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Boonville Makes History

The champs at Kezar

Boonville made history simply by showing up at Kezar Stadium last Saturday night. Stuart Hall made half that history but they may have wished they hadn't shown up.

The history?

The first 8-man football game ever played at Kezar pitted Anderson Valley's country boys versus Stuart Hall's city sophisticates, with the city boys coming out on the short end of the bombs-away 64-39 final score.

The history-making contest was played under the lights on a perfect late fall evening at the 'New' Kezar, as Kezar Two is known in the city. Until it was torn down in 1989 and became the far more user-friendly, open-all-night track and field it is today, the mammoth, Roman Coliseum-like Kezar One was probably best known as the pre-Candlestick home field of the San Francisco 49ers.

The Anderson Valley Panthers probably didn't know that their demolition of Stuart Hall occurred on the same oval that saw the best-attended high school football game ever played in the United States, the 1928 city championship game between Polytechnic and Lowell high schools. More than 50,000 people packed into Old Kezar for that one, won by Poly, whose ghostly remnant of a gym still looms up across the street from New Kezar.

Salvador “Chava” Gutierrez kicked off for the Panthers Saturday night, booting the ball deep into Stuart Hall's end zone, as he would do all night. The Panthers stuffed Stuart Hall's speedy running backs and, two plays after the Panthers got the ball, Marcos Espinoza ran right over two Stuart Hall defenders and was in for the score. Thirty seconds into the game we had them 6-0 as our point after attempt failed.

Chava Gutierrez again booted the ball deep into the Stuart Hall end zone with Scott Johnston making a great tackle on the return man. Garret Mezzanatto, after some tough runs by Marcos Espinoza to put the Panthers mid-field, completed a long and perfect pass to the ubiquitous Omar Benevides who was just barely brought down at the Stuart Hall 4 yard line. Stuart Hall's defense, lead by a kid identified as “The Tank,” managed to hold the Panthers at the four.

At the end of the first quarter the game was tied at a sedate 6-6, and well into the second quarter Stuart Hall was up 12-6. But with 4.46 left in the first half, on another perfect pass from Mezzanatto, this one to sure-handed Jason Sanchez for the point after, it was 14-12 Panthers. Omar Benevides, with three futile defenders trying vainly to bring him down, bulled into the Stuart Hall end zone for the score.

The game was tied at 20-20 when Mezzanatto, and this kid can really air it out, threw the ball in a perfect spiral fifty yards down field to the inevitable Chava Gutierrez who'd left the defender holding his jock some twenty yards upfield.

At the half, Boonville was ahead, 26-20. Stuart Hall was clearly feeling the pain from the unremitting punishment they were taking from the Boonville boys.

Stuart Hall is a well-coached team. They were bigger than most of the Boonville boys, and their two running backs were just as fast as our running backs, both of whom are fast by any standard. The difference in the game was the pure ferocity of Boonville's eight. By the beginning of the 4th quarter the Stuart Hall defenders were slow to get up. They'd been pounded hard for three quarters, especially by Gutierrez and Omar Benevides, who play both ways. When Gutierrez and Benevides weren't putting fearsome hits on Stuart Hall's ball carriers, they were running for touchdowns or catching touchdown passes from their strong-armed quarterback, Garrett Mezzanatto. There were also numbers of outstanding plays by Jason Sanchez, Scott Johnston, Keven Kisling, Eduardo Torales, and Sam Arab.

Anderson Valley 64-39.

Notes: Considering that Kezar is two-and-a-half hours south of Boonville, an impressive number of Valley fans made the trek, including the Toraleses; the Gutierrezes; Raul and Quince Malfavon; Jennifer Espinoza; Renee Wyant; Palma Toohey and her husband Dennis, dad Bill Holcomb and son John Toohey had Boonville coach; Ben Anderson; Kent Rogers and Neva Dyer; Joe DeFrenne; Itsel Perez and Monica Alvarez.

It's fair to say of a game that ends 64-39 that it was action-packed. This one certainly was. Both teams marched up and down the field all night while beyond the Stanyan Street goal post men dressed as giant Little Bo Peeps and her sheep made their way into the Halloween festivities at the nearby Kezar Pavilion. Several people from Boonville's fan contingent remarked on their visit to perhaps the most exciting McDonald's franchise in the world at Haight and Stanyan. The street visuals aren't those seen much in Boonville.

Old Kezar Stadium appears in the movie, Dirty Harry. The psycho killer that Harry is after works as a custodian at the stadium.

Saturday night's game represented Stuart Hall's homecoming festivities, although Stuart Hall is an all-male school, a fact noted by the absence of cheerleaders on their side of the field. They turned out quite a crowd. Their breezy program contained descriptions of the student body as “our guys,” as in “Our guys master the great subjects....” and so on. The program didn't say what the cost of tuition is, but it's at least $30,000 a year, the San Francisco private school average. There are 160 guys enrolled at Stuart Hall taught by 30 teachers, three-quarters of whom “have advanced degrees.”

The eight valiant Boonville cheerleaders were much admired, we noticed, by the younger late-night joggers. Us older folks admired them too for their youth, beauty and energy.

Assistant coach Jesse Slotte, the heavily decorated soldier badly wounded in Iraq, now lives in Elk Grove (near Sacramento) in a house a veteran's group deeded over to him.

Mezzanatto threw two of the most perfect long passes I've seen from a Boonville quarterback since, since, since.... Tony Pardini back in the early 1970s. Coach John Toohey, ably assisted by Todd Capuzelo and Jesse Slotte, has put together a fine team. Capuzelo, incidentally, once coached the young Tom Brady when Brady was in his early high school days. The Panther team these three coaches have put together is enormously entertaining. Stuart Hall was no push over. They played hard, but our team played harder the whole way, meaning they're game-ready. Which is coaching. The Panthers play another tough team this Saturday afternoon in Point Arena. Point Arena beat us earlier in the year. The winner goes to the playoffs. It will be a good one. Kickoff at 2pm.

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