Last Friday night, the first night of the Fair, the Apple Bowl football game was played after a moving tribute to the veterans of all wars. WWII vets Willis Tucker and Paul Titus were there Tucker's WWII story is very distinctive: Tucker was born in Alpine, Arkansas but moved to Texas and joined the Navy when the war began. He was on board the Pacific Fleet carrying Marines to battle. At the first island stop in a long series of islands fighting against the Japanese, it was discovered that sailor Tucker was the only military man there who knew how to start a diesel engine tank. Therefore, he was stuck fighting the war with the Marines. He was shot in Saipan; then he was later on the beach at Iwo Jima.
We all saluted the vets by pressing our hearts or saluting the flag in their honor.
The stage was set at 7:30pm beneath a dark sky on a shimmering green gridiron to watch the AVHS Panthers play the Point Arena Pirates.
The new principal, Michelle Hutchins, sat beside me and said, “I like to watch the Coach coach and watch these players play.”
Through the first two and a half quarters it was a well-played, tightly contested game that often changed leads between the teams. But in the third quarter Panther coach Dan Kuny had his team running much more between the tackles. These blasts opened up the line, creating big yardage gains which in turn created openings for the passing game. This tactic opened up the game in favor of the Panthers.
Finally, it seemed the fog-eaters got tired — Coach Kuny emphasized conditioning — and the Panthers rolled to a 58-34 win. The score doesn’t truly show how close the talent level for each team was. The Panthers were better conditioned and therefore kept their tackling and blocking technique in terrific form to the end of the game.
There was one poignant moment when I saw one of the finest all-time Panther quarterbacks, Tony Pardini, watching his freshman son, 14 year old Tony Pardini Jr. play quarterback on the varsity Panther team while uncle Ernie Pardini was in the announcer’s booth calling the game. The younger Pardini is something very special for his age, throwing for three TDs in this game.
Jared Johnson kicked a very important 62-yard punt with the roll at a time when the game was scary close, punting the Panthers out of a hole.
Cesar Soto ran for 149 yards and four TDs from his running back position and played with a furious intelligence from his cornerback position on defense. He really has a nose for the ball.
Erin Perez stopped lots of runners in their tracks just when it looked like the Pirates were off for long gainers coming off the wide run. Perez brushed away the lead blocker and stopped the breakaway run with a beautiful tackle, legal and very tough.
Will Lemons looked like a fine receiver and an excellent blocker on offense.
Alejandro Gutierrez came on late. He is a player to watch because he is already a good footballer and he will get better as the season rolls on.
The special ingredient for this Panther team is that they are so young. Quarterback Pardini is a freshman. He is the first freshman to start since, ahem, I did in 1958. I wasn’t good enough to start but everybody else had quit. I started the last varsity game at Covelo when I was only 13 years old.
The 2013 Panthers have several good sophomores. So, this team is very good, but the upside on this team is magnificent.
Coach Kuny told me after the game, “My kids don’t know how to quit. They have lots of heart. If you want to see some good football, come out and see us play.”
It was the finest football game I have seen around here in a long time. The Panthers will be away next weekend, but home the weekend after. See you there!