Honolulu Star-Advertiser


By Stephen Tsai

February 1, 2021

In what might have been aloha ball at Aloha Stadium, the pro football prospects delivered a dramatic parting shot on Sunday.

The Hula Bowl was the last scheduled football game at the 45-year-old stadium and, if there are no more, the two all-star teams made sure to produce a memorable ending.

The Kai team — directed by Rex Ryan, former head of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, and featuring former Hawaii players Taaga Tuulima and Rico Bussey — bested the ‘Aina, 15-13.

Kai constructed a 15-7 lead on CJ Marable’s 2-yard run up the gut and David Cote’s field goals of 32, 33 and 24 yards. It appeared the suspense ended when Notre Dame’s Nick McCloud intercepted ‘Aina quarterback Zach Smith’s pass at the 19 and raced 33 yards the other way with 4:45 to play.

Kai then worked down the clock to the two-minute warning. But on second-and-9 at the ‘Aina 31, KJ Costello tried to needle a quick screen. Costello was hit on the play, and the ball floated to Carlo Kemp, a 6-foot-3, 286-pound defensive lineman from Michigan.

Kemp’s initial reaction? “Oh, my God, I just caught this ball.”

In his mind, Kemp said, the play unfolded “in slow motion. It was, ‘oh, my gosh, it’s coming right at me.’ Then after I caught it, it was like, ‘don’t get caught.’ All I saw was 60 yards of grass. ‘Just don’t get caught, put it in the end zone, and let’s have some fun.’”

Kemp rumbled 64 yards to close the ‘Aina to 15-13 with 1:48 to play.

“It was not one of my prouder moments,” Ryan said of the decision to pass instead of run out the clock. “I was sitting back going, ‘Sanchez, I’m going to kill you.’ ”

Mark Sanchez, who was Ryan’s quarterback when the Jets reached the AFC title game twice, served as Kai’s offensive coordinator.

“It was a great play,” Ryan said. “Give them credit for it.”

But Peyton Ramsey’s ensuing conversion pass failed to convert, leaving the ‘Aina’s deficit at two points.

In this exhibition where kickoff and punt returns were no-nos, the officials announced the “on-side play.” The ball was set at the 30, with the ‘Aina given one play to advance 15 yards to keep possession. Ramsey’s pass to Khalil McClain, who was blanketed by Nate Hobbs, was not completed.

This time, Kai called two rushes and a victory-formation kneel to give Ryan his second victory since the Hula Bowl was resurrected last year.

“This time next year,” Ryan said, smiling, “I’ll make it 3-0.”

‘Aina coach Mike Singletary did not commit to a rematch. “We’ll see,” said Singletary, a Hall of Fame linebacker and former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. But Singletary expressed his appreciation for players who had only eight hours of practices to prepare.

“We were fighting,” Singletary said.”We were swinging.”

Bussey finished with a game-high 61 receiving yards on four catches. Tre Harbison of Charlotte grinded out 62 rushing yards for the Kai. Michigan State defensive tackle Naquan Jones powered his way for two tackles for loss, including a sack. Max Roberts of Boston College had five tackles, including three in a row to open the second half. McCloud’s two picks came on sharp reads.

On the first, McCloud said, “I knew they were running a lot of hitches. So I got my eyes back to the quarterback. I felt the receiver, saw the ball coming out of (the quarterback’s) hands, and I made a break for the ball.”

On the fourth-quarter interception, McCloud said, “I read the receiver’s tempo a little bit. I felt he was going to sit down (on the route), so I made a play on the ball.”

Despite the outcome, Kemp said: “It was great fun. It was great to compete all week. I had a blast. The game gave us an opportunity to showcase our talent.”