There’s an old saying that defense wins championships.
But on Tuesday night at Hofstra University, defense certainly helped Long Island to a 31-7 victory over New York City in the UnitedHealthcare Empire Challenge.
The Empire Challenge is unique to high school football as it is catered to making the game more offensive friendly. That is, except for tonight.
“This game is built to make the offense look good,” said Long Island head coach Rob Hoss. “The fact that we could hold the City team to seven points when we are really limited to what we could do is a testament to the defensive coaches but also the kids who were all in.”
Sure, Stacey Bedell and Steven Ferreira lit up Shuart Stadium and put up triple-digit yardage, but it was guys like Syosset’s Evan Kappatos and Newfield’s Tom Diubaldo that were the backbone of the Long Island victory.
Newfield linebacker Diubaldo assisted in one of the biggest stops during a goal-line stance midway through the third quarter with Long Island up 18-0. Following an overturned end-zone interception because of an illegal defense penalty, New York City had a chance to make a dent on the scoreboard with the ball at the one-yard line.
RB David White tried to stuff it in on the goal line stance, but Diubaldo along with Trayvon Toney, who was playing out of position at safety, stopped White at the door. It was one of his four tackles on the night.
“I was the extra man in,” Diubaldo said. “No one touched me. I just saw the open hole and saw the running back coming and just stuffed it.”
Coach Hoss knew that would be a game-changing play as three plays later, game MVP Stacey Bedell would score a 92-yard touchdown to give Long Island a 24-0 lead.
“It may be semantics but to use we felt it was a five-play stand,” When you make a defensive stand like that it really jacks up the offense.”
Kappatos was one of three players that led the Long Island defense with 4.5 tackles. He also was credited with half a sack and one forced fumble with a recovery.
“We knew we had some amazing players on defense,” said Kappatos. “Our defensive line are a bunch of monsters, after we held them off on the first couple of series we wanted to shut them down.”
The Syosset star capped off his high school career as the only three-time Piner Award winner in Long Island history, which is given out to the most outstanding linebacker in Nassau County. He also won the 285-pound New York State wrestling championship back in February.
It was a bittersweet moment knowing that his high school career came to an end, however it will continue when he joins fellow Long Islander Isaiah Barnes (Freeport) at Princeton University.
“It definitely is, but the best part of it is that we have some of the greatest players ever,” said Kappatos.
“This is the best defense that I’ve ever been a part of. It’s been a honor to get selected and to play with these individuals.”