On Sept. 8, I went to Concord to see the Lancers from St. Francis play against the prestigious Spartans from De La Salle. I was looking forward to watching two Tongan football student-athletes from St. Francis #7 Joshua Pakola and #52 Tyler Manoa. Last year’s running back from St. Francis, Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who is half-Tongan — I used to play against his father Peni when he attended Menlo-Atherton — is currently attending the University of Oregon. Tyler Manoa is an all-around athlete in football and basketball at 6’5” weighing 285 lbs. He has football pedigree from both parents. His father’s brother, Tim Manoa, is the 2nd Tongan to play in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns at fullback as he was known as the “Tongan Truck.” Tim won a National Championship in college at Penn State in 1986 under Coach Joe Paterno. Tyler mother’s older brother, Ken Niumatalolo, is the current head football coach at Navy.
For De La Salle, the player that was on my radar is junior linebacker Henry To’oto’o , who is half-Tongan. He is fielding offers from Alabama and Michigan after a statement game the week prior when the team was down 31-14 and rallied a comeback for a 35-31 victory against national powerhouse St. John’s of Washington D.C.
The Lancers came out hitting as the Spartans had the ball on the opening drive. Next thing you know, running back Kairee Robinson hits the hole in the middle and bam … 47 yard touchdown run. With 2:50 remaining in the 1st quarter, the Lancers QB and captain Reed Vettel hit WR Maurice Wilmer for a 29 yard TD reception as St. Francis ties the game 7-7. During the 2nd quarter, Lancers RB #10 Darrell Page had a great 20 yard run by juking a Spartan would-be tackler. But the next play, he fumbles the handoff and Michael Puckett recovers the fumble and returns it 52 yards for a DLS touchdown. The next drive for the Lancers did not get better as FB Opeti Fangupo has a nice 7 yard run up the middle, but he fumbles the ball and the Spartans recover. De La Salle capitalizes on the turnover by hitting a 26 yard field goal and led 17-7 at the half.
At halftime it is break time for me and I spoke to the parents of these Tongan student-athletes. Had a conversation with Tyler Manoa’s parents and discovered that a USC scout got Tyler’s attention today. USC was attending to see De La Salle DL Tuli Letuligasenoa who verbally committed to the Trojans last spring. I also spoke with Opeti Fangupo’s father, as I like to get to know their kids through their parents. In our Tongan Culture, we are so closely connected by a mutual relative/friend as this is what a high school football game feels like to me — we all come together to support our kids and I enjoy every minute of it. I could be making money on a Friday night, but I would rather be here at a high school football game supporting my Tongan kids.
One player who stood out to me in the first half was the right defensive end for the Lancers, Junior Fehoko. Such great size at 6’4” and 240 pound, he stayed in containment, putting pressure on the QB, and when De La Salle ran on his side, he filled the gap by hitting his block early to make the RB cut in the middle. I was loving this kid as he could read and utilize his hands, notably when he blocked a QB throw. Eventually, after halftime the Spartans made the adjustments and were running to the opposite side of Fehoko.
On the opening drive in the 3rd quarter, the Lancers start at the 20 yard line, #10 RB Darrell Page gets hurt with a possible knee injury (it ended up being cramps) and had to be carried off the field. St. Francis would eventually go 3-and-out. On their following drive, the Lancers had to punt from their own end zone and the Spartans ended up having great field position starting at the Lancers 27 yard line. The Spartans don’t disappoint as Robinson hit the hole from the 5-yard line and scores a touchdown. De La Salle went up at 24-7. With 4:20 remaining in the game, the Spartans are on the Lancers 18 yard line when St. Francis called a timeout after seeing that De La Salle was going for it on 4th-and-3 instead of kicking a field goal. After the timeout, the Spartans convert as running back George King picks up 5 yards for a first down. Three plays later, De La Salle goes for it again on 4th down by giving King the ball and he scores a touchdown from 17 yards out. De La Salle went up 31-7 and that was the final score.
St. Francis had nothing to be ashamed of as they can still win their rugged league, the West Catholic Athletic League, and they will be put in the the CCS Open Division I when it comes to playoffs. Playing against a national powerhouse like De La Salle will make these kids from St. Francis better and elevate their level of play. Coach Greg Calcagno has a great team this year that can run and pass. Til next time. Ofa Atu. -George