Fri Jan 15th, 2021
Special to the Drum
Tags: 2021 Hawaii Tiki Bowl, Camping World Stadium, CHSAA Class 1A, Ignacio gridders, Joe Garcia, joel priest, Ponch Garcia, Team Laulima, Team Lokahi, Tiki Bowl, World League of American Football Orlando Thunder
Garcia’s group takes Tiki Bowl, 24-0
There was certainly a look-good-play-good vibe about the Ignacio gridders before they wrapped up an abbreviated 2020 football campaign decimating visiting Del Norte on Senior Night.
“Oh yeah,” concurred Joe Garcia, speaking after the 40-0 conquest about the CHSAA Class 1A squad’s brand-new uniforms unveiled not long before kickoff. “Coach [Alfonso Garcia] brought the seniors in, we changed real quick, then went out and showed the rest of the team …. Everybody was pumped up about it!”
One could therefore imagine how pumped the senior running back/linebacker was to have received his 2021 Hawaii Tiki Bowl togs, and thus amplify his attitude accordingly when it came time to shine amidst a small galaxy of prep all-stars illuminating the event’s COVID-necessitated backup site – Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. – Thursday evening, Jan. 7.
And despite playing a position not exactly prime within a pass-happy game plan, the ’Cat still had a trick under his hat:
“There were five running backs, and each of us … every three plays we would switch,” he explained via phone late Thursday night. “And I had a specialty play – the halfback pass. At practice they’d told us about it, then they just lined us up like, ‘We’re going to see who can throw the farthest, best pass.’ I did it, then they gave it to me.”
And ultimately broke it out on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Leading 14-0 and driving from their foes’ 35-yard line, Garcia and Team Laulima (meaning ‘teamwork’ or ‘cooperation’) employed trickery to effectively subdue Team Lokahi (‘unity’) and close out the day’s tripleheader.
Taking a shotgun handoff from 6’4”, 216-pound quarterback Jordan Manley of 6A Winchester, Ky., George Rogers Clark, Garcia scrambled right … then threw toward the near sideline at Brandon McClendon, Jr., with 11:54 left in the contest.
A Kentuckian representing 2A Covington Holy Cross – coached by former Cincinnati Bengal center Bruce Kozerski – McClendon snagged the throw at the 11 then tip-toed to paydirt, putting Laulima up 20-zip before K/DE Conner Ramthun (of Minnesota State High School League Class AA Lewiston-Altura) cashed his third point-after kick in as many attempts.
“I got more scared than I should have,” Garcia said with a laugh. “Because at first when I threw it, it looked like I overthrew it out of bounds, but the kid I threw it to … he had three touchdowns and an interception! So, I threw it to the right kid!”
“It was very competitive here,” he continued, alluding to the week-long experience as a whole. “The coaches talked, the teams talked, we ran scrimmages during the practices – it was really a different atmosphere for me, and definitely a first …. All the kids were hyped to play and it was … ecstatic there at the practices. You had to bring it to stand out.”
Doing exactly that in the grand finale, McClendon caught the game’s first TD – a 37-yarder from 5A Nampa, Idaho, Skyview’s Clayton Franssen – as the opening 12-minute quarter expired, on a play initially faked to Garcia in the backfield.
Following a timeout late in the second stanza, Team Laulima struck again with 1:12 before halftime when McClendon split two defenders up the far sideline to haul in a perfect 38-yard rainbow from 6’4”, 220-pound Adrian Stringer – who’d been Laulima’s starting QB – of 4A Madisonville (Ky.) Hopkins County Central.
Garcia again found himself on the field as part of the PAT crew as Laulima entered intermission up two scores.
Having missed an ice-breaking 35-yard field goal with 5:05 left in the first quarter, Ramthun would later ice the game with a straight-on 30-yard try and just 6:17 remaining until the coaches received surprise ‘Gatorade baths’ when the clock zeroed out.
McClendon’s Tiki-torching of Team Lokahi’s defense warranted MVP consideration, though in post-game interviews streamed online, Colorado standout receiver/tight end Cole Walker (5A Broomfield Legacy) was praised in a postgame interview for multiple possession-sustaining catches, many via Stringer throws.
2A Woodland Park WR/DB Tyler Baldus, Legacy guard/long snapper Austin Stallan, plus 1A (8-man) Dove Creek’s Gauge Thompson also represented the Centennial State under Laulima mentors Zach Crissup (named in Sept. 2020 the head coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College) and Trent Hosick (a former QB at University of Missouri, Arizona Western College and Youngstown State University – after de-committing from Brigham Young University – in Ohio).
“I was actually surprised when – I was kneeling on the ground – I heard ‘Dove Creek,’” recalled Garcia. “I looked behind me like ‘Who said that?’ Then I was like, ‘You’re from Dove Creek?’ (Thompson) said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Dove Creek, COLORADO?’ He was like, ‘YEAH!’ Even more crazy … he was on my team too!”
“I met quite a few kids down there, kids from Idaho, Kentucky, California, Oklahoma, Oregon,” he added, “just kids from all over. We got to ride the bus … to the stadium, and we got out, went straight to the locker room – the locker rooms were all nice – and were just treated like royalty.”
And why not? The 2020 FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl had been played December 26th at CWS, with 23rd-ranked Liberty shocking No. 12 Coastal Carolina 37-34 in overtime, and school colors of Auburn and No. 14 Northwestern – pit New Year’s Day in the 2021 Vrbo Citrus Bowl, won 35-19 by the highly-rated Wildcats – were still painted and prominent in the end zones.
But in Joe Garcia’s mind, that wasn’t really the ultimate point of being a Tiki Bowl-er – even a victorious one.
In the end, it was still mostly about carrying himself in a manner befitting his school, which had in the past produced players seeking out destinations such as Australia for the Down Under Games’ own showcase-style action.
“I take great pride in that,” he said, of bringing IHS’ banner east to the Sunshine State and, more or less, west to the String of Pearls. “When I was asked, it was such an honor and I wanted to go so bad. And I try to stay humble about it; I didn’t really, like, brag about it. I just wanted to … go show everybody little Ignacio and what can happen when you’re from there. Just wanted to make everyone in Ignacio proud.”
“Dealing with college coaches, being around kids who know the game of football and love it that much – or as much as me – was just a great experience. Everything we did this week …. You’ve just got to want it; it’s about who wants it more,” he emphasized. “And it was definitely worth it. My first time ever coming down to Florida, and I loved it – me and my mom were talking about planning another trip down!”
DID YOU KNOW
Had Ignacio skipper ‘Ponch’ Garcia made the World League of American Football Orlando Thunder’s final 1991 roster he’d have played at CWS regularly, though the historic venue was known then by its more familiar ‘Florida Citrus Bowl’ name — in 1983, the Florida Department of Citrus had become the site’s title sponsor for $250,000; recreational-vehicle industry heavyweight Camping World acquired naming rights on April 27, 2016. “He [Ponch] encouraged me to go and was pretty excited,” said Joe Garcia. “Can’t wait to get back to school and tell him about it!”