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Uiliata leads Waipahu to stun ‘Iolani, 35-10, and reach DI state finals

Sunday, November 20, 2022


By: Wes Nakama

Led by Tama Uiliata’s spectacular all-around performance — rushing for 199 yards and throwing for 169 more — visiting Waipahu stunned ‘Iolani, 35-10, Saturday afternoon in First Hawaiian Bank Division I State Championship semifinals at Eddie Hamada Field.

The convincing victory improved the Marauders to 11-1 and propelled them into Saturday’s title game against Konawaena, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. at Mililani’s John Kauinana Stadium. ‘Iolani, the defending champion and No. 1 seed, ends its season abruptly at 9-1.

“I guess Waipahu hasn’t been state champs in a long time (2018), so this means something to the community and to our boys and the coaches,” said Uiliata, a 5-foot-9, 176-pound senior who is listed as a receiver but played quarterback as well as safety and return specialist on Saturday. “I feel like (if we) keep working hard, it’ll pay off. We’re on a good road right now, and I feel confident with us.”

Lining up as a modified “Wildcat” signal caller, Uiliata kept the Raiders on their toes at all times and showed an uncanny ability to chew up yardage either with dazzling open-field runs or with timely passes short and long. He rushed for 199 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, completed 10 of 22 passes for 169 yards and two more TD’s, added 40 more yards on kick returns and even made an end-zone interception to effectively seal the victory late in the fourth quarter.

“He’s their spark plug, we knew that going into the game, and we knew we had to minimize his explosive plays, but we just didn’t get it done,” ‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said. “He’s pretty damn good. He’s a playmaker. There’s only so long you can stay level and stay in coverage. He showed a lot of patience, that’s what I was impressed with. Normally a guy like him will try to take off, but he hung back there.”

Ironically, Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho said he got the idea to use Uiliata in that role after watching Kapa’a use a similar attack in the Marauders’ wild 49-41 quarterfinal win a week prior.

“You know what is nuts, is when you play teams, you get ideas from teams,” Carvalho said. “Kapa’a dominated the line of scrimmage, especially in the early going. We were looking at what they were running, and it was like, ‘Shoot, we can run that with Tama.’ So we put in a small package that was kind of copycatted from what Kapa’a was doing to us. And it worked — it kind of kept guys off-balance a little bit. We minimized the pass (options) to plays that he really understands and is comfortable with.”

Waipahu struck first on Uiliata’s 50-yard scoring pass to Tai Aipia-Barrett, who got behind the ‘Iolani secondary and dashed down the left sideline untouched. Xavier Transfiguracion’s extra point made it 7-0 with 2:27 remaining in the first quarter. 

‘Iolani answered with a nine-play, 77-yard drive that took it to the Marauders’ 3, but the Raiders lost three yards on third-and-goal and had to settle for Allison Chang’s 23-yard field goal which cut the lead to 7-3 two minutes into the second quarter. Waipahu later extended the lead to 14-3 after Uiliata’s three-yard keeper on third-and-goal, then stretched it to 21-3 on his 25-yard touchdown pass to Jayvren Pinera and Transfiguracion’s PAT just 46 seconds before halftime.

After the Raiders went three-and-out to start the second half, the Marauders marched 95 yards in 12 plays, capped by Uiliata’s 2-yard keeper on first-and-goal. The extra point made it 28-3 five minutes into the third quarter.

‘Iolani did not score its first touchdown until 50 seconds remained in that period, on Keao Kawa’akoa’s 46-yard scamper down the left sideline. Chang’s extra point made it 28-10, but Waipahu immediately responded with an eight-play, 69-yard scoring drive culminating in fullback Anieli Talaeai’s 16-yard ramble to paydirt with 8:07 on the game clock.

On the ensuing series, the Raiders quickly advanced to the Marauders’ 8-yard line, but Uiliata — playing free safety — made his end zone interception to kill that drive, and Waipahu was able to run out the clock from there.

‘Iolani’s normally prolific offense gained 189 yards through the air and 53 on the ground, but never fully established a consistent rhythm and was held to a season-low 10 points.

“Offensively, we just couldn’t get going,” Look said. “We gotta play with tempo, but they kept us from sustaining drives. Even when we did do it, we didn’t finish. Their front seven is tough, and they mixed it up well. It wasn’t necessarily the coverage, it was their whole front that was giving us problems. They have a lot of weapons (on offense), and they have a stout defense. When you have that combination, it’s gonna be tough. They deserved to win today, they were the better team.”

Carvalho said part of the defensive game plan was to play tight man coverage and dare ‘Iolani to throw deep, which rarely happened. The Raiders’ first completion of over 20 yards did not materialize until under a minute left in the third quarter.  

“They see all kinds of zones, but we’re not great at zone,” Carvalho said. “We just felt a little more confident having a guy on them (in man) and then with our pass rush … hat’s off to (defensive coordinator) Lasi (Eselu) and the defensive staff, just studying (the Raiders’) schemes and their routes. They just did a really good job preparing our guys.”

Carvalho said the victory represented a goal that was greatly desired, but not easily achieved.

“It means the world, talk about the true spirit of Marauder — going in and taking what you want,” Carvalho said. “Our kids really wanted this win. A few of them, the leaders like (linebackers) Romeo Tagata, Ia Fualema, they were freshmen when they got their butts whooped against ‘Iolani. So they knew what kind of work it was going to take to pull off a win, especially here. It takes the leaders who serve as extra coaches who will have the other kids buy in. And that really stood true.”

Photos by: Lori McKeown

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