Former Empire players reunited when Cardinal Newman hosts Utah football team

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Paul Cronin and Les Hamilton are the same vintage.

Hamilton, head football coach at Summit Academy in Bluffdale, Utah, quarterbacked the Petaluma Trojans to a Sonoma County League title and to the semifinals of the North Coast Section in 1989. He was named Player of the Year.

A year later, Cronin was named player of the year as quarterback for the Piner High Prospectors. But the two never met on the field.

“We were both on the All-Empire team together. They won the NBL that year, we won the SCL. There was always a little bit of smack talk about who would have won,” Hamilton said.

On Friday, nearly three decades later, the two will meet on the field not as quarterbacks but as head coaches.

Hamilton is bringing the 2-1 Bears to Sonoma County to play Cardinal Newman, a team that is 2-0 in nonleague play.

“This year they are really good. It’s a good program,” Cronin said of Summit. “It should be a great game.”

Cardinal Newman junior quarterback Jackson Pavitt has a 74 percent completion rate and has thrown for 501 yards over his first two games as a starter. His two favorite targets, seniors Chauncey Leberthon and Jake Woods, are averaging 20 and 10 yards per catch respectively. Woods has five touchdowns in two games.

Rushing duties have been evenly split between Pavitt and junior Giancarlo Woods, who is averaging a team-high 7.6 yards per carry. Sophomore Shane Moran is averaging five yards per carry.

Senior Dino Kahaulelio anchors a Cardinals defense that Cronin said is the best he’s had in years. The team has given up six points in two games behind Kahaulelio’s 14 tackles per game.

Cronin said seeing a team they don’t know much about and have no experience with is a good challenge for both coaches and players.

The contest comes amid a lengthy homestand for the Cardinals. They traveled to Fortuna in the season opener Aug. 17, where they won 35-6. The next week they hosted Sutter High in a 24-0 win. After Summit, they host Liberty High of Brentwood Sept. 14 and Galena High of Reno Sept. 21.

The North Bay League’s Oak Division opens with a bang Sept. 28 when Cardinal Newman hosts rival Rancho Cotate. The Cougars are 3-0 and host Campolindo on Friday.

In the meantime, Friday's game represents something of a homecoming. Over the years, Hamilton has regularly brought his teams to California but he has yet to play in Sonoma County.

And Summit travels well. About 150 people are expected to represent the Bears Friday. And Hamilton said multiple members of his family, most of whom still live in the North Bay, will make the game.

“I’m excited to come home,” he said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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