RJ Javar scored a touchdown and then went to the hospital in an ambulance in the second quarter of Saturday’s OIA Division I title game at Aloha Stadium.
The Moanalua quarterback got just inside the pylon to give Na Menehune a 14-0 lead in what turned out to be a 21-20, double-overtime victory.
It was a scary thing for those watching live and on TV, though, when Javar was knocked out by a helmet-to-helmet blow on the play. As he landed on his back, his arm stayed stiff, and he quickly received medical attention.
Javar is recovering from the blow as well as can be expected, according to Moanalua athletic director Joel Kawachi.
TV replays clearly show the defensive player lowering his head and making contact with Javar’s head.
In this era of safety-first football, the play is a teaching moment on how not to make a tackle.
“There are a number of things wrong with this (play),” said Matt Sumstine, the Hawaii High School Athletic Association’s head of officials for the state tournament who also has an instructional website for officials’ use across the nation.
“The onus is on the defense to avoid contact to the head or neck area, especially when they’re down-tracking,” Sumstine added after watching the TV replay for the first time Monday. “You can see the quarterback trying to get lower and reaching for the goal line. As a defender, when you lower your head, you are no longer aware of what your target is going to be. You know you are in the vicinity (only) and you’re putting yourself and your opponent in danger. Statistically, in this case, the defender is in greater danger than the opponent. We call this illegal tracking, when you’re getting your head to the lowest point to initiate contact with the crown of the helmet. That’s very dangerous to both players.”
In addition, Sumstine thought the quarterback was in a sliding posture and mentioned that once that happens, an already committed defender can still try to make a stop, but that forceful contact to the head or neck area is off-limits.
Sumstine added that that the player’s intent is not an issue here.
“I wouldn’t villanize the player for intent,” he said. “But it is totally wrong technique. You hate to kick a kid out on technique, but it has to take precedence over intent. You can teach technique. If you use dangerous technique, you can’t play. The game is not intended to be played to hurt people. He was disqualified because the quarterback was defenseless, it was helmet to helmet and it was forceful in nature.”
Sumstine sent a link of a video to coaches around the state earlier this year with information about what constitutes what he calls a “blind strike” and targeting as well as proper tackling technique and what makes a player defenseless in certain situations.
Readers can watch that video here.
Also earlier this year, Sumstine made an in-person presentation on the subject for officials on Kauai, the Big Island and Maui.
NOTE: This story was edited to clarify information regarding sliding quaterbacks.