Football stars align again for Empire Challenge

William Floyd quarterback A.J. Otranto reacts during his

William Floyd quarterback A.J. Otranto reacts during his introduction before the game against Farmingdale in the Long Island Class I football championship at Shuart Stadium. (Nov. 29, 2012) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

The New York all-stars will run the football with Tottenville super back Augustus Edwards, who will wear the green and orange at University of Miami in the fall.

Long Island will counter with an aerial attack that includes quarterbacks A.J. Otranto of Floyd and Brian McKean of Connetquot and a bevy of talented wide receivers. It has the potential for an offensive shootout to excite the more than 10,000 fans expected for the 18th Annual United Healthcare Empire Challenge pitting the top seniors from New York against ones from Long Island at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The game will benefit the Boomer Esiason Foundation, which funds research to find a cure for cystic fibrosis, and to support youth football in the New York metro area. The game has raised more that $2 million.


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Scoring has not been a problem for Long Island, which leads the series, 9-6, after winning in a 31-7 blowout last season. The defense shut down a lethal New York City aerial attack and former Floyd halfback Stacey Bedell ran for 137 yards and three scores.

"We're undersized but extremely talented and very well coached on Long Island," said Pete Blieberg, the game coordinator for the past 18 years. "The Long Island defense is very athletic and they'll have to find a way to stop the City running game."

The game will be aired live on msgvarsity.com in an exclusive livecast at 7 p.m. The game also will be broadcast live on MSG Varsity's channel 14.

"It's the last time we put on the pads here on Long Island," Farmingdale middle linebacker Ryan Feiner said. "For some guys it's their last football game ever. Guys are completely amped for another shot to take the field. Everyone takes this game seriously -- there's a lot of pride at stake."

The strength of the Long Island team lies in its speed and skill positions. Otranto and McKean will have a bevy of outstanding receivers to use. Among the wideouts is Colgate-bound Eddie Robinson, who led Lawrence to the Long Island Class III title. The 6-1, 195-pounder, had 51 catches for 1,156 yards and a Long Island-record 19 touchdown catches this year. Robinson will be flanked by Connetquot's James Higgins, a 6-3, 195-pound possession receiver, who caught 45 passes for eight touchdowns and Chaminade's Tom Zenker, who blocks on the perimeter as well as anyone and had three scoring passes against Iona Prep in a CHSFL semifinal win. Zenker had more than 2,000 all-purpose yards as Chaminade won the CHSFL title for the first time since 1998.

Hansen Award winner Steve Casali of Sachem East will work beside Feiner in an effort to stop Edwards, widely considered the best back in the metro area. Casali, who will play at UMass in the fall, is a tackling machine and earned the Rob Burnett Award presented to Long Island's top defensive player.

"It's an honor to play in this game," Casali said. "And we all know that the proceeds go to a great cause and it helps people."

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