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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Kealakehe RB Gabe Tuata Samoa Bowl MVP

University of Hawai'i and Kealakehe HS (Kailua-Kona, HI) Recruit Gabe Tuata helped lead Hawai'i over American Samoa in the 4th Annual Samoa Bowl.

Football voyage stresses heritage

Saturday, January 6, 2007 9:07 AM HST

Kealakehe running back leads Hawaii All-Stars in American Samoa

by Joe Ferraro
Stephens Media

The victory was icing on the cake. For 35 high school seniors, the trip to American Samoa for Tuesday's fourth annual Samoa Bowl was more than football.

Kealakehe seniors Gabe Tuata and Max Papali'i each scored a touchdown in the game, helping the Hawaii All-Stars to a 28-6 victory over the American Samoa All-Stars. The win evened the series at 2.

Tuata's 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half gave the Hawaii All-Stars a 21-0 advantage, and Papalii's 9-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach. Tuata, who also made two big plays on the Hawaii All-Stars' first scoring drive, was selected as the game's MVP.

But the Samoa Bowl also focused on the star players' ties to American Samoa. When the Hawaii All-Stars were announced, so were their parents and the villages they came from. Tuata's father, Laau, played football at Fagaitua High School, and he was also a 100- and 200-meter dash champion in Samoa.

"That's where Gabe got his speed from,'' said Sam Papalii, Max's father and a former Kealakehe football coach who was born in American Samoa. "That's the essence of the game, to go back to (the players) roots.''

Of the 35 players, Tuata and Max Papalii were the only Big Island representatives. Of the others, one was a California resident, and the rest came from Oahu.

Nine played for Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I runner-up Saint Louis, six were from Farrington and five competed for 'Aiea. Wai'anae, McKinley, Damien, Castle and Kahuku were also represented.

The players paid the airfare for their five-hour flight, but the American Samoa governor provided a hotel and meals for all the Hawaii team. They also found time to explore the island, getting a tour of the governor's mansion along the way.

According to Sam Papalii, 30 of the 35 players had ties to American Samoa.

"It was a great experience,'' Max Papalii said. We got to learn a lot about our culture. We learned to do a Samoan dance for the governor. ... a lot of the players met family members they didn't know they had.''

In addition to his touchdown reception, Papalii also hauled in a 12-yard pass on a fourth-down play in the second quarter. That play set up a 41-yard touchdown pass from Farrington quarterback Maeli Siliga to Aiea's Lofa Li'ili'i, giving Hawaii a 14-0 lead.

"The real difference was the speed of the offense and the tenacity of the defensive guys,'' Sam Papalii said.

Tuata, the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Offensive Player of the Year, broke a 34-yard run and gained 29 yards on a screen pass in the first quarter, setting up an 8-yard touchdown pass from Liilii to Saint Louis running back Lene Auelua.

"(I enjoyed) just seeing where I was from, seeing where my roots were and to be playing football again,'' Tuata said.

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