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Belmont Shore Comes Back? They Never Left

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Belmont Shore Comes Back? They Never Left

Belmont Shore all smiles as SoCal champions.

Somehow Belmont Shore did it.

Really, it wasn’t as if Shore was playing poorly, but after a loss to the touring Woodlands side from Texas and then in the regular season to the San Diego Mustangs, as well as a very nervy and close semifinal to the SOC Raptors, they were not favorites to win the SoCal Boys HS Club final this past weekend.

But in the rematch with the Mustangs, Shore managed it, and in pretty emphatic fashion, winning 32-7. 

How did that happen?

“It’s just been one of those seasons,” said Head Coach Johnny Pua. “About 40% of our team was in the school league when we played our first game. We returned a bunch of guys from last year’s championship team, but some of them were injured playing other sports. We had a lot of rain, and that made it hard to find fields. It was like all of that was combining for us to not really have the kind of start or the kimd of cohesion we wanted.”

Some how they kept it going but it was hard work. Coaches were spending time finding practice fields rather than planning what to do once practice started. 

“We knew what it took,” said Pua. “We know the standard. But this is a really tough league.”

They persevered. They beat Thunder but Pua said that was a very tough game, had a similar experience with SOC, and then lost to San Diego on April 13. But they were piecing things together. They were getting tougher, and healthier.

“The guys were learning resilience and they showed a lot of character,” said Pua. “They didn’t complain. They came with the right mindset and were working together. That’s how we were able to pull it out in the semifinal against SOC.”

That 23-21 semifinal was certainly a nailbiter. But Belmont Shore came out of that game convinced there would be no repeat of the San Diego loss from earlier. 

“It really comes down to the mindset and the understanding of what it takes,” explained the coach.

Led by brothers David and Devan Tonumaipea at prop, they once again have an imposing tight five. The Tonumaipea twins are physical on both sides of the ball, and seem to read each other perfectly when they attack, with offloads and support lines that always seem to find space.

“Those two helped lead the forward momentum for the pack,” said Pua.

Scrumhalf Braydon Evors is a talker and that’s a good thing as his constant chatter keeps the tempo high. With captain and senior flyhalf Elijah Lolesio-Pua finally back from a serious football injury that kept him out of action for nine months, their halfback combination is excellent. 

He provides excellent leadership along with co-captain and lock Rocco Burdett. 

So there it is, you have been warned; stories of Belmont Shore not quite being at their 2023 level might well be exaggerated. It’s been a whale of a year so far, but that’s good news in Long Beach.

Meanwhile Thunder did the same thing, avenging an earlier regular-season loss to pip SOC 15-14 in the 3rd-4th game.

It was a game typical of the rivalry among these top teams in the region. Thunder's forwards started the scoring early, with Quintin Johnson and Kingston Faatili dominating in contact and taking a 7-0 lead early.

Both sides played tough defense for the rest of the first half and the half finished 7-0. The second half started with Thunder scoring off a kick from Scrumhalf Turner Koch that was chased down by Hezekiah Anglin. Thunder fullback Leo Koch then added a penalty and they had their 15-0 lead.

But the Raptors stormed back with tries from prop Colin Donnelly and No. 8 Ausitn Diaz. Redmond Chelsey converted both to get them within a point ... but not further. SOC thought they were over the line a couple of times but the referee disagreed, and Thunder held them out.

"This on-field rivalry between these two clubs is so healthy and live and well," said SOC Head Coach Sam McMillan. "In six games since 2021, not a single game has been settled with a greater margin than four points."