Sunday, November 27, 2022
By: Wes Nakama
MILILANI — In a wild game literally full of twists and turns, Konawaena held off Waipahu, 38-28, Saturday night to win the First Hawaiian Bank Division I Football State Championship.
Another overflow crowd of about 4,500 at John Kauinana Stadium watched the Wildcats score 28 straight points in the first half and then hold off the Marauders in the second to finish a perfect 11-0 season with the school’s first football state title. Waipahu, which took an early 7-0 lead and received a courageous and inspiring comeback performance by senior quarterback Tama Uiliata, ends its season at 11-3.
“I can’t even describe what this feels like right now, for our town, Kealakekua, all the guys back home who watch and support us,” said Brad Uemoto, Konawaena’s eighth-year head coach. “(Big Island) titles are one thing, but to bring this school a state championship … (now) we gotta try catch up with girls basketball.”
This first football crown certainly did not come the easy way.
Waipahu took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in 13 plays, culminating in Anieli Talaeai’s 6-yard touchdown run and Xavier Transfiguracion’s extra point for a quick 7-0 lead with 8:13 remaining in the first quarter. The Wildcats answered with Zed Anahu-Ambrosio’s 1-yard plunge to tie it at 7-7, then went ahead, 14-7, with 16 seconds left in the quarter after Keoki Alani’s 21-yard TD pass to Anahu-Ambrosio, who was then flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after running to the fence outside the track to celebrate with a fan.
The Marauders advanced to the Konawaena 8-yard line on the ensuing series, but that’s when Uiliata apparently sprained his lower left ankle on a sideline tackle, having to be carried off the field. He missed the next two series while being examined on the trainers table, eventually having the ankle wrapped in ice.
In the meantime, the Wildcats blocked a field goal attempt and Chray Flannery returned the loose ball 81 yards for a touchdown. Ige’s PAT made it 21-7 three minutes into the second quarter, and then the lead became 28-7 after Alani’s 23-yard TD pass to Anahu-Ambrosio, who was then flagged for his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he apparently flashed the ball to a TV camera but also to a Waipahu player on the ground below. By rule, the second unsportsmanlike flag triggered Anahu-Ambrosio’s ejection from the game.
Meanwhile back on the Marauders sideline, Uiliata spoke with his parents, shed the ice bag, quickly put his socks and shoes back on, and then re-entered the game.
“I told them it was my last football game in high school, so I wanted to go back in and play,” Uiliata said after the game.
Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho said he initially did not expect Uiliata to return to the game, but wasn’t totally surprised that he was able to.
“He’s been banged up all season,” Carvalho said. “The toughness he shows is unbelievable. I can’t put into words how amazing a football player he is.”
Despite the pain and the ankle being heavily wrapped, Uiliata returned and showed enough mobility to lead the Marauders to touchdowns on the next two series, first on an 11-yard scramble himself with 1:32 remaining in the second quarter and then on a perfectly thrown 28-yard pass to Saige Marienthal in the back left corner of the end zone just 40 seconds later, after teammate Nicholas Lotu’s interception regained possession for Waipahu.
The second TD helped close the lead to 28-21 at halftime, with the momentum seemingly back in the Marauders’ favor.
“Crazy,” Uemoto said. “They lose (Uiliata), and then we lose Zed, and then (Uiliata) comes back. You know, it’s like a scripted movie. We had to go in at halftime and we had to collect ourselves. He scored right before the half to cut the lead to seven, but the word for our program has always been ‘perseverance.’ We talked about perseverance (at halftime), we still had the lead, and we still were gonna get the ball. We had to dig deep and find a way to score, and for our defense to stand up. And that’s exactly what they did.”
Konawaena stretched the lead to 35-21 after Kawelu Kaiawa’s 1-yard touchdown plunge with 4:47 remaining in the third quarter, but Waipahu answered with Uiliata’s 8-yard pass to Chazen Rodillas-Vesido and Transfiguracion’s extra point, which cut it to 35-28 with 1:49 still left to play in the third quarter.
But that would be it for the Marauders’ scoring, and Nakoa Ige’s 36-yard field goal made it 38-28 and effectively sealed the victory with 1:52 remaining.
Alani completed 27 of 36 passes for 256 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. Uiliata finished 13 of 29 for 222 yards and two TDs, but he was sacked seven times.
“Obviously, (containing Uiliata) was a big part of our game plan,” Uemoto said. “We tried all different things at practice all week, and our defensive coordinator, Kala’i Lee, did an outstanding job of bottling him up and showing him different things. We felt that our quickness up front was going to be able to get to him, and we did it without spying him, which was huge for our coverage in the back end. Credit to our kids up front, they played great.
“What an outstanding athlete, to be able to stop him in important situations, that was the difference in the game.”
Carvalho said the win was well deserved, and that Waipahu can still hold its head high.
“At the end of the day, hat’s off to Konawaena,” Carvalho said. “They got more plays done than we did. But in general, I’m proud of our whole team.”
Photos by: Lori McKeown
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