The Waialua Bulldogs looked right at home at the farthest possible football field on Oahu.
The cheers from their dozens of red-and-white-clad faithful echoed out across Kaiser Stadium as quarterback Tevesi Toia took a knee behind victory formation and the seconds ticked down on a 19-14 win over Kaimuki in the OIA Division II semifinals on Friday night.
Waialua had punched its first HHSAA state tournament berth at long last.
Longtime coach Lincoln Barit soaked it in quietly on the field in the moments afterward. Then he got soaked by a sports drink bath from his players.
“Feels good,” said senior defensive back Julian Fely-Menor, who helped clinch the win with a late interception of Kaimuki quarterback Jordan Solomon at the goal line. “We got a coach over there that, 30-plus years at this school, never made it to states. (This will) bring the community back together.”
Before Waialua makes it states debut, it will face Waipahu next week for the OIA’s seeded berth. The Marauders won the regular-season meeting 26-7, but the Bulldogs are brimming with confidence after avenging a season-opening 22-20 overtime loss to Kaimuki on the very same field they won Friday night.
Besides a couple of costly penalties — one of which was a roughing the kicker that allowed Kaimuki to sustain a drive and on the board just before halftime — Waialua played disciplined, defensive football. Solomon was picked three times and running back Ieke Seei-Cleveland was kept in check most of the night.
Two-way player Lancen Kuni caught a 51-yard first-quarter touchdown pass from Toia and intercepted Solomon on the next series. Solomon was held to 17-for-40 passing and 175 yards.
“The boys, awesome team this year. We’re not that big, but we do what we gotta do, day and day out,” Barit said. “Lancen, Dayton (Kaopua-Lee), (Brendan) Souza, all these seniors that want to make the state (tournament).”
Waialua (6-2) boarded the buses for the long drive home knowing it avenged its first loss of the season. Its only other shortcoming was against Waipahu (8-1).
“Most definitely we prepared more (this time),” Fely-Menor said. “We kept our mojo going throughout the year. We let that come as redemption for us.”