In a senior season of clutch victories and championship aspirations, it’s more than OK to have a sentimental moment.
After most of the crowd had dispersed at Tosh Nakasone Field, after a 14-12 win by Waialua over Pearl City, placekicker Dylan Hardin made his way atop the press box. All he wanted was a photo of the empty field, its red ‘W’ emblazoned at midfield. The final home game of the season was done. The senior recalled that day more than two years ago, when varsity head coach Lincoln Barit decided to shut the doors to the Bulldogs’ junior varsity team. From that day on, not long after the JV had been overpowered in a preseason scrimmage, all freshmen and sophomores were on the varsity roster.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened for us,” Hardin said on Friday night.
His role was modest, but essential, for a Waialua team battling for the best possible playoff seeding on the final night of the regular season. Hardin’s two extra-point kicks were good, which might sound routine enough. But teammate Matthan Hatchie swung the game by blocking a Pearl City PAT kick. That kept Waialua’s lead at eight points, 14-6, in the second half, and when the visiting Chargers scored a fourth-quarter touchdown, Waialua shut down their tricky 2-point conversion play.
Hatchie had blocked a punt last week against McKinley, but he hadn’t blocked a PAT or field goal try since the 2015 season. In addition to special teams — he’s a punter, sometimes kickoff kicker and kick rusher — Hatchie plays defensive line and right tackle, tight end or slotback on offense. He actually switched back and forth during Friday’s game from No. 71 to 88, lining up in the slot. He didn’t make a catch, but at roughly 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, the junior is a heck of an imposing blocker on the perimeter or anywhere else he lines up.
“Aaron Nuniez, he was a defensive lineman, he was a beast last year. He actually blocked three field goals,” Hatchie recalled.
As was the case a week earlier against McKinley, the Bulldogs pulled away despite miscues offensively, turning the ball over deep in Pearl City territory early in the game. Waialua finished with four turnovers, but contained the potential damage.
“We have to power through it and defend, give the ball back to our offense,” he said.
A healthy 259 rushing yards, including 153 from Risein Campbell and 96 from Howard Nahooikaika, got a big task done.
“We wanted to keep their offense off the field,” Barit said.
Barit was drenched after the game, but wearing a big smile. His players got him pretty good with a Gatorade shower when they gathered to talk.
“I should have brought my soap,” the longtime coach quipped.
The shift was on with Waialua’s win. Now Waialua is in third place by virtue of the league tiebreaker and is paired with second-place Kaimuki in next week’s playoffs. Pearl City, which had been alone in first place at 5-0 just a few weeks back, finished the regular season fourth and will meet Waipahu next week — a team it beat 21-7 a month ago.
Waialua lost to Kaimuki in overtime 22-20, a loss that the Bulldogs have not forgotten.
“Coach David (Tautofi) has done a great job. From the time we played them early in the season, they matured. They beat Pearl City,” Barit said.
Waialua hasn’t done so badly either, winning five of its past six games. Now they meet one of the two teams they’ve lost to. Pearl City? The Chargers will take on a team they beat with backup QB Isaiah Asinsin.
For a moment, though, Hardin had the right notion. Enjoy the ride. Friends were nearby, still jovial. The Waialua crowd as a whole was the most student- and community-driven home audience I’d seen in D-II so far this season. Beating Pearl City, moving up from fourth place to third… it meant a lot. Enough to capture the moment for a senior who scored two huge points.