There are halftime adjustments and there are the moves that the Waipahu Marauders made to overcome a major challenge from the Kaimuki Bulldogs in a 35-14 win on Saturday at Skippa Diaz Stadium.
Waipahu (7-0, 6-0), the unbeaten leader in OIA Division II football, saw its normally potent offense get sidetracked in the first half for the second time in as many weeks. Last weekend, it was Pearl City that bottled up the Marauders and had the game tied at nil before Waipahu exploded for a 37-6 win.
This time, Kaimuki’s old-school, ball-control offense had the Marauders sinking.
“There were heads getting down. That’s the first time I’ve seen that this year,” Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho said. “The kids stuck true to the game plan and played a stellar second half. I have a feeling we’re going to meet these guys (Kaimuki) again. The way they lined up, they took away some things. They’re a helluva team.”
A pick-6 by 6-foot-2, 211-pound sophomore phenom Fiva Tulafale provided a big spark. His 60-yard return to paydirt provided the only points for Waipahu until the final 36 seconds before intermission.
“That really sparked us. He’s going somewhere (for college) one day for sure,” Carvalho said.
A win by Kaimuki (4-3, 4-2) would’ve have shaken up the standings. The formula was intact for a long stretch as Waipahu’s fans sat patiently. Kaimuki’s time of possession — a whopping 18 minutes and 16 seconds out of a possible 24 minutes — was its best defense. It made too much sense. Kaimuki has several two-way players. The balanced offense lends itself to some unpredictability. But the cherry on top was QB Jordan Solomon’s clutch passing on third down.
But even after throwing two picks, Solomon’s poise and accuracy prevented Waipahu’s offense from gaining momentum. By the half, Solomon was 10-for-14, 125 yards, and after the break, he completed his first three attempts. Waipahu then took away all of his favorite receivers, their favorite spots. He was 8-for-22 for 83 yards with two more picks in the second half, much of it coming with Waipahu up two, three TDs and in a conservative coverage, almost a prevent.
For all of Waipahu’s offensive ballyhoo, it was defense that did the job on Solomon’s spectacular start. They picked him twice in the first half, sniffing him out and figuring the Kaimuki’s route tree and tendencies out. He finished with a solid 208 yards (18-for-34), and RB Ieke Seei-Cleveland barreled for 94 rushing yards on 26 carries. In many ways, Kaimuki played well enough to win.
Waipahu simply took care of business when it mattered most. With a busy pass rush (four sacks), Solomon was rarely able to set his feet in the pocket. His favorite targets — Elijah Lemalu (three catches, 42 yards) and Kainalu Aduca (four, 52) — came up empty after halftime. Waipahu got two sacks from Centennial Kulikefu, and one each from Kealii Barrett and Rylee Oneill. That led to two picks by Zeondre Benjamin, and one each by Tulafale and Dhelton Bandonill.
It was a great matchup and a close battle until the third quarter. Solomon and Seei-Cleveland. Braden Amorozo (183 yards, three TDs) and Alfred Failauga (102 yards, TD).
The Marauders clinched first place, as they did last season. But in 2016, they lost to Waialua in the league title game.
“I can’t wait to go and celebrate with them for this win, enjoy this win, Carvalho said. “But last year, we didn’t accomplish our goal. We’ll be happy with this and I’m proud of them, but we’ve got to accomplish our goal.”