The Asian reporter. (Portland, Or.) 1991-current, February 05, 2018, Page Page 24, Image 24

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February 5, 2018
Asians in American sports w Asian Americans in world sports
Another Samoan quarterback superstar emerges
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
rarely write about the same league
twice within a year, and I’ve never
written about the same league in
successive months, but this story was too
incredible to pass up. As I wrote in
January, Polynesian quarterbacks are
fairly rare in college football — but the
ones so far have been top-notch. During
the National Collegiate Athletic Asso-
ciation (NCAA) championship game,
sports fans witnessed the rise of
Tuanigamanuolepola “Tua” Tagovailoa,
the newest member of that elite group.
Asian sports fans (and Oregon Duck
fans) know all about Marcus Mariota. In
2014, the Samoan sensation led the Ducks
to a 12-1 regular season with a perfor-
mance that won him the Heisman Trophy
with the second-highest voting percentage
ever. Mariota brought Oregon to the brink
of a national championship, losing to Ohio
State 20-42 in the first-ever College
Football Playoff national championship
Instead of being the nationally known
face of his top-ranked team, Tagovailoa
was a virtually unknown freshman backup
who had rarely seen the field for the
University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide.
But Tua emerged from anonymity to
orchestrate a dramatic comeback victory
on the nation’s highest collegiate stage,
becoming the first Samoan quarterback to
lead his team to a national championship.
Obscured at Alabama, the 19-year-old
quarterback was well-known back home.
At Honolulu’s Saint Louis High School
(also Mariota’s alma mater), Tagovailoa
set the state record for career passing
yards, throwing for 8,158 yards, eclipsing
the record set by another API quarter-
back, Tommy Chang. Tagovailoa threw 84
touchdowns and ran for 27 more, finishing
with a 24-5 career record as a starter and
leading Saint Louis High to its fourth state
championship during his senior year.
Tagovailoa a hot commodity for a lot of
great colleges, but he chose Alabama,
becoming their first-ever Hawai‘ian
football prospect. Where others saw the
obvious differences between his home
state and Alabama, Tua saw only
similarities. “We go to church every
Sunday. People are treated like family
there just like here … you want to be
somewhere that feels like home and that’s
what Alabama feels like,” he said.
As a freshman, Tua faced an uncertain
path to a starting role. Ahead of him on the
depth chart was sophomore Jalen Hurts,
who’d led Alabama to a national title game
the season before. In that game, Alabama
lost to Clemson, 31-35, on a dramatic
last-second touchdown. And Hurts had a
weak game, completing just 13 of 31 passes
for 131 yards and running 10 times for 63
Still, Alabama coach Nick Saban named
Hurts as his starter for the season, saying
that Tua would get some playing time.
True to his word, Saban started Hurts in
every game, only allowing his backup from
Hawai‘i to take the field when Alabama
was comfortably ahead.
championship game against the Georgia
Georgia dominated the first half, taking
AMAZING ARM. Alabama Crimson Tide quarter-
back Tuanigamanuolepola “Tua” Tagovailoa (#13)
runs the ball during the second half of the National
Collegiate Athletic Association football playoff champi-
onship game against the Georgia Bulldogs in Atlanta.
With the Tide down by 13 points at halftime, Tagovai-
loa led his teammates to an overtime victory to take
home the College Football Playoff national champion-
ship. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
a 13-0 lead while smothering Alabama’s
offense. Since Hurts was mainly a running
quarterback without a strong arm, the
Bulldogs crowded the line of scrimmage
and eliminated Alabama’s running game.
Hurts completed only three passes for 21
yards, and Alabama punted four times on
five first-half drives.
Rather than risk a repeat of last year’s
final game, coach Saban unleashed his
secret weapon, Tagovailoa, to start the
second half. Suddenly, Georgia had to
cover deep threats, giving Alabama room
to run and throw, while trying to watch an
equally slippery runner at quarterback.
On their second drive of the half, Tua
marched the team 56 yards for a touch-
down, accounting for the team’s entire
offensive production. The drive culmi-
nated in a rifle shot over the middle from
Tua to a slanting Henry Ruggs III in the
back of the end zone. The Tide were now
within six points.
Georgia struck back immediately,
scoring on an 80-yard touchdown pass to
Mecole Hardman three plays later. On
Alabama’s next drive, Tua made an ill-ad-
vised pass attempt, and Georgia’s Deandre
Baker snatched it for an interception.
Ahead by 13 and ready to score, Georgia
looked ready to salt the game away. In-
stead, they gave the ball back on the next
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