Jake Simmons slept through Saturday’s missile scare.
That might partly explain his performance in the championship game of the JPS Paradise Classic at Aloha Stadium.
Simmons threw for 165 yards and two touchdowns to lead California to a 21-20 victory over Hawaii East on a day that began with some anxious moments for everybody who was awake for the alert that went out saying a missile strike was imminent.
Simmons was one of the few who completely missed it.
“To be honest, I slept all the way through it. No one woke me up,” Simmons said. “I would’ve expected a coach to say something, but no.”
He was well-rested for the title game against a Hawaii East team that was as good defensively as he’s seen.
“As far as physicality goes, and including the fact that they can’t blitz, that’s the best defense I’ve ever seen. I lived up to expectations by delivering and we came out with the victory,” Simmons said.
It was a typically chippy battle for the JPS Paradise Classic title.
“It’s just all people on the football field. We’re going to get big heads, but at the end of the day, we’re all good guys. It’s nothing. It’s just talk,” said Demarii Blanks, a running back from Carlmont H.S. who scored the clinching touchdown on a 40-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Simmons’ mobility in the pocket was impressive, but Kapolei’s Traven Ma‘ae brought him down for 2.5 sacks. The East defense limited NorCal to 284 yards of total offense, dictating momentum early.
An interception on a tipped pass by Kalamaku Kuewa (Kamehameha) turned into a 46-yard return to the NorCal 5-yard line. Two plays later, Kanoa Shannon (Kamehameha) used a second effort to drive over the goal line from the 1 for the game’s first score.
Simmons entered at quarterback for NorCal and engineered a 10-play, 67-yard drive. Simmons was 4-for-5 with 49 passing yards, delivering a 28-yard strike to A’jae Boyd on third-and-13 for a game-tying TD.
A few minutes later, East linebacker Jalen Tuivaiave-Olomua was whistled for targeting while closing in low on Simmons during a scramble. The Mililani senior was disqualified for the penalty with 9 minutes left in the second quarter.
A pivotal play came late in the second quarter when Boyd intercepted a pass by Shastyn Kekahuna of Roosevelt, but Boyd fumbled the ball near midfield and Hawaii East recovered. On the same play, NorCal safety Jaelyn Thomas was ejected for throwing a punch. On the next play, Kekahuna spiraled a quick pass to Kapolei’s Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala, who turned the corner and scored a 25-yard TD for a 14-7 East lead with 2:14 left until intermission.
While the game got more and more chippy, punter/placekicker Conor Calvert saved the visitors major field position a minute later. The punt snap sailed over his head and he managed to scoop the ball up near the NorCal 20, spin and punt the ball before being sacked by three East rushers. The 10-yard punt was downed and saved his team 35 yards.
Two plays later, a deep pass by East’s Marcus Faufata-Pedrina of Damien was intercepted by Rome Weber to end the last-minute threat. However, on the last play of the half, a pileup near the NorCal sideline after a catch by Kenroy Higgins led to two unsportsmanlike calls on East players, one on a NorCal player, and another on a NorCal coach. Officials ruled that the infractions were offsetting and the half ended.
Hawaii East had 90 penalty yards, which would’ve been more if the last two conduct calls had counted. NorCal had 25 penalty yards before halftime.
NorCal tied the game late in the third quarter with Simmons at the controls. After a 2-yard punt by East, Simmons directed his offense 48 yards in eight plays. His 19-yard strike to Ward and 15-yard pass to Boyd set up a 5-yard TD toss to the left corner, where Ward hauled the ball in. It was 14-all with 1:32 left in the third.
On the same play, East defensive lineman Taylor Tagupa was called for roughing the passer. By rule of the all-star game, he was disqualified.
Blanks seized momentum for NorCal, which drove 80 yards in just seven plays early in the fourth quarter. Blanks picked up 22 yards, then was backed up for a 4-yard loss. The feisty 5-11, 200-pound running back then scored on a 40-yard run, juking past one defender and barreling over two more to give NorCal a 21-14 lead with 8:33 left.
Stephen Eter’s ensuing 51-yard kick return turned into a turnover when Jasyhi Johnson stripped the ball away and Justin Ross recovered for NorCal at the 24.
East’s Aaron Faumui and Ma’ae combined to bring down the elusive Simmons on the next series. That led to a nine-play, 40-yard scoring drive for Hawaii East.
Seth Tina-Soberano connected with Rico Rosario for a bobbling 24-yard pass play on fourth-and-10. Moments later, Rosario bulled over the goal line for a 2-yard TD run that cut the lead to 21-20 with 4:07 left. However, Rosario inexplicably ran to the corner of the stadium and leaped over the dugout wall.
He was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected by all-star game rule. In addition, the penalty was assessed on the PAT, pushing the ball back to the 18-yard line. Without a regular placekicker, the East opted to go for 2. Tina-Soberano’s hail-mary pass attempt to Scott McLeod in double coverage was batted away in the end zone.
During the next possession, East linebacker Tasi Malepeai was flagged for facemask and he, too, was ejected from the game. East got the ball back on its 4-yard line with 1:05 left after their defense made a stop, but four plays later, they were unable to convert a first down. NorCal ran out the final seconds.