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Football Long Beach Poly

Football: Long Beach Poly Beats Konawaena In Season Opener

Most people book a trip to Hawaii to get away from the real world and its problems, and unwind in paradise. That’s not exactly how it played out for the Long Beach Poly football team, which opened its 2023 season on the Big Island with a game against Konawaena. The devastating fire on Maui brought those real world problems into stark relief, and the Jackrabbits had plenty of other travel-related headaches to deal with as well. But after a week in Hawaii, the Jackrabbits will leave with what they came for: a season-opening victory over host Konawaena, 60-28.

“It was a great experience, getting to see a different side of the world,” said Poly quarterback Darius Curry. “Some of our boys have never really left Long Beach so it was great to be a part of this experience and see the Hawaiian culture.”

Poly arrived in Hawaii Tuesday, and had portions of their week altered because of the tragic fires in Maui, including the cancelation of a planned volunteer outing. But they spent plenty of time at the beach and shave ice spots in addition to practices at Old Kona Airport Park, preparing for their game with the Wildcats. Konawaena was an incredible host, inviting all the Poly players, coaches, and families for a luau on their campus Thursday evening that included a variety of Hawaiian dishes and dancing in the Wildcats gymnasium. 

Aside from the game, Poly coach Stephen Barbee said that bringing his players to the islands to get that experience was his biggest goal.

“We had 15 players who’d never been on a plane before, and it’s been great to come out here and see this place through everybody’s eyes and just see the pure joy,” he said. 

There were also moments of reflection and sadness surrounding the natural disaster in Maui. There was a message on the field for Maui at the game Friday, and donations were being collected to benefit those families displaced or affected by the fires. The Konawaena athletic director also delivered a moving message of hope, resilience and compassion before the game as the two teams gathered together. “Their loss is our loss,” she said.

After all the priceless experiences and irreplaceable cultural exchanges, they played a football game. 


Things started out tough for the Jackrabbits, who were without several anticipated starters for a variety of reasons. Three expected starters are transfers still awaiting CIF-SS clearance and another four were suspended for the first half of Friday’s game for violating team rules on the trip. The Jackrabbits still took a 7-0 lead after a first-quarter touchdown run from Josh “Noodles” Cason, but the Wildcats quickly swung things in their favor. They went on an 86-yard touchdown drive to pull within a point, then ended up taking a 21-7 lead as they took advantage of two lethargic Poly drives and responded with scores, taking the 14-point lead on QB Keoki Alani’s third touchdown pass of the half midway through the second quarter.

At that point, sophomore Kamarie Smith saved the day with an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to get Poly right back into it. On the next Konawaena drive, Troy Tamasoa hit Alani and dislodged the ball for a strip sack, recovered by Luke Sefe for a Poly takeaway, quickly capitalized on as Curry hit Jordan Malu’ulu for a touchdown to bring Poly within 21-19.The Poly defense was able to hold Konawaena on fourth down deep in their own end on the next possession, giving the ball back to their offense where Curry found Ezekiel Orozco for a touchdown then ran in the two-point conversion to make it 27-21 Poly at halftime.

With the suspended players returning for the second half, the game got out of hand quickly in the next six minutes of game time. First, Cason picked off Alani and ran it back for a touchdown. Then after a defensive stand, the Jackrabbits saw Curry hit Smith, Orozco, Smith, and then Orozco again for a 50-yard score. Quimari Shemwell grabbed an interception and returned it for a score to make it 47-21, and then Elijah Pouli recovered an “accidental onside” that had been kicked deep but wasn’t picked up by Konawaena, as a nearby player assumed it would bounce out of bounds. Pouli fell on it, and the next play Cason ran in his third score of the night. Shemwell then nabbed another pick-six for Poly’s third defensive touchdown of the night, and his second pick-six in six minutes of action.

Over six minutes in the third Poly went from up six to up 60-21 in a running-clock game, as part of 53 unanswered points. The Wildcats ended up scoring a touchdown late in the game with the clock still running.

It was a tale of two halves for the Poly defense. Alani had 304 yards passing and three touchdowns in the first half, while Poly’s defense held him to 1/6 for -5 yards and three interceptions in the third quarter.

Shemwell showed that he’s got next-level skill and speed with his rare accomplishment of two house calls in one quarter.

“It’s exciting, I’m on the big stage that’s all I ever wanted and I competed,” he said. “It’s my first game as a Jackrabbit and I got to come out here and show what I can do.”

Curry had a nice game as Poly’s QB with 266 yards and three touchdowns. He said even when his team was down early he was confident they’d come back.

“We came all this way, we have family that came down to watch, parents missing work to come watch us play, parents that paid for us and for them to come out here and see us, so we had to win as a thank you to them  and to our coaches,” he said. “It meant a lot to us to have so many fans here, we’ve been working all offseason for this.”

Cason had a big game with three total touchdowns, and Orozco had six catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively Troy Tamasoa had a team-high 6.5 tackles including two for a loss and a sack. Donte Wright Jr. and Tracy Jones each had six tackles, and Isaac Johnson, Jaden Akins and Corey Hudson each had five tackles.

Up next for Poly is a bigger challenge than the reigning Division 1 Hawaii State champs—they’ll get a week off and then head to the Nike Campus in Oregon to face Bishop Gorman, one of the top teams in the nation.

In the meantime, they’ll leave the islands with a win, but also a bigger perspective on football and the world.

“You want to show these boys that like football more of the world,” said Barbee. “These experiences transcend sports. Yes we’re competitive. Yes we want to win. But to see all these kids from different schools talking and congratulating each other—you can break down barriers that way, you can unite communities that way, and you can give young men an experience that most of them have never had.”

VIDEO: Long Beach Poly vs. Konawaena Football
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.