Defense wins games, and Long Island's came out strong last night, hitting early and hard in a 31-7 win over New York City in the Empire Challenge at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.

Syosset's Evan Kappatos, a three-time Piner Award winner as Nassau's top linebacker and a two-time All-Long Island selection, made big-time plays for Long Island in the first half.

Kappatos broke through early in the first quarter on third-and-5 at New York City's 31, sacking Lincoln's Jessel J. Jones with help from Pat McHugh, who forced Jones into Kappatos' direction.

Kappatos added another big hit in the second quarter. Lincoln's Kareem Folkes found a gap on third-and-14 on NYC's 8 but was met by Kappatos 9 yards later in the open field, 5 yards short of the first down.

"We have amazing players," Kappatos said of the Long Island defense's play in the first half. "Our d-line was getting it done. We shut them down easily."

Long Island also received big contributions from its secondary, which intercepted NYC twice. Brian VonBargen of Wantagh got the first interception off Dan Low with 8:42 remaining in the second quarter. Mike Silva of Newfield picked off Jones on the final play of the second quarter, protecting Long Island's 18-0 lead.

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The start of the third quarter was a bit shaky for Long Island's defense, but Tom Diubaldo of Newfield and Trayvon Toney of Huntington led a goal-line stand that kept the City out of the end zone.

Long Island looked as if it had gotten out of the jam earlier when Luke Spitzer of Lynbrook intercepted Kevin Gebon of Poly Prep in the end zone, but the interception was called back because of a penalty.

"We had the intensity after getting our pick taken away," Kappatos said, speaking of the goal-line stand. "We were thinking 'not in our house,' not letting it happen."

Long Island had no more slip-ups the rest of the third quarter, heading into the fourth with a 24-0 lead.