Defense, defense, defense.
Team Freedom’s 25-7 win over Team Liberty in the Open Division battle of the JPS Classic turned out to be a showcase of elite defense. It ended much as it began, with Tasi Malepeai (Mililani) and Kukea Emmsley (Kapolei) corralling Liberty quarterback Tai-John Mizutani for a sack during a last-ditch drive.
On the next play, Kapolei lineman Aaron Faumui sealed it with a sack of his own. In all, Mizutani did magical work to not get sacked more than four times, and Team Freedom, which got a forced fumble by RJ Shimasaki, recovered by Dylan Toilolo, limited a loaded Liberty offense to 6 rushing yards and 112 yards of total offense.
Meanwhile, Freedom’s smashmouth offense was in effect. Ieke Se‘ei-Cleveland (26 yards), Antoneo Brown (38 yards on three carries), Jalen Tuivaiave-Olomua and quarterback Marcus Faufata-Pedrina (77 yards, two rushing TDs) barreled through and around an otherwise talented Liberty defense.
When they weren’t slicing through holes by an offensive line that might be an all-FBS level crew soon, Kona Andres was on his game. The Leilehua QB was 10-for-13 for 120 yards and a 13-yard TD strike to Castle’s Kawai Naki. It was an efficient performance by the receiving corps, too. Eight different players caught a pass.
Tuivaiave-Olomua seemed to be everywhere. Besides six carries on the offensive side, he was active defensively at linebacker and was named the game’s most outstanding player.
“Coach John Hao asked me the first day of practice last week, I accepted it and tried to have fun in the last game I play before I leave,” he said. “I tried to play every play like it’s my last. The whole team did. The O-line, they put in work. Noah Williams at center, left guard was Scotty Agasiva, right guard Suli Nisa, right tackle was Sione Vekoso and left tackle was Rio Claytor.”
The trenchmen were key to 101 rushing yards, enough to keep the Liberty defense honest.
Mizutani was named the impact player of the game for Team Liberty. He and other memorable seniors like Waianae’s Kana‘i Mauga took in the festive atmosphere after the game, the last as high school players for most.
“It’s been a long week trying to prepare for this. It was interesting, very interesting,” said Mauga, who committed to USC last summer. “We’ve had the best coaches, and though we came up short, it was a learning process and it was a fun game to play.”
Mauga plans on graduating early and enrolling at USC in January. Like Tua Tagovailoa of Saint Louis, and a few years earlier, Breiden Fehoko of Farrington, Mauga plans to return in time for senior prom and a chance to walk with his classmates at graduation.
“I want to get faster, get stronger, get better at everything,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement.”
St. Francis safety Wembley Mailei was named Team Freedom’s impact player. The roaming, relentless 6-foot-3, 220-pound playmaker confirmed the talent and heart of D-II players like himself.
“I feel great. My parents didn’t want me to play. They wanted to me to be safe. Shout out to my family visiting from Utah. I did this for them,” he said. “And shout out to God. I couldn’t do it without Him.”
Mailei draped himself with the Tongan national flag as his aunts took a photo of him.
“Our coaches told me to just ball and work hard,” he said. “There’s no blitzing (in the all-star game), but I go to cover.”
At John Kauinana Stadium
Liberty 0 0 7 0 — 7
Freedom 7 12 0 6 — 25
F—Kahale Huddleston 1 run (Huddleston kick)
F—Kawai Naki 13 pass from Kona Andres (kick failed)
F—Marcus Faufata-Pedrina 3 run (kick failed)
L—Jonah Panoke 3 pass from Tai-John Mizutani (Chayce Akaka kick)
F—Marcus Faufata-Pedrina 16 run (kick failed)
RUSHING—Liberty: Tai-John Mizutani 8-4, Team 1-2, Iovani Alatini 2-0. Freedom: Ieke Se‘ei-Cleveland 6-26, Antoneo Brown 3-38, Faufata-Pedrina 9-76, Jalen Olomua 7-13, Huddleston 2-6, Andres 5-2. PASSING—Liberty: Maika Bonner 1-8-0-7, Mizutani 7-17-1-99. Freedom: Faufata-Pedrina 2-6-1-16, Andres 10-13-0-120.
RECEIVING—Liberty: Jonah Panoke 2-10, Kainalu Hackney-Reyes 2-60, Tamarick Hallums 1-11, Sitaleki Tongi 1-6, Akaka 2-19. Freedom: Huddleston 1-7, Scott McLeod 1-9, Naki 2-20, Makana Smith 3-39, Stephen Eter 1-21, Tanner Wright 1-21, Se‘ei-Cleveland 1-3, Olomua 1-19.