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Jun 18, 2019 9:35 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Three Westhampton Beach Players Help Long Island Prevail Over New York City In 24th Annual Empire Challenge

Westhampton Beach players, from left, Liam McIntyre, Jon Mendoza and Edon Popi each competed in the Empire Challenge on Friday night at Hofstra University. The game pits the top seniors from Long Island against their counterparts from New York City. Long Island won this year's game, 44-20. RAY PASSARO
Jun 18, 2019 9:35 AM

It’s becoming an annual tradition.

For the second year in a row, the Westhampton Beach football team was well represented in the 24th annual Empire Challenge, which pits the top Long Island seniors against those from New York City.

Whether that directly had an impact on the outcome could be debatable, but for the past two seasons, with multiple Hurricanes on the roster, Long Island has come out on top.

While last year’s game was close, with Long Island edging New York City, 28-27, this year was not much of a contest, with Long Island taking the game, 44-20. After losing in both 2016 and 2017, Long Island has won the past two years and is now 14-8 all-time.

Liam McIntyre (linebacker), Jonathan Mendoza (offensive lineman) and Edon Popi (defensive tackle) all represented Westhampton Beach—the most the program has had in one game—joining Dylan Laube and Nolan Quinlan, who played in last year’s game, and Sean Montpetit, who played in 2003. Laube was the game’s MVP last season.

Westhampton Beach head coach Bryan Schaumloffel was in attendance on Friday night and enjoyed watching his players play amongst the best the state has to offer.

“It was a great night for those guys. Really happy and really proud of them and they represented Westhampton tremendously. All three had a great night, and it was a great night for Long Island, in general,” he said.

Schaumloffel said each one of his players had a hand in the victory. McIntyre, who is heading to LIU Post in the fall to play football, had a handful of tackles and deflected a few passes. Mendoza, who will be playing at Yale in the fall, had a number of thunderous blocks, including the lead block on a run-scoring touchdown. And Popi, who is heading to the University of Miami but will not be playing football there, rushed the quarterback a few times late in the game as New York City attempted to mount a comeback.

Each one of the players said they enjoyed their experience.

“I felt incredibly proud to rep the Island and to play against and with some of the top players,” Popi said. “Playing in that game was fun, and the level of competition was incredible. It was just exhilarating.”

Mendoza said it was a bit awkward at first to play with some players whom he’s seen on the opposite sideline for years. But with a three-day walkthrough and then four days of practice leading up to Friday’s game, Mendoza said they were able to work out all of the kinks.

“We kind of smacked around some of the players over the past few years who we were on the same team with, and at the same time, some teams beat us, like Hills West. But as we practiced together we grew more as a team, and it was great to get that next-level feel of the competition going into college,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to play against and with players of that caliber. I just thought I was blessed to be there. At the end of last season, I thought that would be the last time I’d be able to play with [my teammates] but having the opportunity to see those guys on the field and in practice, and then to perform as well as we all did in an All-Star game, it’s something I will always cherish.”

During the fourth quarter with his team up quite a bit, something he’s grown accustomed to over the past few years, McIntyre strolled the sidelines and thought, “Yeah, I could do this for another four years.”

“I was expecting it to be a closer game. We just had a pretty elite team this year,” he said. “It’s a great honor and I was glad I was able to do it, and hopefully we’ll have more [Westhampton Beach] guys in the future do it, too.”

Schaumloffel said it would be great to keep the tradition going.

“We had a nice representation of our players from seventh to 11th grade in attendance watching those three,” he said. “Hopefully that will provide motivation for them to play on that stage someday.”

The Empire Challenge was created by Long Island’s own Boomer Esiason, an East Islip native and 14-year NFL veteran who was the league’s MVP in 1988. The game benefits the Boomer Esiason Foundation and cystic fibrosis research. Each squad consists of 51 players who were selected by a participating committee consisting of 10 coaches, four administrators and a game coordinator.

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