SANTA ROSA – The rain let up just in time Saturday afternoon for the fourth annual Tri County All-Star Game, but slick conditions and miscommunication led to four turnovers by Team White in a 48-14 loss to Team Black in the senior showcase at Piner High in Santa Rosa.
Team Black, made up of mainly Sonoma County players, used four fumble recoveries to quickly turn a close competition into a rout of Team White, which had players mostly from Napa and Marin counties.
Team Black included St. Helena’s Austin Cia, while Team White’s roster included Darren Antes, Carlos Chavarria Jonathan Roeder and Lorenzo Petersen from American Canyon, Max Hautala, Jake Castleberry and Javier Duron from Justin-Siena, and AJ Denna, Jesus Ochoa and Triston Schaumkel from Vintage. All but Petersen, who had to watch from the sideline because of injury, saw major game minutes.
“It just started from the get-go with the chemistry,” Roeder said. “Even before the first practice we were all talking in the parking lot cracking jokes with one another to get to know each other. There are a lot of guys that I am going to remember in five to 10 years, some great athletes and more importantly even better people.”
Leading the local group was Antes, who did damage mainly with his athleticism. The quarterback led Team White with 31 rushing yards on eight carries and scored a rushing touchdown.
“Being able to play this great game one more time, it is just amazing,” Chavarria said. “To meet a heck of a lot of new people, it was an amazing experience.”
Team White’s first offensive possession stalled after a lengthy drive and Team Black quickly got on the board with a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Healdsburg’s Levi Yeley.
But Drake’s Ryan Burness connected with Novato’s Matt Jackson for a 46-yard passing touchdown, and Burness gave Team White the lead with a two-point conversion scramble to the right side of the offensive line.
“When you play against these guys for four years, you kind of get to know them as opponents,” Hautala said. “But once you get here in practice and on the sidelines talking with the guys, it is really great.”
Santa Rosa’s 6-foot-3 quarterback, Isaiah Steele, completed some quick passes and Peyton Whetstone of Rancho Cotate scored from 7 yards out to regain the lead for Team Black, 14-8. With it being an all-star game, there were no kickoffs nor rushing allowed during point-after attempts.
On Team White’s first offensive drive of the second quarter, Team Black forced its second fumble of the game. Soon after, Analy’s Jack Newman connected with Santa Rosa wide receiver Cassius Banks on a fade route to the back right corner of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown.
Antes led Team White down the field before halftime, and ran around the left side of the offensive line to score untouched from 6 yards out. A bad snap on the two-point conversion ended all chance of the play being successful.
The two minutes on the clock before halftime was enough for Newman to slice up the defense and set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Windsor’s Irvin Mann. Newman was the star of the day, throwing for 173 yards and completing 13 of 17 attempts.
Newman stayed hot to start the third quarter, finding Analy teammate Eric Bendyk for a 5-yard receiving touchdown. The duo was one of the best in the state, with Bendyk having the fourth-most receiving yards and Newman finishing ninth in total passing yards.
The game was within reach still for Team White until a fumble on the following drive was scooped up by Windsor defensive lineman Joey Pignataro, and the big man rumbled for a 32-yard defensive touchdown.
“You would expect for it being your last game that you would have a bad gut feeling,” Chavarria said. “I honestly don’t feel that way, because playing this game has opened my eyes that I could potentially keep playing.”
Even in defeat, Team White seemed to enjoy every moment as its sideline was lively the entire game. “The way I look at it is, football is family,” Chavarria said. “You don’t play good if you are not a family. If you just have a bunch of individual groups, you aren’t going to play well. You have to be a family to really enjoy this sport.”
With no blitzing on PATs, Team White resorted to dancing to shake the mind of Team Black’s kicker. After Steele rushed in from 10 yards out on a quarterback sneak, the point after was missed, getting the biggest cheer out of the Team White players.
“It is really refreshing for me to be out here,” Denna said. “All of these guys just love football as much as me.”
It was the final football game for 95 percent of the players who competed on Saturday, although a lucky few will move on to four-year universities or play high-level junior college football. Most will be moving on to college, but just on the academic side – such as Antes.
“Without a doubt, I would recommend this experience to other people,” Antes said. “For most players, this is going to be there last opportunity to play football and speaking for myself, this is my last game before I get to focus on becoming a firefighter.”