Paradise and chaos: Great game, sad ending

Moanalua quarterback Alakai Yuen scrambled for yards against Northern California in the championship game of the JPS Paradise Football Classic. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Moanalua quarterback Alakai Yuen scrambled for yards against Northern California in the championship game of the JPS Paradise Football Classic. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

If, or when, one day the great sport of football is permanently banished from the face of planet earth, it is probable that future humans will find a way to legalize the game on Mars.

Or some other galaxy. The passion for football is, well, almost impossible to completely describe. It is magnificent. It is all-consuming. It is, as we saw tonight at Aloha Stadium, sometimes the lowest possible common denominator between friends, frenemies and, in the bleachers behind the NorCal All-Stars bench, downright hostiles.

It was, as Hawaii East All-Stars coach Joe Wong said, something that “shouldn’t leave a mark” on what was a game of awe-inspiring plays by some of the best football players in Hawaii and Northern California. Hawaii East rallied for a 26-14 win in the JPS Paradise Bowl championship game. It was a remarkable performance by two massively talented teams. There were future Division I college football stars lined up on both sides. And yet…

When the game was suspended by officials with 2:59 left, minutes after a near-riot blew up in the bleachers between fans of both teams, it was not really a shock. Surprising to an extent because adults are supposed to be role models, but at a high school all-star game? This isn’t the first time fans and/or players have gotten out of line, whether it is here or anywhere else. It was brutally ugly in the bleachers, visible for all to see, including the many toddlers and elementary-age keiki who came to see brothers and cousins playing a game.

That sinking feeling in my stomach, the one I last truly felt way back in intermediate school (yes, kids, they were called “intermediate” back then, not middle) while a bully was wrongly accused by a bigger bully of picking on a small child, then kicked and stomped mercilessly for minutes on end. Like tonight’s all-star extravaganza hosted by Junior Prep Sports, the moments before that beating, we ninth graders were signing yearbooks. It was calm and, with the school year nearly done, as light a mood as could be imagined.

Aloha Stadium, tonight, well, it was a mix of great football and mind-boggling, hyper-aggressive taunting and post-whistle shenanigans. It started to get testy in the second quarter, while the game was still a tight defensive battle. For all the defense, though, it was a great spectacle without anything extracurricular.

By the time the half ended, one Hawaii East player had been ejected, making a spectacle of himself on live statewide TV, trying to bully NorCal players after the whistle. Maybe he was incited to a fervor by trash talk, maybe not. But it looked and felt like Hawaii East didn’t have control of him at all.

The second half started with nothing but good football on both sides, once again. Maybe we get through the night without any more ejections. But by the time Hawaii East’s lead was down to 20-14, things got chippy again. A NorCal player got ejected after pummeling Hawaii East quarterback Alaka‘i Yuen on a 44-yard TD pass, leveling him unnecessarily and knocking him cold. Yuen, who suffered a neck injury more than a year ago playing for Moanalua, was down for several minutes and eventually got up and walked off the field. By then, the chaos had completely escalated in the bleachers, where fans of both teams were forced to sit together; the bleachers on the opposite side were closed.

Waianae defensive lineman Kana’i Mauga hit Cardinal Newman quarterback Jordan Brookshire. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser
Waianae defensive lineman Kana’i Mauga hit Cardinal Newman quarterback Jordan Brookshire. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser

Within seconds, one fight spread and fists were flying everywhere. Multiple skirmishes and innocent onlookers being within inches of getting hit. It got worse and worse. NorCal’s players began to walk toward the lockers. Hawaii East coaches sprinted across the field, their red shirts clearly vivid as they rushed into the bleachers to protect and stop the fighting. It lingered on for minutes, and there was just one police officer visible. Somehow, there were no serious injuries after the madness had quelled.

In the end, even with the plethora of flags and the two ejections, what happened on the field was mild compared to what adults did in the stands.

“Cooler heads prevailed,” Wong said. “It was real chippy out there. We were down 7-0, we kept our composure and our guys represented Hawaii well.”

That might be debatable, though on the whole, Wong is right. After the one Hawaii East player was ejected before halftime, there weren’t a whole lot of behavior-related penalties. Quarterbacks Yuen and Taulia Tagovailoa were superb. They got more time to throw the ball, but there was more to it.

