Nov. 12—OIA Division I champion Waipahu (10-1 overall ) plays at top-seeded 'Iolani on Nov. 19 in a semifinal matchup. KIF champion Kapaa, which won the D-II state crown last year, closed its season 5-4 overall.
Romeo Tagata returned a blocked punt 8 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 8 :23 remaining as Waipahu rallied from a 22-point deficit for a stunning 49-41 win over Kapaa on Friday night in the opening round of the First Hawaiian Bank /HHSAA Football State Championships.
OIA Division I champion Waipahu (10-1 overall ) plays at top-seeded 'Iolani on Nov. 19 in a semifinal matchup.
KIF champion Kapaa, which won the D-II state crown last year, closed its season 5-4 overall.
"I feel great, honestly. We did well, " said defensive end Solomone Malafu, who committed to UCLA recently. "We came pretty far knowing that we came from D-II. In D-I, we shocked their team and their fans. Offensively, we did a great job. Everyone was balling. Forty-one points by our offense. The better team wins always."
The pivotal play involved a delayed punt rush by Seth Setu, who broke through three blockers to snuff the punt. Tagata's return gave Waipahu its first lead of the game, 41-35.
"He made that play on his own, " Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho said of Setu. "Sometimes, players make their own plays."
Samu Niuatoa then intercepted a pass by Kapaa quarterback Kapono Na-O, and on the next snap, Waipahu's Tama Uiliata found Chazen Rodillas-Vesido open on a seam route for a 31-yard TD. After Anieli Talaeai's 2-point run, Waipahu led 49-35 with 8 :04 left.
Another pick by Niuatoa helped Waipahu seal the win. Waipahu made it interesting with a bad snap, followed by an accidental kneel-down by its punter with less than three minutes left. Na-O's 3-yard TD run cut Waipahu's lead to 49-41 with 1 :30 remaining.
Waipahu recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock on Kapaa, which had no timeouts left.
"I was just hoping and praying. I just did my best. My team got my back. I did my part, they did the rest, and my coaches did a hell of a job, " said Uiliata, who passed for 106 yards and two TDs, and ran for 96 yards and another TD.
Uiliata, the leading receiver in OIA D-I, had a spectacular stint at QB when starter JJ Manu suffered a season-ending injury during the regular season. On Friday, freshman Elijah Mendoza, who led Waipahu to victory in the OIA title game, got his second start.
Down 35-13 late in the first half, Waipahu made the switch and Uiliata led the Marauders' rally.
"I just wanted to win. The score in the first half was very depressing, but our team gave me confidence. I give credit to them, " Uiliata said. "Coach said if it's not there, take off."
Kapaa took advantage of Waipahu miscues and the Marauders struggled to handle the Warriors' read-option attack for the entire first half. Kapaa led by 22 points in the second quarter.
Waipahu's adjustments in the second half involved crashing the inside gaps.
"We just had to submarine the middle, that was our thing, " Carvalho said. "The big play for us as a staff was the quarterback pull (a handoff ), run up the middle. All of that is trap plays, chopping down, and it worked."
Kapaa saw similar defensive adjustments in KIF play, coach Mike Tressler said, from title contender Waimea. But stopping Uiliata was almost impossible.
"We had a good game plan, stuck to it and executed, but our concern was if they put No. 2 at quarterback. Holy smokes, man, we thought we could at least slow him down, but it's hard to game plan with an athlete like that. He'll kill you with his legs and he killed us throwing the ball. The guy is a nightmare."
Waipahu's opening drive of the second half ended on a fumbled snap on fourth-and-2, but the home team scored on its next series—Talaeai on a 9-yard blast off left tackle. He also reached the end zone on the 2-point conversion to bring the Marauders within 35-27 with 6 :49 left in the third quarter.
Na-O connected with Gonsalves for a key 33-yard gain on third-and-7. Kapaa burned its third timeout of the second half before Rapozo attempted a 27-yard field goal. His kick was wide right with 2 :31 left in the third quarter.
Moments later, Waipahu drove 80 yards in 12 plays. Uiliata capped the march with a 27-yard keeper to the end zone. Talaeai rumbled over the goal line on the 2-point attempt to tie the game at 35 with 11 :49 remaining.