Kahuku returns to title game with comeback win

Kahuku’s Duke Heffernan caught the game-winning TD pass as Waianae’s Kanai Mauga closed in on the play. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

When Sol-Jay Maiava was struggling on Friday night — whether with his command or his ankle — the Kahuku quarterback’s focus turned to family.

“i just thought of my mom, that’s about it,” Maiava said.

A week after Maiava threw a game-winning touchdown late in a shootout victory over Mililani in the OIA Division I championship game, the sophomore’s radar appeared misaligned for much of Friday’s state tournament semifinal matchup with Waianae.

He completed seven of his first 31 pass attempts and threw an interception with the Red Raiders threatening to score late in the first half. He was helped from the field in the third quarter after apparently aggravating an ankle injury that had him on crutches after the Mililani game.

When he returned, he was promptly dropped for a 12-yard loss and Waianae linebacker Kanai Mauga’s strip-sack set up the game’s first touchdown.

But with thoughts of mom providing motivation, Maiava led the Red Raider offense onto the field with 1:47 left, trailing 7-3 and a return to the state final 45 yards away.

“We got fired up. We kept our composure on the field,” Maiava said.

Maiava connected with running back Wes Alo-Maiava on a 5-yard completion, then hit Peter John Mataira for 8 more and first down. After a throw to Duke Heffernan was broken up, Maiava found running room down to the Waianae 16 before being pulled out of bounds by his facemask. The penalty moved the ball to the 8 and Maiava’s throw toward an open Enoch Nawahine in the back of the end zone sailed high.

On the next snap, Maiava rolled left, bought time, then finally released the ball an instant before two Waianae defenders drove him into the turf. The ball floated to Heffernan, who secured the catch as Mauga closed in for the go-ahead touchdown with 58 seconds left.

The Red Raider defense’s fifth takeaway of the defensive duel finished off a 10-7 win and Kahuku advanced to the final of the HHSAA/First Hawaiian Bank Football State Championships for the third straight year.

“His ability to create plays and see down the field and hit open receivers is uncanny,” Kahuku coach Makoa Freitas said of Maiava.

“Can’t say enough. He’s a captain for a reason and I’m glad he’s on our side.”

Maiava’s final drive erased the night’s previous struggles and Kahuku earned a shot at redemption a year after falling to Saint Louis in the inaugural Open Division final.

“One more week,” Freitas said. “That’s always the goal and we’re lucky to be able to put ourselves in a position to win a state championship.”

While points were few, there was no shortage of standouts in the defensive battle between OIA powers.

“Coach Makoa from the beginning of the week he told us to make sure we don’t get complacent after the big win last week,” junior defensive back Nalu Emerson said, “to make sure we put in the work, make sure that we weren’t going to lose this game.”

>> Emerson intercepted two passes, the first in the end zone with Waianae at the Red Raider 15 following a blocked punt. HIs second sealed the win. He also combined with Thomas Nihipali to force a fumble after Waianae receiver Keoki Davis made a 31-yard reception to the Kahuku 2 early in the fourth quarter.

>> Cornerback Kaonohi Kaniho also came up with a pick in the end zone with 15 seconds left in the second quarter, a week after making the game-winning touchdown catch against Mililani.

>> Defensive lineman Samson Reed was in on seven tackles, including 1 1/2 for losses, and forced a fumble and the Red Raider defense held Waianae to 158 yards in total offense. Safety Lauina Falatea led Kahuku with nine tackles.

“That’s our mentality make sure we work together as a team, make sure all the keys and reads are good,” Emerson said. “We’ve been playing with each other since big boys, since pop warner and as a team we’re just together cohesively.”

>> Mauga spearheaded Waianae’s valiant defensive effort a game-high 12 tackles, including the strip-sack, and broke up two passes. One of the USC commit’s most impressive stops came on special teams, when he dragged down Kaniho for a 5-yard loss on a punt return.

>> Searider defensive back Tony Cabral came up with an interception at the Waianae 2 in the third quarter and forced and recovered a fumble at the Searider 5 with 2:58 left.

>> Waiaane’s defensive front of Selu Cook, Dayne Evangelista, Andrew Paese and Ezekiel Kelekoma held its ground throughout the night, allowing Mauga and linebacker Francis Mailo (10 tackles) to flow to the ball, in a game that bore little resemblance to Kahuku’s 37-0 win on Aug. 18.

“We made some plays and they made a play at the end that decided the game,” Waianae coach Walter Young said. “I can’t be any prouder of my kids. They laid their hearts out there and did what they needed to do”

Kahuku returns to title game with comeback win

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