“It was a matter of being more comfortable in the pocket,” said Wong, a former standout offensive lineman at BYU who is also varsity head coach at Kailua. “Our quarterbacks made the adjustment.”

NorCal’s pass rush was a force of nature in the first half with three sacks. Nick Sagaiga, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound mountain with speed was a constant threat. His right leg injury late in the game was probably a factor as Hawaii East drove for its final touchdown.

The video will show that Hawaii East’s receivers, from Isaiah Freeney (8-yard TD), Kame Kim Choy-Keb-Ah Lo (65-yard TD), Andrew Valladares (26-yard TD) and Mark Lagazo (44-yard TD) benefited from outstanding footwork by their QBs, and great second-half line protection. But for sheer talent and skill, they proved themselves against NorCal’s best defensive backs with all four TDs after halftime. Hawaii may draw far more scouts today for more than linemen and linebackers, but slotbacks and receivers remain underrated by college recruiters.

Running back Ronnie Rivers of Freedom High, a Fresno State commit, carried the ball against Hawaii East on Saturday. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Running back Ronnie Rivers of Freedom High, a Fresno State commit, carried the ball against Hawaii East on Saturday. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

Ronnie Rivers, the Fresno State-bound running back for NorCal, just a magnificent athlete with heart and the kind of explosiveness off a cut on a dime — I haven’t seen it quite like this at the prep level in a long time. And he doesn’t seem like a 170-pound senior at all. Runs like 210.

“When we do assignment football, we did well. They might have all the (college) offers, but we dominated their front,” Wong said. “They’re 3, 4 inches taller than us, and our guys took it right to them. They showed they can just march down the field on anybody.”

Jordan Brookshire, the New Mexico-bound slinger, seemed tentative at first coming off the bench. But he was elusive, smart and pinpoint accurate. He was swamped by a great pass rush and still escaped like a surfer zipping out of the chute at Pipeline. He made that 8-yard TD run look easy, and it brought NorCal within 20-14 with 3:14 left.

But a few moments later, after Yuen took that illegal hit on the last TD pass, all heck broke loose in the bleachers. Wong points to the lack of etiquette, an ejected NorCal player described by onlookers as whooping it up in front of the crowd and riling everyone up after knocking Yuen out. There was, of course, no postgame handshaking.

“You never see that in Hawaii. If one of our guys tried that, we would take care of that,” Wong said. “We can’t control what happens outside the field.”

NorCal coach Victor Galli says it was some Hawaii fans who wouldn’t stop initiating tension.

“Their fans, they’re chirping at our kids. We’re visitors. Can you be friendly? From the minute we walked off the plane,” he said. “This is a wonderful event, but man, we’re here to play football. It was out of hand.”

Galli said the same thing happened when NorCal travelled to Hawaii last year.

“They have a good football team. We have a good football team. We’re controlling our kids and telling them, ‘Don’t retaliate.’ It’s hard to hold them back. The refs did their best. It’s not cool. Play hard, don’t fight. Not the disrespect.”

Galli’s disappointment, to be sure, was not with everyone.

“Most people in Hawaii are great. I know JPS worked really hard to put this together. Robert (Faleafine) and JPS worked their (tails) off, but it only takes a few to escalate things. We took this the last two years. They’ve got to change the way they do it,” he said.

With that, NorCal’s players, coaches and fans began to leave through the front of the stadium. With police escort.


  1. Akeke Kuanini January 15, 2017 4:17 am

    “You never see that in Hawaii. If one of our guys tried that, we would take care of that,” Wong said. …right Dream On. I’ve seen refs run off fields and jump into cars, I’ve seen school buses get pelte with rocks. I’ve seen parents fight in the stands. Get off the high horse and stop making it seem like Hawaii is all Aloha during football season. It only takes one to start a mele, but it only takes that same one to walk away to prevent it. I was 20 feet away from the mess and grabbed my kids and rushed away. This was an embarrassment to Hawaii, it was dangerous, there was literally no security to be found and I wont go next year.

