Sunday, September 18, 2022 | By Nick Abramo
Twelve yards to glory was how Aiea’s night ended Saturday.
With one second left in Waipahu territory, Na Alii backup quarterback Noah Spencer cradled a bad snap and took off for daylight, looking for blockers. With a head of steam, Spencer got as far as he could before being knocked for a loop out of bounds at the Marauders’ 12-yard line by Samson Leasiolagi.
That play, Aiea’s last hope, was made possible by Geronimo Ulgaran’s long kickoff return, but when Spencer went down it gave Waipahu a 20-14 victory in the OIA Division I first-place showdown at the Radford High field.
With the win, the Marauders (4-1, 3-0) took over the league’s top spot.
The ultra-intense drama began a bit earlier, when Waipahu linebacker Romeo Tagata recovered a Na Alii fumble deep in Aiea territory. That led to what turned out to be the winning touchdown — Joshua Manu’s 4-yard pass to Liatama Uiliata in the near left corner of the end zone with just 13 seconds to go.
That ‘near’ fade came after a ‘high’ fade one play earlier from Manu to Uiliata that failed against defensive back Romeo Simpson, who hurt his ankle on the play.
The game-clinching touchdown came against one of Aiea’s many other tough defensive backs, Bishop Foumai.
“It was a good route,” Foumai said. “I thought they were going to go for a high ball. He cut and I was like, ‘Damn.’ Things happen, you make mistakes, but we’ll come back and we’ll see them again and we’ll work even harder. I’ve played many times with Tama since 5 or 6 years old. He’s always been a tough kid, so I knew he was going to be the main guy that could catch the game-winning touchdown or make a big play.”
Said Uiliata, who finished with 12 catches for 139 yards, about that touchdown: “I saw him playing inside, so I took the outside release and looked up for the ball, faked the head top, came back for the comeback and I guess he looked up for the high pass.”
Aiea had played relatively mistake-free football until the fumble that Tagata recovered to turn the game around. Na Alii (4-2, 2-1) had taken leads of 7-0 and 14-6 on Ulgaran’s 37-yard TD reception on a flea-flicker pass from Rico Figueroa and Kaimana Lale-Saole’s 60-yard TD run.
Trailing 14-6 after three quarters, the Marauders didn’t cave. Led by the running of Nelly Teleaai who finished with 112 yards on the ground, they roared back.
With 9:04 to go, Teleaai’s 3-yard TD run and Tagata’s 2-point conversion run made it a 14-all game.
“I’m so proud of that kid,” Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho said about Teleaai. “He had a severe concussion at the beginning of the year. He thought his career was done. To be able to come back and make a difference like that for us tonight, it brings tears to my eyes.
“And Tagata does not give up. He’s the heart and soul of our team.”
After all of the twists and turns, though, the final result rested on the feet of Spencer, who nearly found the end zone on the last play.
“I will remember that hit,” he said. “That thing rocked my dome.”
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