Kahuku slips by Waianae
BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
Kahuku’s Nalu Emerson hits Waianae quarterback Justin Tacgere and strips the football for a fumble that was recovered by Waianae’s Skyler Kaleiohi in the end zone on Friday.
Sol-Jay Maiava didn’t see the result of his final throw Friday night.
The roar told him all he needed to know.
The Kahuku sophomore quarterback had struggled for much of a defensive duel with Waianae, having completed just seven of 31 pass attempts when the Red Raiders got the ball back with 1:47 left in the fourth and trailing the Seariders by four with a berth in the state final at stake.
Facing second-and-goal at the Waianae 8, Maiava rolled right, bought time and flung a throw into the end zone while being knocked to the turf. With the rubber pellets in his facemask obscuring Maiava’s view, fellow Red Raiders sophomore Duke Heffernan came down with a catch for the go-ahead score with 58 seconds showing on the Aloha Stadium scoreboard.
“We got fired up. We kept our composure on the field. It was a simple scramble drill we always practice at practice,” Maiava said after the Red Raiders’ 10-7 victory.
Kahuku safety Nalu Emerson’s second interception of the night — the Red Raiders’ fifth takeaway of the game — then sealed their spot in the Nov. 18 Open Division final of the HHSAA/First Hawaiian Bank Football State Championships.
Kahuku reached the high school football season’s final game for the third straight year and the 12th time since the state tournament was instituted in 1999. A year after falling to Saint Louis in the inaugural Open Division title game, the Red Raiders will seek the program’s ninth state championship in the finale of the HHSAA championship tripleheader.
“At the beginning of the season a lot of people thought this was going to be a rebuilding season for us and we’re just out to prove people wrong,” Emerson said. “This has been on our mind since the beginning.”
Kahuku’s 20th consecutive victory over Waianae was perhaps the toughest of the streak. The Red Raiders had won the previous five matchups by an aggregate score of 146-0, including a 37-0 win on Aug. 18 at Raymond Torii Field.
That loss was part of an 0-3 start for the Seariders, who recovered to earn a state tournament berth with an overtime win over Campbell a week ago.
“They got better each week and that’s all you can ask,” Waianae coach Walter Young said. “Nobody probably gave us a shot at it, but our kids fought through it and came back every week and got better and here we are.”
Waianae matched Kahuku’s physicality up front in a scoreless duel deep into the third quarter. Heffernan drilled a 31-yard field goal with 2:45 left in the period, but Waianae’s defense set up the game’s first touchdown in the fourth.
All-State linebacker Kanai Mauga stripped the ball from Maiava and Francis Mailo recovered at the Kahuku 12. On the next play, Waianae quarterback Justin Tacgere rolled left, cut up the middle and wove toward the end zone. Emerson knocked the ball out of Tacgere’s grip just before the goal line, but Seariders receiver Skyler Kaleiohi fell on the loose ball in the end zone for Waianae’s first score against Kahuku since 2014, a span of 23 quarters.
The Waianae defense forced a punt and Searider Tony Cabral, who came up with an interception in the third quarter, forced and recovered a fumble at the Seariders 5 with 2:58 left.
The Kahuku defense forced a three-and-out to give Maiava and the Red Raiders offense one more opportunity and Heffernan made the decisive catch with Mauga closing in.
“I saw him in my peripheral vision, so I just made sure I grabbed the ball and I tucked it,” said Heffernan, who accounted for all of Kahuku’s scoring.
Maiava finished the game 10-for-36 for 166 yards and went 3-for-5 on the final drive, his scramble setting up the winning score.
“His ability to create plays and see down the field and hit open receivers is uncanny,” Kahuku coach Makoa Freitas said. “Can’t say enough. He’s a captain for a reason and I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Mauga ended his standout career with a game-high 12 tackles, including the strip-sack, and broke up two passes.
“We balled out … and we were prepared to win,” Mauga said, “We came out with the mind-set to win and unfortunately we came up short.”
Waianae (7-5) 0 0 0 7 — 7
Kahuku (11-1) 0 0 3 7 — 10
Kah—FG Duke Heffernan 31
Wain—Skyler Kaleiohi fumble recovery in end zone (John Gilbert-Ramos kick)
Kah—Heffernan 8 pass from Sol-Jay Maiava (Heffernan kick)
RUSHING—Waianae: Rico Rosario 25-86, Kana’i Mauga 1-14, Justin Tacgere 4-7.Kahuku: Wes Alo-Maiava 9-39, Maiava 9-37, Toalei Lefau 6-32, Enoch Nawahine 10-31, Thorton Alapa 2-14, Sione Mahe 3-4, team 3-(minus 30).
PASSING—Waianae: Tacgere 7-23-3—53. Kahuku: Maiava 10-36-1—166, Alapa 0-1-1—0.
RECEIVING—Waianae: Keoki Davis 2-32, Kaleiohi 2-11, Kaai Tamboan-Kaeo 1-5, Mauga 1-3, Michael Lujan 1-2. Kahuku: Heffernan 3-90, Alo-Maiava 3-35, Peter John Mataira 2-28, Kaonohi Kaniho 1-7, Nawahine 1-6.