  2. Waywardpineapple75 January 15, 2017 6:34 am

    I’m pretty sure he meant if a kid from Hawaii had the “Late hit” he wouldn’t go in the stands and celebrate when the other kid was injured…
    And in that case, he is correct, kids respect when a another kid is hurt on the field…
    But to yhe other shenanigans, 1st of all of this happened last year, then why put the fans together again this year, split the fans…
    And as a former college player who has been passed on at an opponents stadium, had beer poured in me and names called, it sux, but these kids need to learn composure and I hope they do!!
    Also the fight was a despicable way to take the attention away from an awesome and highly contentious yet entertaining game.

  3. Waywardpineapple75 January 15, 2017 6:38 am

    Meant pee’d on, also KANA’I MAUGA Balled out, shud have Player of the game!!! IMO,
    Yuen was impressive, the normal DB #13 was awesome too…#50 Ailua had a great game too
    Also #7 norcal, Mcgoldrick was good too

  4. nanakuli January 15, 2017 6:46 am

    How can Aloha Stadium allow this to happen?

  5. Mona January 15, 2017 9:08 am

    Disappointed at how the locals behave during these games. Come on people, it’s for the kids! They work so hard to make it to this JPS Paradise Football Classic. Use positive support & remember you represent the state of Hawaii!

  6. RPaahana January 15, 2017 9:45 am

    Kuanini your are absolutely correct! Civility and sportsmanship in Hawaii football has been getting progressively worse every year. I was at pop warner game just a few months ago where a parent yelled “Kill them all!” at a bunch of 10 and 11 year olds. I have coached for over 10 years and what I have observed is that the root cause is without a doubt parents who are taking this way too seriously. You know the ones. The ones that instead of sitting in the stands, stand on the sidelines going up and down following the game yelling at their kid or any kid. The ones that stand outside the locker rooms at halftime and pull their kid aside and yell at them., The ones that yell at their kids in the parking lot after a loss. The same ones that act like cheering for another team equals cheering against their kid. Some times I think we should do like soccer. If your fans don’t know how to act then your teams plays in front of no one. Just an empty standium. Kids will always follow the examples of the adults.

  7. Westside January 15, 2017 10:29 am

    Poor planning not to much security…you should have the HPD standing right there on the bottom or in the middle of the stands or behind the cal bench after half time…if the people don’t feel safe coming to the stadium to watch a football game….then they won’t come again…the adults in the stand that were fighting grow the hell up…what a embarrassment to hawaii.

  8. Da_Islander January 15, 2017 10:50 am

    Embarrassed for the hawaii coaches and players. From the start of the game Hawaii was doing the extra stuff after just about every play and a lot wasn’t even called. Nocal held their composure for the most part, but after so much a player needs to defend themselves if the refs aren’t gonna interject or protect themselves, not to mention stand up for themselves. I just don’t get the ejection of the Norcal player, Targeting? Hawaii was leading with helmets all game, it just so happens that the ones that got hit, got back up right away, as for the Hawaii player, he stayed down so it appeared more serious. Bottom line is Hawaii is such a good physical team already when they play, they dont need to add all the extra garbage. The coaches need to teach them that they don’t need to intimidate like that, their good hard nose football will do it for them.

  9. Alpha January 15, 2017 12:39 pm

    You can see the tension between the teams during intros, coaches and refs should have nipped that in the bud before kickoff. All star game or not saftey of the players always first….

  10. Chloropicrin January 15, 2017 1:53 pm

    Unfortunate, regardless of of how the NorCal players or parents was acting, the parents and players from Hawaii should have conducted themselves with more class. It’s so shame.

    Let’s not get distracted that Yuen made a play and Lagazonshook the NorCal kid out of his BVDs.

  11. Chloropicrin January 15, 2017 1:56 pm

    I saw some Waianae coaches and parents (Rico Rosario t shirts) in the middle of all that…hope they didn’t start anything, because the way Rosario and Towne acted at the end of the half was a glimpse of how the Waianae locker room was all of last season, a bunch of individuals. I was glad to see the other Waianae players Mauga, Mailo and Ailua conducting themselves like professionals.

  12. anywaaaays!! January 15, 2017 1:58 pm

    Didnt we learn anything from the past, any Hawaii vs. Mainland game would be too emotional for the players and parents. I tuned in during the second quarter and saw how the Hawaii team was getting nutz after plays, sad, in the span of 5 minutes I saw about 3 Hawaii players get their first warning of “unsportsmanlike conduct” and turned the channel because It was just embarrassing. If “some” of these kids want to show how tough they are go join MMA cause that was not good football last night. Cancel this tournament or mix the teams next year so there is no complex issues.

