Both head coaches — Brad Uemoto at Konawaena and Waipahu’s Bryson Carvalho — struggled to keep their emotions in check.
A 53-50 Konawaena victory over Waipahu in the Division II semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships on Friday night left players, fans, and both coaching staffs completely spent after the final whistle sounded at Julian Yates Field in Kealakehua on the Big Island.
A state tournament record 103 points were scored. Waipahu’s ultra-talented sophomore running back Alfred Failauga set both a school record and state tournament record with 283 rushing yards on 42 carries. Failauga scored four touchdowns while Konawaena quarterback Austin Ewing, who threw for 370 yards, accounted for six touchdowns with two on the ground.
The teams combined for 1,156 total yards and ran 181 total plays, including a ridiculous 52 in the first quarter alone. The third quarter saw a combined 47 points scored, including five touchdowns in the first 6 minutes.
The deciding play came with less than a minute to go. Waipahu, which rolled up 675 total yards of its own, had the ball at the Konwaena 10-yard line, down by a field goal, when quarterback Braden Amorozo, trying to throw the ball away while under pressure, fumbled it on the ground. Konawaena’s Tevin Canda fell on top of it, and somehow, in a game dominated by the offenses, Uemoto’s trust in his defense that had been lit up all game made the difference.
“We won with defense all year,” Uemoto said. “If we were going to close this game out, we were going to do it with our defense on the field.”
The Wildcats, who totaled 481 yards of their own, had a fourth-and-2 situation on their own 43-yard line with 2:20 remaining. Waipahu had just one timeout remaining, and a first down would have ended it. Instead of putting the ball in the hands of his offense, Uemoto trusted the unit that had been carved up all night.
Konawaena forced its fourth turnover of the game and clinched the first appearance by a BIIF team in a state final ever.
“I don’t really know how to explain it,” said Ewing, who finished 30-for-53 passing without an interception. “We’ve come up short two years before so to win it is amazing.”
Ewing had been in this position before. Two years ago, the Wildcats put up 46 points on a Radford team that had only given up 52 total points in its first 11 games. Ewing had a pass for a two-point conversion fall incomplete that would have tied the game, and the Wildcats lost 48-46.
Last season, Ewing was picked off three times in a 28-14 loss to Lahainaluna in the state semifinals. Both Radford and the Lunas went on to win the state title after beating the Wildcats in the semis.
The third-year starting quarterback, who also played safety and was on the field for the final defensive stand that won it, did it all for the Konawaena offense. He scored both of his rushing touchdowns in the first quarter and threw all four of his touchdown passes in the third quarter.
“(Austin) played the best game of his career,” Uemoto said. “He had some damn good ones in between, but he played a damn good game tonight and I’m proud of that kid.”
It was the first loss of the season for the OIA champion Marauders, who had a much better showing than they did in a 52-14 rout against Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium last year.
Failauga tied the state tournament record with 42 carries and his 283 rushing yards broke the mark of 274 yards set by Hawaii Prep’s Michael Kopra in 2003.
He ripped off a 65-yard TD run on fourth-and-2 with 5:54 remaining to cut the deficit to 10, and after a Konawaena fumble, Failauga again found the end zone from 7 yards out to make it 53-50 with 3:23 to go.
Failauga has already surpassed 2,700 career rushing yards with back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons and still has two years left in high school. He’s on pace to shatter Vavae Malepeai‘s state rushing record, needing to average only 900 yards over the next two years.
“We have a great young team and that’s a positive, but my heart goes out to our seniors that won’t have another chance,” Carvalho said.
You could see the emotion flood the third-year head coach’s face as he thought about those seniors, many of whom had key plays against the Wildcats.
Slotback Ezekiel-Kai Kapanui Reyes, the team’s second-leading receiver, threw his only pass of the season for a 69-yard touchdown on a trick play in the fourth quarter.
Linebacker Centennial Kulikefu was in the middle of everything on defense, and quarterback Braden Amorozo finished with 336 yards passing and three touchdowns. Amorozo leaves Waipahu with four of the seven best single-game passing marks in school history.
“The seniors worked so hard,” Carvalho said. “My mind right now is just on the seniors to make sure they are OK, because they are great leaders for our team this year and it’s a tough way to end.”