Kahuku rallies by Mililani, 35-31, for 26th OIA crown
Kahuku coach Makoa Freitas enjoys a water cooler bath after winning the school's 26th OIA championship. John Lujan | SL
HALAWA — And you thought Shakespeare had the monopoly on great plays.
In a thriller filled with superb theatrics, No. 2 Kahuku rallied to beat No. 3 Mililani, 35-31, Saturday night to capture its third consecutive Oahu Interscholastic Assoiation Division I football crown before an enthusiastic crowd of about 8,104 at Hawaiian Tel FCU Field at Aloha Stadium. The 66 combined points were the most in an OIA title game, breaking the previous record of 63 in 2012, when Kahuku beat Mililani, 50-13.
Sophomore quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava's 28-yard touchdown pass to Kaonohi Kaniho with one minute, 34 seconds left completed the rally that saw Kahuku trail three times during the game.
The Red Raiders (10-1), winners of their record 26th OIA title, will play OIA third-place Waianae in the 4 p.m. semifinal of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I Open state tournament Friday at Aloha Stadium.
The Trojans (10-1), who saw their 14-game win streak (dating to last season) snapped, will play Interscholastic League of Honolulu champion Saint Louis in the 7 p.m. semifinal.
"They got playmakers," Mililani coach Rod York said. "Forty-four (Toalei Lefau) and just bounced off of them. Their defense is just relentless. No. 6 (Maiava), he's on crutches now, but he left it on the field. Credit those guys, they played well."
Maiava was 18 of 26 for 242 yards and two TDs. He also scored on a 32-yard run. Lefau scored two TDs, one on a 1-yard run and another on a nifty 25-yard catch on a dump pass from Maiava.
"Was like park ball, me and my boy (Kaniho)," Maiava said of the go-ahead TD. "He threw it up and he came down with it. That's the guy — one-on-one situation — I went with him."
Added Kaniho, a defensive back: "We've been doing that all week with me at wide receiver, so when it was preparation and opportunity colliding, success happens."
Kahuku's Kaonohi Kaniho (7) flexes mid-air on a chest bump from Peter John Mataira after scoring the game-winning TD on a 28-yard pass. Leighland Tagawa | SL
Kahuku's first-year coach Makoa Freitas was elated on Maiava's performace.
"Words can't say enough," Freitas said. "He's a great young man."
Maiava, who was on crutches after the game, said he hurt his right foot on the play just before the TD pass. So how did me manage that?
"God," he said, then laughed.
Even the defense got into the act. Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu stripped the ball from Trojans' receiver Cy Kuboyama-Hayashi and returned it 44 yards for a TD.
"He was running down the sideline," Fonoimoana-Vaomu said. "The ball was showing, I stripped it out and took it to the house."
Fonoimoana-Vaomu made another big play late in the game. After the Trojans took a 31-28 lead on Gabriel's 11-yard TD pass to Kilifi Malepeai, Fonoimoana-Vaomua returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to the Trojans' 4, but a penalty moved the ball back to the Kahuku 30.
Maiava had a hand in all seven plays of the 70-yard, game-winning drive by completing 5 of 5 passes for 72 yards and rushing for 19 more. He rushed for 14 yards and passed for 32 more to Peter John Mataira to overcome a first-and-29 situation to keep the drive alive.
After Kahuku's go-ahead score, the Trojans took the ensuing kickoff to their 5, but their drive died at the 18 and Kahuku killed the final seconds of the game.
"We had our chances," York said. "Kahuku earned it; they deserved it, so hats off to them. It's simple as that. I'm proud of my guys, they fought hard and they represent Mililani well. That's all we ask for."
Trojans' QB Gabriel passed for 300 yards and three TDs on 27-of-46 passing with one interception (by Kaniho).
Mililani stormed out to a 21-14 lead at the half, already scoring the most points on Kahuku this season. Kahuku's 17-0 loss to Bingham (Utah) in Las Vegas was the previous season-high points allowed.
The Trojans wasted little time getting out in front. Reichel Vegas' 37-yard kickoff return to the Trojans' 46 set up Mililani's first score of the game on Gabriel's 15-yard TD pass to Mystic-Josiah Sampaga. Damien Santiago's PAT put Mililani ahead, 7-0, just 39 seconds into the game.
Mililani increased its lead early in the second period on Jalen Tuivaiave-Olomua's 5-yard TD run off left tackle to make it 14-0 with 9:48 in the half.
The Red Raiders cut their deficit in half when Maiava faked a dive to FB Toalei Lefau and kept the ball for a 32-yard TD run. Duke Heffernan's PAT made it 14-7 with 5:54 left in the half.
But Mililani answered on its next series with Gabriel's 49-yard TD pass to Ryan Chang, who leaped for the ball with Kaniho at the 10 and raced his way to the end zone to make it, 21-7, 21 seconds later.
Kahuku fumbled the ensuing kickoff but staged a goal-line stand at the Red Raiders' 1 with 3:35 left in the half.
The teams exchanged punts, but Mililani quick kicked on third down, and the Red Raiders took over at the Trojans' 39 with 27 seconds left. Two plays later, Maiava dumped a pass to Lefau in the left flat for a 25-yard TD to pull to 21-14 at the half.
Kahuku scored on its first drive on the second half to tie the game at 21 on Lefau's 1-yard TD run.
Kahuku later lost a fumble and Mililani took over at midfield but went nowhere after three incomplete passes. On fourth down, Gabriel lined up in shotgun, but punted the ball. The ball ricocheted off another player and Gabriel caught the carom and found Kuboyama-Hayashi open on the left sideline for an apparent 50-yard TD pass. But the play was nullified by an ineligible receiver downfield. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was tacked on, giving Mililani fourth-and-30 from its 30. Thorton Alapa blocked the punt and Kahuku took over at Mililani's 41. But nothing materialized and the Red Raiders ended up punting.
The Red Raiders defense came out tough in the second half, forcing Mililani to punt three consecutive series and having not crossed midfield. But on the third punt, Mililani recovered the muffed punt at the Trojans' 27, but Kahuku's defense continued to stiffen and the Trojans' settled on Damien Santiago's 32-yard field goal to take the lead, 24-21 with 9:30 left in the game.
"We had a lot of costly things today," Freitas said. "(Besides the muff there were) a lot of penalties where we gave up field position."
But later in the quarter, Fonoimoana-Vaomu's 44-yard fumble return allowed Kahuku to take a 28-24 lead with 7:31 left.
Gabriel marched the Trojans downfield on an eight-play, 80-yard drive to give the Trojans back the lead at 31-28 with 5:05 left, only to see it disappear on Maiava's TD pass to Kaonohi on the following series.
Kahuku, which won its games handily this season, was taken to the limit by Mililani.
"It really did test our team," Maiava said of the comeback. "When the challenge was called, we just had to take it."