In what can only be described as a stunning result, Kamehameha-Maui marched into Skippa Diaz Stadium and upset unbeaten Kaiser 48-24. The Warriors outdueled the Cougars with an array of physical running and both timely and accurate deep passing to move on to the Division II title game in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.
“It feels great,” KS-Maui running back McKay Pali said. “Kamehameha-Maui never really went to states in a while. I’m just proud of my team, my family, and everything that we did. We’ve worked really hard for this.”
“We were definitely the underdogs coming in to this,” KS-Maui quarterback Makana Kamaka-Brayce added. “We had a lot of doubters, but I think we just came in and did what we needed to do.”
Kamaka-Brayce played a starring role in the win, throwing for a game-high 369 yards on 20-for-29 passing. He also tossed four touchdowns to three different receivers. He was aided by a pair of 100-yard receivers in Po’okela Aiu and Kahoa Abreu, who finished with 127 and 109 receiving yards respectively. The Warriors nearly had a third receiver in centennial territory, with Ho’ohenomauloa Stone-Han racking up 98 yards on four catches with two touchdowns.
Another starring feature of Kamehameha-Maui’s RPO was Pali. Toting the ball 23 times, Pali rolled to a game-best 121 ground yards on hard, downhill running.
“I have to give all thanks to my O-line,” Pali said. “If it wasn’t for the holes, I couldn’t have gotten as many yards as I did.”
“We’ve been talking about that all week,” Kamaka-Brayce said of the team’s physical play. “We had to be physical because [Kaiser] is physical, and our line did a great job with that.”
The Cougars looked confused at times, as passes that usually connected stopped connecting. The tough second-half running of Hopoate Aholelei (10 carries, 51 yards) seemed to stabilize the Kaiser offense. Quarterback Easton Yoshino had a big bounce back second half, particularly in the fourth quarter. After throwing for just 26 yards in the first half, Yoshino stormed back into the game to finish with 313 yards on 14-for-35 passing. He threw a trio of touchdowns, but they were accompanied by two crucial interceptions. Kamakana Mahiko was his top target, finishing with 167 yards on nine catches. Justin Kanekoa added 93 yards on just two grabs.
Neither team was able to score for much of the first half, but it was clear for all to see that Kamehameha-Maui was the more physical team. The Warriors’ toughness finally paid off on their final drive of the opening frame. After a near turnover in the red zone, Kamaka-Brayce found Aiu in the end zone for a 7-yard score that came with just 27 seconds on the clock.
Once the first score was out of the way, the Warriors had no trouble finding their way back to the end zone. Kamaka-Brayce’s 8-yard touchdown toss to Abreu was followed immediately by Pali’s goal-line score. The only second quarter drive that KS-Maui failed to score on came with 11 seconds left in the half. Meanwhile, the struggling Kaiser offense managed just three points after a promising drive stalled in the red zone.
The Cougars had their chances to get back in the game, but instead it was Kamehameha-Maui who seized back the momentum. Kamaka-Bryce opened the second-half scoring with his third touchdown of the game, a 13-yard pass to Stone-Han. The next Warriors score would come from the defense. With an all-out blitz bearing down on Yoshino, he sailed a pass over Kanekoa’s head, into the hands of Kale Spencer. Unimpeded, Spencer returned the interception 52-yards to put KS-Maui up 34-3. Kamaka-Brayce’s fourth touchdown pass on the final play of the third quarter, a back-breaking 64-yard throw to Stone-Han, seemed to put Kaiser on life support.
Instead of folding, the Cougars seemed to find their groove in response to the score. On back-to-back one-play drives, Yoshino found his star receivers for 81-yard (Kanekoa) and 72-yard (Mahiko) touchdowns.
Kamaka-Brayce put an abrupt end to any miracle comeback hopes, carrying the ball into the end zone himself from the 1-yard line. Kaiser managed to score again before the game ended, as Yoshino found Mahiko at the left pylon for a 5-yard score, but the energy was clearly gone. Duke Brown carried the ball four straight times to run out the clock and send the Warriors through to the D-II Final.