Two promising freshmen quarterbacks emerged on the Hawaii football scene in the same game Friday night at Aloha Stadium.
Campbell’s Blaine Hipa was a surprise starter over senior Krenston Kaipo, and he delivered in a big way, throwing for 241 yards and four TDs in the Sabers’ 42-26 victory over Farrington.
On the opposing side, another ninth-grader — Rjay Tagataese — came in for senior starter Chris Afe-Alaivanu late in the second half. He guided the Governors to three TDs, including two scoring throws, to turn a 35-6 halftime deficit to a 35-20 game with 6:43 left.
What gives with two freshmen playing at the most important position in an elimination game this late in the season? Where did they come from?
Perhaps Darren Johnson, the coach of Campbell, said it best.
“You want to talk about two freshman quarterbacks playing good,” he said. “A lot of that praise and them being good is what JPS (Jr. Prep Sports youth football) has done for the state of Hawaii as far as integrating these kids and putting intermediate teams together. Both of these guys came out of great JPS programs and it actually shows. Man, it shows.”
With the victory, Campbell (8-4) placed third in the OIA Open Division and qualified for the state tournament. Farrington (2-10) is done for the season, but as coach Daniel Sanchez said, the Govs’ offseason program starts Monday.
“These quarterbacks are some real positives for both programs moving on,” Sanchez said. “They’re young and they’re going to get better, so there should be some shootouts in the future.”
Hipa, who is 6 feet and 170 pounds and came up from the JV squad recently, did not learn until Wednesday that he was going to start. According to Johnson, his son Kawe (the offensive coordinator) made the decision based on which of the team’s three quarterbacks (senior Kaniala Kalaola is the other one) was having the best week of practice.
“I just had to go out and play and not be scared,” Hipa said.
“My O-line was the biggest part. They supported me the whole week and today they had my back, making sure I was doing my job and making sure I was all right. My wideouts and running backs were making good plays.
“We gotta come back with a better performance (at states against the Mililani Trojans, who defeated Campbell 52-14 on Sept. 15). Everybody has gotta play to the best of their ability and we gotta make sure no one’s scared.”
Hipa watched Farrington come back and was a bit nervous.
“But knowing the defense was out there, I had trust in them that they weren’t going to give up a score. But, I did have that nervous feeling inside where I was hoping it didn’t happen.”
The Campbell coaches had enough trust in Hipa’s strong arm and accuracy — and poise — late in the game to let him continue throwing instead of falling into a conservative mode that may have allowed Farrington more chances.
With the score 35-20 and with the Governors holding a momentum edge, Hipa threw a third-down out pattern to Titus Mokiao-Atimalala. It was a 9-yard gain, but it led to Sky Lactaoen’s 3-yard gain for a first down on a fourth-down and 1 play with 5:56 left.
Right after that, Hipa threw a 23-yard pass to Mokiao-Atimalala, hitting him on the back shoulder down the left sideline to keep the chains moving. The drive ended in Jadon Arola‘s missed 34-yard field goal.
But fortunately for Campbell, sacks by Taelase Gaoteote and (on fourth down) by JL Lavea gave the Sabers the ball back deep in Govs territory. One more Hipa TD pass was followed by Tagataese TD pass to finish the scoring.
Afterward, Sanchez said he felt the Govs had to go for it on fourth and long instead of punting, and that Tagataese held on to the ball too long.
“Time (less than four minutes left) was running out,” he said. “He (Tagataese) didn’t trust what he saw. But he came in and gave us a spark. We were struggling in the first half and we needed to get Rjay into the game and maybe add some juice. He definitely did that.”
Said Tagataese, who showed some scrambling ability to go along with his accurate throws: “We came up short in the end, but as long as we worked together, I was glad to see that we still pushed through as a team. They gave me a shot and I took it. I know (Hipa) him from previous years in football. It was good to see him out there as well.
“It was a good feeling, coming back. We tried our hearts out and I’m proud of the boys. I’m looking forward to the next few years. This is only the beginning. There are more years to come and I’m excited about that.”