When Baldwin hosts Leilehua tonight in the opening round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships in Division I, the ghosts of the past won’t linger far from the grass surface of War Memorial Stadium.
In fact, the biggest menace in Baldwin’s storied history may well be upstairs in the press box. Andrew Manley was the man-child gunslinger who ended each of Baldwin’s postseasons from 2007 to ’09.
“I never thought I would have a quarterback like Bryant Moniz again, and we had Andrew Manley, then Kenan Sadanaga,” then-Leilehua head coach Nolan Tokuda said.
Manley could be described as the Baldwin heartbreaker, but the bittersweet endings had begun for Baldwin before that. In 2006, Baldwin’s fantastic squad lost to Kahuku 22-20 in the state semifinals on a shocking 43-yard double-pass from Shiloah Teo to Pele Soliai for a TD in the final seconds.
Instant classic. Even Kahuku defensive lineman Kaniela Tuipulotu, originally from Lahainaluna, said this to sportswriter Billy Hull: “To be honest with you, I was already thinking about turning in my pads on Monday,.”
Then a junior, Jordan Helle was in the midst of one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in MIL history. He remembers the heartbreak.
“One, absolutely crushed by Kaniela Tuipulotu on the first snap of the game. Bruised ribs. Bruised lungs. It was a clean hit,” Helle said. “That was a wake-up call. It was a great game, great plays back and forth. Then five seconds left, 43-yard line. The double pass. It was surreal. I stood on the 25 or 30 and I get a good view of things way down there. Some folks were kind of celebratory at that time, but I remember thinking, this thing isn’t over yet. It all kind of happened in slow motion, like is this really happening. It was a hollow, empty feeling. I really felt bad for our seniors, the guys who put so much time in like Ka’i Maiava.”
Baldwin entered the ’07 season with all the gumption in the world. Helle had another eye-popping performance in the run-and-shoot offense. Prior to the semifinal game with Leilehua, the Bears had eliminated Farrington 26-14 at War Memorial Stadium.
Leilehua? In ’07, the Mules were 3-3 in the OIA regular season, then ousted Castle in the opening round of the Red playoffs. With two injured QBs, Manley was called up from the JV and the Mules were on their way.
Leilehua edged Farrington 7-3 on Manley’s 11-yard TD pass to Edieson Dumlao. In the Red final, Manley passed for two TDs as the Mules defeated Waianae 12-3. A Mules defense led by Robert Siavii and Art Laurel powered the playoff run.
The two teams met at Aloha Stadium in the D-I state semifinals and Manley became the thriller with 263 yards and two more TD tosses in a 41-34 upset win over No. 2 seed Baldwin. Manley then sparked Leilehua to a 20-16 win over Saint Louis for the Mules’ first and only state football crown.
“The first one in 2007, they had Jordan Helle, some talented guys, a fast wide receiver, the 6-3 receiver (Chase Nakamura). It was a battle. We were down 14 and turned it around after that. Robert Siavii scored on a fumble recovery,” Tokuda recalled.
By game’s end, Leilehua prevailed and Baldwin was ousted again.
“I think we scored on defense, too, at one point,” Helle recalled. “We were driving with a minute left. I threw a ball down the sideline and I threw it a little short, and the guy made a great play and I think he picked it off at the 1.”
With the loss to Leilehua in ’07, Baldwin had reached the state semifinals in four of five years. It was as close as the Bears ever got to reaching the state championship game.
In ’08, Leilehua traveled to the Valley Isle, where Manley accounted for 250 total yards and four TD passes in a 34-15 rout at War Memorial. The Mules then got by Kahuku in OT, 17-10, but lost to Punahou in the state final, 30-7.
In ’09, Leilehua traveled again to play Baldwin, routing the Bears 48-12. The Mules’ third-straight trip to beautiful Maui was the last for Manley, by then a senior. It was Kaimana Akagi, however, who shined brightest with three TD catches. Manley hurled five TD passes in all that night.
“Kaimana had a concussion against Kahuku one week earlier in the OIA title game. He got cleared in two days. He didn’t start, but he came through for us,” Tokuda said. “Both of the brothers are hard workers, love the grind and coachable. They think about their teammates, very unselfish. Raised right by their parents. I think Kalei has a little more speed, a little more hungrier. On Sundays, he’s always doing the extra work.”
A week later, Kamehameha blanked Leilehua 40-0 in the state final.
In ’10, Kenan Sadanaga passed for 474 yards and four TDs in a 35-26 win for Leilehua over Baldwin at War Memorial. Leilehua then lost to Saint Louis in the semifinal round a week later, 42-28.
“2010, Kenan hit Alan Brisette on a fullback flare. I think he had four (touchdown) passes,” Tokuda said. “I don’t know if we’re dream killers. We were just happy to have an opportunity to keep playing. Doesn’t matter if it’s Baldwin, Kealakehe, Hilo. Just an opportunity for us.”
Baldwin and Leilehua have not met since.
The Bears edged Farrington 28-24 at War Memorial to begin the ’11 state tournament. Then they were bounced out by No. 2 seed Punahou 35-0. The Bears have not won a state-tourney game since ’11.
In ’12, Baldwin lost to Mililani, 24-13, at War Memorial.
In ’13, Farrington stifled Baldwin 21-3 at WMS.
Baldwin’s run as the dynasty of the MIL began to wane in ’14 as Maui won the MIL championship. The Sabers lost to Farrington 22-6 at WMS.
Baldwin returned to the big dance in ’15, but lost to Waianae 21-6 at WMS.
The Open Division era of the state tourney began in ’16. Baldwin won the MIL again, but lost to Mililani 49-28 in the first round.
Maui took the MIL title in ’17, then lost to eventual state champion Hilo 26-7 at Wong Stadium. The Sabers repeated as league champions in ’18, then lost to Hilo at Keaau High School Stadium 35-24.
“It was a great run. If the Open and the tiers were there back there in the 2000s, Baldwin and Leilehua would be there, those early Waimea teams. There were some talented teams. We were deep before that time and during our era,” Helle recalled. “There was another good wave for Baldwin back in ’99 to ’07, then in ’11 and ’12. In ’12, they were right there with Mililani, that’s when I was back from college and helping with the QBs. They had five or so kids who went and played in FCS.”
But was ’06-07 the peak for Bears football?
“Maybe those Keelan Ewaliko years, that was a really good group. Not as much success on the state level, but they had as much talent as us,” Helle said. “We were lucky. We had a really great group of guys who played at D-I universities.”
Helle remembers everybody, absolutely everyone, and where they played at the next level. He can rattle of five, 10, 20 names from every era. He coaches JV basketball at Baldwin.
“Everybody was so tight,” said Helle, who does radio and TV work, and works for the County of Maui. “I still see a lot of those guys around.”