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SJB's Prendergast leads LI defense in Empire Challenge

Long Island linebacker Lawson Prendergast (21) sacks New

Long Island linebacker Lawson Prendergast (21) sacks New York quarterback Anthony Cruz (3) for a loss in the first half on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 in the 19th annual Empire Challenge all-star football game. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Back in December, rivals Lawson Prendergast and Joe Sotomayor found some common ground and bonded at the CHSFL All-Star football game.

Chief among the things they held in common was a passion for playing high school linebacker.

St. John the Baptist's Prendergast and St. Anthony's Sotomayor found themselves teammates again Wednesday night in the Empire Challenge All-Star football at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium. This time, the talented duo entered with an idea and left a mark.

"We had a plan for this game," Sotomayor said. "The plan was to dominate and make the CHSFL known for even better football. From the first day of practicing for this game, I just knew him and I would do well in this game."

Sotomayor couldn't have been more correct. Prendergast had seven tackles, including three for a loss, and returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth as Long Island held NYC scoreless in the first half and hung on to win, 24-18. Sotomayor added six tackles and forced a key fumble late in the third quarter.

Prendergast's TD sealed the game with 3:14 left. It put L.I. ahead 24-11.

"I just jumped the route in the flat and no one was near me so I took it to the house," Prendergast said.

The play was another example of L.I.'s defense making a critical stop with NYC driving. Justin Rivera (Sachem North) added six tackles and Farmingdale's Joe Lee added three. "Our defense proved that scoring against Long Island is a pretty hard thing to accomplish," Sotomayor said. "Almost every time we needed to, we made key stops and killed their momentum."

Sotomayor provided a prime example of that with eight seconds left in the third quarter. He ripped the ball loose from NYC's William Solomon near the 50 with L.I. leading 11-8. Sewanhaka cornerback Elijah Smith recovered the fumble, which was the game's first turnover. L.I. scored on the ensuing drive.

Earlier, it was Prendergast who helped lead another game-changing defensive stance. After L.I. went ahead 8-0, NYC again went on a lengthy drive -- until Prendergast thwarted another scoring opportunity. Prendergast made consecutive tackles for a loss of yards as NYC quarterback Anthony Cruz twice tried to rush against him.

"They were running the same plays over and over and I had been just reading the tackle," Prendergast said. "As soon as the quarterback steps out, I know it's a run so I just try to get something done explosively."

With NYC threatening in the red zone on its first drive of the game, Prendergast made a diving tackle for a loss of 3 yards on a first-and-10 running play. Huntington linebacker Levar Butts then made consecutive stops inside the 20. Babylon defensive back Jake Carlock broke up the fourth down pass attempt.

It was a tone-setting defensive stop and afterward Prendergast celebrated with a jubilant scream toward the sky as blood streamed from the top of his nose -- a small injury he suffered while making the tackle.

"It was nothing a band-aid couldn't take care of," Prendergast said. "Nothing was going to keep me off the field in this game."

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