SportStars Magazine

Honor Bowl: Football Showcase Wows Bay

Honor Bow, Football, Liberty

With Its First Stop In the Bay Area, The Honor Bowl Showcase Delivered A Memorable And Humbling Experience To Several High School Football Teams •

There were five games over two days at the first Honor Bowl held in the San Francisco Bay Area. And although only one of the games was particularly close, the reasons why the event is unique to California are always easy to see.

Honor Bowl, Football

A battle cross built prior to a 2015 Honor Bowl game played at Del Oro High School. (James K. Leash photo)

It doesn’t matter if it’s kids with their phones in the stands, or super-confident athletes on the field. If you want to get them to settle down and show some respect, try building a battle cross in front them.

They get it real fast.

These games played Aug. 24-25 at St.Francis-Mountain View marked the first time Honor Bowl games were held in the Bay Area. One solemn tradition involves Honor Bowl organizers building a battle cross before the start of the last game each night.

A battle cross is usually built on the battlefield during war. It’s a way to honor the fallen and remind those still fighting. The cross is built with the fallen soldier’s rifle pointed downward, the soldier’s combat boots placed around it, the soldier’s helmet put on the top and finally the soldier’s dog tags he or she was wearing when killed.

Before the start of the St. Francis game against Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks on Aug. 24 and Serra-San Mateo vs. Serra-Gardena the following night, the battle cross was built with items provided by mothers and fathers of those who died in action. There also are numerous reminders everywhere about what the Honor Bowl games are striving to do: use showcase high school football games as a method of providing support to military veterans while serving as a learning experience for the players themselves.


The other game played the first night at St. Francis featured Del Oro-Loomis against Oak Grove-San Jose. The other two games played the second day were Archbishop Mitty-San Jose against Oakdale and Liberty-Brentwood versus Gilroy.

There were three more Honor Bowl games played the following weekend on Sept. 1 at Cathedral Catholic-San Diego.

Here is a recap of the five games played on Aug. 24-25 at St. Francis and a reflection of what many of the players and coaches told us about being involved in them:

Del Oro-Loomis 58, Oak Grove-San Jose 20

Honor Bowl, Football, Del Oro, Johnny Guzman

Del Oro’s Johnny Guzman accepts his 2018 MVP award from a serviceman. (Photos by Samuel Stringer)

With a new coach and new direction, it was thought that it might be a tough afternoon for Oak Grove — and it was, as the Golden Eagles of Del Oro posted an easy victory.

Del Oro, which came into the game at No. 34 in the State Top 50, scored on the opening kickoff as special teams standout Johnny Guzman grabbed the ball at the 9-yard line and weaved his way for a 91-yard touchdown. Guzman had another long punt return later in the game and scored on a touchdown reception from quarterback Carson Jarratt.

“The most important part of us being here is the mission of the Honor Bowl,” second-year Del Oro coach Jeff Walters said. “For more and more of these showcase events, it’s more about the event. But the Honor Bowl is always about the mission. It’s always about them, the people who defend us every day.”

The Golden Eagles represent the legacy school of the Honor Bowl. Mark Soto, the founding member of the Honor Group and Honor Bowl, was once an assistant coach there. They had never won an Honor Bowl game before, as they often were paired against more highly ranked opponents. This time, it was Oak Grove which had to stomach a tough matchup.

“This was my third time playing in it, the first two were at home (Del Oro),” said Golden Eagles wide receiver Dawson Hurst. Hurst also watched older brothers Logan (now at Washington) and Mason (now at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) play in Honor Bowl games. “It’s just way bigger than a football game. It’s an inspiration to everyone. For every one of those who have served who are here, that’s who we’re playing for.”

St. Francis-Mountain View 23, Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks 12

The host school won in its first Honor Bowl appearance. However, it was more than that for coach Greg Calcagno and his players.

“It’s been great,” said Calcagno, whose team won the CIF Division 2-A state bowl title last December. “I didn’t know all of the experiences they would provide for the kids. They did a great job honoring Matt Manoukian (a former St. Francis player who was killed in action in 2012). It’s good for them (the players) to understand that there is life after football.”

The Lancers were clinging to a 14-12 lead in the third quarter. The Knights were threatening to take the lead when standout defensive end Josh Pakola came up with a pair of sacks. His teammates took over on offense and secured the win.

Opeti Fangupo, who ended with 100 yards on 16 carries, scored on a 4-yard run with 9:06 left. Following another stop by the defense and a 31-yard run by Fangupo, there was a 22-yard field goal by Michael Leahy that pushed the lead to 11 points.

