A one-point Long Island victory over New York City was certainly not the only story Thursday evening during the Outback Steakhouse Empire Challenge at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium. The game benefited the Boomer Esiason Foundation (BEF), the Gunnar H. Esiason Endowment Fund at Hofstra University, and the youth football programs in the New York metro area.
The pleasant atmosphere throughout the football complex overshadowed threatening weather, as the stage was set for the 100 best high school football seniors from the area to battle one last time. Well before the game even kicked-off, fans were treated to a number of pre-game festivities. The festive atmosphere was nice, but the Empire Challenge has deeper meaning.
Boomer Esiason began his fundraising partnership in 1993. Today, the BEF hosts nearly two dozen events annually in an effort to raise donations for cystic fibrosis.
"The most important part is raising money for cystic fibrosis and raising money for the high schools and youth football programs around the area," said Esiason. "So at least we can take care of our own."
Of all the buildup about the game, the main attraction was focused on the 100 gifted New York athletes. These players had a chance to display their talents in view of 10,000 screaming fans and college scouts, and they took full advantage of the opportunity. But Esiason says football is a game that is about more than touchdowns and tackles.
"The real thing is to just never get discouraged. Whether it be football or life, things can happen to you and it's up to you to make the most of your opportunities," said the former NFL MVP and NFL Man of the Year. "Most of these players understand that, but they aren't superstars just yet. They are very appreciative of this opportunity and all of them took the time to say thank you to me which is great."
"Boomer Bowl" alums who have reached NFL status, including current Jets defensive end Darrell Adams, were cordially invited back to serve as honorary captains. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the Jets first draft selection and Freeport High School graduate, also served as an honorary captain for his tremendous accomplishments.
"It is a great experience just to be recognized as a captain. Playing this game five years ago was quite an experience for me. It's good to be back and give back to those who gave to me," said Adams. "It's a good accomplishment for me, my team and my coach, who always pushed me and told me I would become a great player if I worked hard and studied hard."
Both squads began the night with loud hits, tremendous defense, and a few flashes of offensive radiance. NYC running back and eventual Team MVP Andre Smith (70 yards, two TDs) from New Dorp High, lit-up the scoreboard first with his nine-yard scoring run, but it was Long Island that got the last laugh heading into the locker room.
Roosevelt receiver Jerry Edwards hauled in a pass from Plainedge's John Schaeffer with less than four minutes to go in half one. A Michael Dubon extra point gave the Island the 7-6 lead. The City, plagued by penalties all night, gave Long Island another shot late in the half and it was costly. Bellport's Jason Dent punched one into the end zone from four yards out to give the locals a 14-7 lead.
The second half proved even more electrifying than the first – most notably in the final 4:26. Holy Cross QB Erik Anderwkavich hit South Shore's Daryle Bell from 18 yards out to spark a potential comeback. Columbus' Klestor Pellumbi – who had missed the team's first PAT - added the point after to cut the deficit to 20-13.
The City was given tremendous field position when Long Island was stopped on fourth-and-1 from its 46 with less than three minutes left. Smith scored his second touchdown of the night, this time on a four-yard dash to close the gap to 20-19. Head coach Vinny Laino instructed his City team to kick the PAT and head into overtime rather than risk missing a two-point, game-winning conversion. Unfortunately for Laino and his squad, Pellumbi's kick sailed wide right a second time, leaving the City down a point with 26 seconds remaining.
Holy Cross' Tyrell Coon will forever remember what happened next. On the ensuing onside kick, Coon snagged the City's last attempt for redemption, sending the red jerseys into celebration. NYC almost pulled off a maniacal comeback when Anderwkavich tossed a bomb downfield to South Shore's Daryle Bell, but the play was broken up at the goal line by St. Anthony corner Brandon Brown.