Huntington's Ben Kocis leads LI in Empire Challenge football all-star game
Ben Kocis, who won the Boomer Esiason Award as Suffolk's most outstanding quarterback last fall, put on a show with Esiason on the sidelines in the all-star football game that is fondly known as "the Boomer game."
Kocis (Huntington) directed a 95-yard drive in the second quarter that he capped with a 5-yard scoring run and threw a 44-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter in Long Island's 24-18 victory over New York City Wednesday night in the 19th Empire Challenge. Proceeds for the game, which drew a crowd of 9,762 to Hofstra's Shuart Stadium, benefit the Boomer Esiason Foundation which supports cystic fibrosis research.
"It's such an honor to play with all of these all-stars," said Kocis, who completed 10 of 15 passes for 165 yards and accepted the game's most valuable player award from Esiason, the only time an Esiason Award winner has also won the Boomer game MVP. "I'm honored to be here."
The Binghamton-bound lacrosse player proved that he hadn't packed away his football skills before leaving for college. He entered after a ragged, scoreless first quarter, replacing Ray Catapano (Carey) with L.I. starting a drive on its own 5, and didn't have a great start, misfiring on his first three passes.
But on fourth-and-10, an Empire Challenge special rule wound up working to L.I.'s advantage. Teams are permitted two punts per half, and L.I. had already punted twice. So though it was backed up nearly to its own goal line, L.I. had to go for it. Kocis rolled right, into the end zone, and delivered a strike to Andrew Ris (Carey) for 17 yards and a huge first down.
"We called a 'flood' route," Kocis said. "Andrew found a soft spot in the zone, made a good grab, and that gave us some breathing room."
That play seemed to lift the entire offense. Kocis floated a pass to Trent Crossan (Sachem North), who escaped for a 10-yard gain and another first down. Kocis connected with Curtis Jenkins (Farmingdale) for 4 yards on screen and after an offsides penalty, drilled a pass to Elijah Jones (Lawrence) for 16 yards and a first down to the L.I. 41.
On his next play, Kocis hooked up with Sam Ilario (West Islip) for 31 yards to the New York City 12. Three plays later, Kocis followed his blockers to the right for a 5-yard touchdown. On the extra point try, Ris, a former quarterback, took the snap and threw to Jake Carlock (Babylon) in the end zone for an 8-0 lead.
Ilario, who had supplied Long Island with its only positive play in the first quarter with a 28-yard run out of the slot, said his long reception was "a straight vertical route. I gave the outside linebacker a little more, the safety shifted and there was no one there."
Kocis, who completed 6 of 10 in the first half for 81 yards, acknowledged that he needed a couple of completions "to get the butterflies out. Once I got in a rhythm, I felt comfortable."
L.I.'s third quarterback, Joe Capobianco (Lawrence) replaced Kocis with 3:59 left in the second quarter and quickly put his stamp on the game. On his fourth play, Capobianco hit Crossan in stride for an electrifying 60-yard completion to the New York City 5.
The drive stalled, however, and L.I. had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Bryan Morris (Sachem North) for an 11-0 lead at the half.
L.I. didn't score again until Kocis hit tight end Josh Valentin (Commack) for a 44-yard TD pass on the second play of the fourth quarter. Lawson Prendergast (St. John the Baptist) iced it with a 25-yard interception return with 3:14 left. Long Island has won the last four Empire Challenges and leads the all-time series, 11-6.