Forget preseason scrimmages, the competitive football season kicked off for real on Thursday night, too. Of course, the first competitive football game of the year -- played in the second week of August, at that -- couldn't just be a normal contest, either. Instead, it was a game between annual state title contenders from Hawaii and Alaska, held in Hawaii, and ceremoniously dubbed the Fire and Ice Bowl.
Incredibly, the game lived up to the hype, with the Anchorage (Ak.) Service High Cougars finishing their face off against the Leilehua (Hi.) High Mules in a 34-34 tie. Yes, that means that one game into the 2011 season, the nation's football teams are a combined 0-0-2.
According to the Anchorage Daily News and Honolulu Star-Advertiser, among other outlets, Leilehua mounted a furious rally in the game's final three minutes to close a 13-point deficit and earn the official stalemate. Most impressively, the Mules scored a game-tying touchdown with two seconds left on a short pass from Kenan Sadenaga. The senior signal called finished with some 375 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
"It was a great game, and the welcome we've received here is the most important thing," Service head coach Jason Caldarra told Hawaii TV network OC16, which streamed the game live and simulcast it in Alaska. "The way it ended shows what a great program Leilehua is."
If the finish was a testament to Leilehua, the opening stages showed how dominant Service can be. Young Service quarterback Viliamu Aukusitino ran for two scores, returned an interception for a third and added his first varsity score through the air on a beautiful 83-yard touchdown pass to teammate Daniel Murakami.
In fact, it was Aukusitino's interception that seemed to put the game beyond reach, but instead sparked Leilehua's memorable rally.
That Service was even in the game, given what its players went through to make it there, is an impressive statement in itself. According to this preview of the game, the Alaskans left Anchorage and it's 50-degree August temperatures on Monday to arrive in Hawaii, where it was more than 30 degrees warmer. Instead of spending time at any of a number of hotel chains, the team stayed at a YMCA to make the trip affordable.
All of that paved the way to take part in a game that featured a program which has reached the Hawaii state finals in three of the past five seasons and the state runners-up in Alaska's large schools division in 2010.
While the contest could have easily been a flop, given the penchant for early season miscues and the dramatic climate difference, this one wasn't. In fact, if any game is worthy of the moniker "Fire and Ice Bowl", it should be one that finishes in a 34-34 tie, features a 13-point comeback in the final 3 minutes and also provides two touchdown plays of more than 80 yards … not to mention a huge gain on a fourth-and-two by a nearly-300 pound lineman.
Now that a season opener is officially in the books, a full slate of varsity football will get off the ground in Alaska this weekend, all part of the state's annual plan to play as many games as possible before the weather makes any football tough starting in late October. Some 14 games are scheduled to be played on Friday night and Saturday.
Indeed, football is back, and long live football.