninety percent of those kids came up to me and said thanks,” Esiason said, also adding that players mentioned his son Gunnar, his condition (cystic fibrosis), and the foundation. “Those are the things I’ll remember.”

Reach contributing writer Joseph Manniello by E-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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