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OREM - East senior Patrick Palau has always scrawled "Ether 12:27" on his football gear before each game.
But the scripture that has sustained him since cancer stole his mother when he was just 11-years-old took on new significance as he watched his coach and principal fight for the top-ranked team's ability to play in the 4A state playoffs.
"If the hearing would have went the other way, we never would have had a chance to play another down," said the linebacker after East won a play-in game against Mountain View 47-0 Tuesday in Orem. "So we're taking this opportunity with gracefulness."
He said he "couldn't have been happier" to be playing football again after three emotional hearings regarding the ineligibility of four of his teammates nearly barred the squad from the post-season.
"We became a closer family after this because we've been through so much adversity, and we're just overcome with gratitude," he said. "We're just taking each game at a time."
Tuesday's game against Mountain View was essentially over in the first four and a half minutes. In just six plays, the Leopards scored three touchdowns - a 36-yard pass play from quarterback Isaac Valles to receiver John Fakahafua; an 80-yard punt return by Tua Laupata; and a 60-yard run by Malaki Solovi.
The lopsided score only meant the chance for starters to rest and for the team to advance to Saturday's 5 p.m. game against Herriman.
"The score doesn't mean anything yet," said Palau, who will play for BYU after serving a mission. "We're going to take every game one by one and be grateful for sure."
Senior Captain Zach Swenson caught a 36-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter, and he said he was relieved to be playing football again - even if he couldn't find his jersey for game day.
"I'm just grateful to be here," he said. "It just feels good."
Sophomore Christian Folau earned his first touchdown when he scooped up a fumble by the Bruins and ran 93-yards to the end zone.
"I thought one of our players had it," said Folau. "But then it popped right into my hands, so I kept running with it. If it wasn't for my players blocking for me, I wouldn't have got it."
Folau said the players were "very humbled" to be allowed to play football again, even without their head coach who is suspended for the next two games as punishment for the violations.
"It was just a great opportunity to be on the field with these seniors," he said. "Me being an underclassman, it's just a great honor to be able to play with these seniors. They're such great men...And our coach, he's our general. He's taught us enough that we can be on the field by ourselves."
Added Palau with a slight smile, "We don't like to think of him as not here. We feel like he is here with us."
Both team's played for charities, Mountain View donated it's half of the game's proceeds to a scholarship fund set up to honor two alumnus - Nigel Olsen and Carlos Aragon - who were killed in Afghanistan in 2010. (Donations are accepted on the Alpine School District's webpage http://mvhs.alpineschools.org/ )
East played to benefit Swing For Life, a local charity that raises awareness about Breast Cancer and money for Huntsman Cancer Institute (www.swingforlife.org)
Palau said it was helpful in healing to play for charity - especially one that unfortunately he understands all too well.
"We took it to heart and wanted to show that we really mean that when we play, we're not just a football team," said Palau. "We want to represent everybody else in the community."
Mountain View had some good moments in the game, but one of the highlights was when senior corner back Pupunu Fifita-Sitake intercepted Valles. But a half dozen plays later, the Bruins fumbled and Folau recovered for a touchdown.
The Leopards may have lost a senior captain in the game even though most starters left the game midway through the second quarter. Just before halftime, running back Jewka Patetefa left the game with an injury. He went to the hospital with one of the coaches for x-rays, according to the team's trainer.
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