“It was an awesome experience,” said St. Francis receiver/defensive back Evan Williams, who caught a touchdown pass from new starting quarterback Jack Perry. “It’s a great event and their staff does a ridiculous job making it fun. They build that tunnel we can run out of with all of the effects, but they are also using it as a learning tool for us to gain a lot of knowledge about what our military and veterans have to go through.”

“We feel fortunate to have been in the Honor Bowl both times,” said Notre Dame coach Kevin Rooney, who won his 300th game last season. “They took us to Camp Pendleton last time, and this year we heard from some wounded warriors. It’s really important for the education of these kids to see the sacrifices that these people make.”

Archbishop Mitty-San Jose 42, Oakdale 14

Honor Bowl, Football, Mitty, Shamir Bey

Mitty junior quarterback Shamir Bey works his way downfield during the Monarchs’ win over Oakdale.

In his first start as a junior, quarterback Shamir Bey showed off improved skills in all facets of his game in leading Archbishop Mitty to the triumph. “It was an honor to play for the soldiers,” Bey said. “Being part of this event just feels great.”

Bey was effective all day against Oakdale’s defense with his running and passing. He had three touchdown passes and one touchdown run. One of the game’s key moments came when he found Joseph Vaughn for a 9-yard TD. It gave the Monarchs a 26-0 lead with 9.8 seconds left in the half.

Mitty not only won in the first Honor Bowl it has ever played in, but dominated a team that was 10-2 last season and had won its season-opener 49-0 over Sonora.

Liberty-Brentwood 57, Gilroy 0

Another Honor Bowl tradition is that each team, no matter what the final scoreboard reads, is presented with two awards. One is for that team’s MVP, and the other is for that team’s Character Award. So even though this was the biggest mismatch of the weekend, Gilroy’s team walked away with two awards, just like the Lions.

Honor Bowl, Football, Liberty, Tyerell Sturges-Cofer

LIberty-Brentwood tailback Tyerell Sturges-Cofer breaks into the second level against Gilroy.

Liberty, which may threaten De La Salle in the CIF North Coast Section this season, led 29-0 at the end of the first quarter after a 19-yard TD pass from junior Jay Butterfield (one of the top junior QBs in the state) to senior Sione Viaki. Butterfield was 9 of 11 for 211 yards and four TDs when he was pulled with six minutes left in the first half and his team ahead 50-0. The Liberty defense was equally crushing. It rang up 10 sacks in that half, including four by linebacker Nicky Einess.

Butterfield was given the MVP trophy for the game. Like all of the MVPs during the weekend, was glad to be signing game balls. “This means something to me because it’s from the Honor Bowl, but it’s really a team MVP,” Butterfield said. “It’s great to play here just for everyone who has served. It’s humbling to leave here with this experience. We’re also here representing those from our school who went through it. We know some guys didn’t come back.”

Joseph Barnes, a running back who had more than 1,400 yards rushing last season for a Gilroy team that went 13-0 and won the Central Coast Section Division V title, was the MVP for the Mustangs.

“It means a lot to be in this game,” said Barnes, who also placed eighth in his weight class in the 2018 CIF State Wrestling Championships. “We’re supporting the troops and doing this for a good cause.”

Serra-Gardena 41, Serra-San Mateo 22

Although Serra-San Mateo is coming off of a CIF D2-AA state title, Serra-Gardena showed that teams coming from the CIF Southern Section Div. I playoff grouping — which only gets to send its winner to the CIF state bowl games — just play a different level of football.

Serra-Gardena’s junior QB Doug Brumfield started 2-for-9 on his throws, but finished with 371 yards passing and four touchdowns. Melquan Stovall, who caught 80 passes for 1,487 yards and 21 TDs last season at Paraclete-Lancaster, had eight catches for 145 yards and one score in his first game for the Cavs. Stovall also scored on a 5-yard reverse.

It was a difficult first game for Stovall, however. It came just nine days after the death of his 19-year-old sister, Melkyra, who suffered serious injuries in a car accident two weeks earlier.

“My teammates pushed me and helped me to stay strong,” Stovall said. “I know she was here watching over me.”

Stovall added: “It’s a huge honor to be here to support these people. I respect everything they do. We’re only playing a game.”

“This is a big win because we have such great respect for Coach (Patrick) Walsh, who always has great teams,” said Cavaliers coach Scott Altenberg, whose team moved up to No. 10 in the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings following the win. “We were excited to come here to be in this event.”

Approximately 90 minutes before the start of the last game of the weekend, news broke that longtime U.S. Senator and former U.S. presidential candidate John McCain had died in Arizona. Since McCain was so well-known for being a prisoner of war for nearly six years in Vietnam and for his family’s long military service, a moment of silence for him before the battle cross was built was extremely appropriate.

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