  13. Chloropicrin January 15, 2017 2:12 pm

    I agree either mix the teams or have them sit on seperate sides.

    As for Hawaii vs Mainland, I’d have to disagree. when Kahuku played BG, we didn’t (or at least me) hearbabout any unsportsmanlike problems in the stands. Last year, Mililani and Liberty seemed to have no problems. IMO the Hawaii coaches should have nipped the taunting in the butt early. I get it it’s Hawaii, we gotta “protect the Hale” but to embarrass their school and state is unbelievable. It’s a privilege to play in that kinda events.

  14. anywaaaays!! January 15, 2017 2:25 pm

    PH, after your opening sentence of this article and reading other stories of yours it is obvious that you are tired of the ugly that this sport brings to americans. Not just the fighting/ trash talking in the stands and on the field but the lifetime injuries and concussions to the players. I am in your boat.

    Please jump on board with me and bring more light to the sport of rugby, Kahuku High school rugby is consistently in the top 5 in the nation, just a matter of time till we are #1. Our girls and boys are getting scholarships to college via Rugby so there are alternatives to Football. Rugby is a gladiator sport too but without the concussions and brain injuries, its worldwide and will take over american football in the distant or near future. I hope.

  15. Benz Pitolo January 15, 2017 3:41 pm

    Smh Bad attitude on both sides. I was sitting 15 feet away from the older Aunty from NorCal and she was taunting all game. She was jeering when that Yuen kid got hit and that just set everything off. She baited them and Waianae bit smh i was hoping they would ignore and her sore loser attitude. Her grandson was no better on the field either with his taunts. Waianae gotta learn discipline. They could’ve jeapordized the win. NorCal not so innocent but Hawaii should’ve ignored. I’m from Waianae and I can say those kids got heart but they need for stop shooting them self in the foot with that attitude. Another thing is the organizers should’ve separated crowds after what happened last year. This one highly emotional game. Hopefully the boys don’t suffer next year and the JPS classic continues

  16. Manley January 15, 2017 4:03 pm

    I’m my opinion, Yuen is a very under rated QB. He will make an excellent addition to many small or junior colleges.

  17. Kapahulu January 15, 2017 4:51 pm

    OIA coaching staffs provide no discipline or corrective behaviors. Character will take you farther in life then your ego.

  18. Jeff January 15, 2017 4:52 pm

    This was a game where the kids could do whatever they’d like and face no longterm penalty. Get kicked out for fighting during the regular season, then you gotta sit out for the next game or two. This game, get into a fight, get kicked out, and that’s it.

    Hard enough for coaches to control their kids during the entirety of a season, pretty much impossible when you only get 3 or 4 weeks with them. Plus since its an all star game the boys have a sense of entitlement and that gets to their heads and they get all cocky!

    Shame for the sport, shame for our state.

  19. Paul Honda January 16, 2017 12:41 pm

    Rugby is awesome and unique, but there have been blatant and near-career ending injuries inflicted on a few of our best high school players in recent years. On the whole, rugby is what it is, most players play clean and it is generally safer though I can’t offer any statistics. But knowing that guys like Billy Masima were taken out deliberately while playing rugby, I’m told by a trusted source, is really disheartening.

  20. lana January 16, 2017 12:59 pm

    this wouldn’t have happen in the first place if they had fans separated. Hello

  21. Nai January 16, 2017 1:02 pm


  22. Benz Pitolo January 16, 2017 8:12 pm

    My son just showed me the NorCal players posting about that dirty hit on Yuen. They bragging online about how they intentionally tried to hurt him and get the Hawaii boys all riled up. Get that Aunty’s son too posting all kind stuff about how his grandma threw a water bottle and that NorCal kid was cheering in front of them after he hit Yuen. Seeing that just makes you realize that we need to know the whole story before we place blame. I don’t condone violence but maybe Hawaii adults need for stand behind our kids more. Can not just blame one side. Anyway das just my opinion.

  23. Aaron Kaapuni January 19, 2017 2:56 pm

    @Kapahulu, OIA coaching staffs don’t stress discipline? I can’t vouch for other teams, but we stress discipline every time at Nanakuli. Were there OIA coaches coaching the teams?

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