In every question that Abu Ma’afala answered following his debut as Kamehameha’s football coach, there was a running theme he meant to tell with every other sentence he spoke.
“The number one thing we tasked them with going into this was to play hard and play together and they played literally until the last snap,” Ma’afala said after No. 4 Kamehameha’s last-second comeback fell short in a 26-20 loss to No. 8 Waianae. “If there is anyone to blame, blame me.”
Kamehameha, which suffered its first loss to Waianae in 18 years, took the lead two separate times in the fourth quarter only to see Waianae fight right back to take the lead.
The last big play came with 1:14 remaining when trailing 20-19, Waianae pulled off a 54-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jaren Ulu to receiver Isaiah Freeney, who got behind the Warriors secondary for the final score of the game.
“I made a bad call right there when we gave up that big, long ball,” Ma’afala said. “I should have called something else. That’s not on (the kids), they played hard.”
Waianae and Kamehameha took fans back to the Prep Bowl days for more than two quarters. The teams combined for 80 total yards in a scoreless tie at halftime and it seemed like the first team to score would win.
Waianae took the first lead at 6-0 when Kanai Mauga intercepted a Thomas Yam pass in the flat and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter.
The Seariders built a 12-0 lead only to see Kamehameha rally. Already down to its third-string running back, Kamehameha rode the legs of sophomore Breden Akima, whose 2-yard run gave Kamehameha its first points of the game with 8:34 remaining. That’s when all kinds of crazy broke out.
Tiger Peterson gave Kamehameha its first lead of the game on a 75-yard punt return, only to see Kade Ambrocio take the ensuing kickoff back 99 yards to the house to put Waianae back in front.
Kamehameha responded with its longest drive of the game, going 76 yards to reclaim the lead on Akima’s 1-yard TD run. Akima was only in the game because first-stringer Kanoa Shannon sprained his ankle against Mililani in a scrimmage last week and Brayden Miyamoto was knocked out of the game late in the first quarter.
Kamehameha’s second lead of the fourth quarter against only lasted 20 seconds as Ulu made the big throw to Freeney to go back in front.
Kamehameha had one last chance and hit a big 32-yard pass play from Yam to Chris Ah Mook Sang as time expired. Waianae was called for a penalty, giving Kamehameha an untimed down with no time on the clock at the Waianae 6. Yam hit Trever Kahunahana for the tying touchdown, only to have it wiped off with a holding penalty, and his second untimed down ended on an incomplete pass that fell short of the end zone.
“We’re a young football team and like I told them, we have so much growth and so much potential and our offense made so many strides just tonight,” Ma’afala said. “When you really think about it all, Waianae made one more play than we did and they are a great football team. I’m excited to see what they can do this year and I really couldn’t ask for more (from our guys) really.”
Ma’afala said the game changed when Waianae came out and played almost exclusively in a spread-look on offense in the second half, putting four receivers out on the edges and running shotgun with Ulu at the controls.
“We only prepared for their triple-option,” Ma’afala said. “That was a great wrinkle that they have added to their offense and so again, that falls on me not having our kids prepared.”
Kamehameha also played without kicker Adam Stack (hip) and top returning receiver Jaykob Cabunoc (hamstring), who had 50 catches for 581 yards and four touchdowns last year as a junior.
“We kept some guys out because it’s early and we want them ready for the regular season because the ILH is like the SEC, it’s playoff football every week,” Ma’afala said. “Fortunately we’ve got some depth and I’m excited for these guys. This was a great opportunity for (us) to see that we can hang with the best.”
Kamehameha will play a second ranked team in eight days flying to Maui next Saturday to face No. 10 Baldwin. Then it’s 18 days off before the start of ILH play Sept. 1 against No. 3 Punahou, which beat Leilehua 70-9 on Friday night.