By J.R. De GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
Every former high school football player yearns for one more chance to strap on the pads, play under the glow of stadium lights and hear the roar of the crowd.
More than 70 former high school athletes got their chance to relive the glory days Saturday night at Kealakehe stadium in a game that pitted West vs. East, with the West prevailing 20-17.
High school rivals combined for the matchup, with the West roster including Konawaena and Kealakehe alumni, while the East featured players from Hilo and Waiakea.
Billy Benevides was the most seasoned alumnus, representing the class of 1989. The most recent graduate on the field was Kamuela Patnaude, having walked the line in 2013.
It takes a good bang to knock the rust off, and there were plenty of early collisions to do just that for the alumni.
The West took advantage of the overzealous East squad on the opening kickoff with a surprise onside kick. A fumble on the West’s first play from scrimmage gave the ball back to the East.
The East then decided to go with an option-pass play, with quarterback Jason Mandaquit (class of ’00) just missing his receiver, who had a good 20 yards of space around him.
Royden Nabarro (’05) was playing on the same field where he rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-14 upset of Kealakehe for the BIIF Division I championship in 2003.
The former Hilo Vikings running back showed off the skills that made him a record-setting back in high school. Nabarro pounded the ball and broke multiple tackles on nearly every run.
Royden was not the only Nabarro on the field Saturday night — his sister Jobette Nabarro (’03) was the East’s kicker.
Jobette Nabarro started off the scoring for the East with a 30-yard field goal. The East followed up the kick with a 15-yard strike from Mandaquit to Scotty Boi to take an early 10-0 lead.
The West team bounced back before the end of the half on a short reception by Nahiku Phillups (’05) from quarterback Paul Cabuag (’06). After a missed extra point, the teams entered the half with the East leading 10-6.
The West kept the momentum rolling into the second half, scoring on a messy, 5-yard scramble by quarterback Thomas Deniz into the end zone to give the West its first lead of the game, 13-10.
The teams traded hits, fumbles, interceptions and cramped players along the way, but the game came down to a final drive, with the West down 17-13 with just over a minute left.
The drive started with two huge back-to-back receptions by Jeffery Marks (’08) and Phillups on strikes from Cabuag to get the West squad just outside the 20-yard line with four chances at the end zone.
All looked lost as Cabuag tried to find solace from the East’s pressure, but the Kealakehe grad found an opening along the sideline and scrambled 20 yards to the 3-yard line before being knocked out by a host of East defenders.
The hometown crowd began chanting, “let’s go Kona” as the alumni lined up with four chances to score. The West would not be denied. With just 14 seconds remaining Deniz took the snap and dove into the end zone to give the West the 20-17 win.
It probably took a few Advils, but the alumni went to sleep Saturday night knowing they left it all on the field.
Jerry Mareko was the captain for the West squad. Johnny Lapa (’07), Heze Ambrosio (’02), and Steve Swanson (’06) were the standouts on defense for the West.
Patrick Kapunia (’02), Ikaika Decoito (’01) and Wes Samoa (’06) opened up the holes for the West on the offensive line.
The alumni action continued Sunday with Kohala taking on Honokaa at Kamehameha Park.