Lanakila Pei could only watch as his ‘Iolani career ended with Hilo players storming the field at Aloha Stadium to celebrate a stunning finish to Friday’s Division I state championship game.
Prior to a Hilo field goal from 55 yards out bouncing off the crossbar and through the uprights to give the Vikings a 20-17 walk-off victory, it appeared the night’s pivotal moments would belong to Pei in his farewell performance in an ‘Iolani uniform.
Pei, the hub of the Raiders defense, gave ‘Iolani a 17-3 lead with a 94-yard punt return on the final play of the first half. After Hilo rallied to tie the game in the fourth quarter, the Vikings were poised for a game-winning score with less than a minute left before Pei stripped the ball loose for a fumble recovered by teammate Joshua Miyazawa.
But Hilo would get the ball back with eight seconds left, just enough time for two plays and for Keanu Keolanui to kick his way into Hawaii prep football lore.
“Proud of my team,” Pei said during the Raiders’ walk to the mauka locker room after the trophy ceremony. “At the end of the day it’s not what we wanted the outcome to be, but we played to the best of our ability and I’m proud of my team. It’s (tough) it had to end that way but that’s how it goes sometimes.”
Pei ended the night with 12 tackles, tied with teammate Isaac Ignacio for game-high honors, including a stop for a 3-yard loss to halt a Hilo threat with ‘Iolani protecting a 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
But the Vikings struck for a 78-yard touchdown pass on their next possession and marched into ‘Iolani territory as the clock dwindled into the final minutes. With Hilo facing fourth-and-2 at the Raiders’ 23, Pei jumped across the line of scrimmage to extend the drive.
“I was very disappointed in myself, especially at a time like that, a minute and a half left and I jump offside. Stuff like that can be game-ending,” Pei said. “I knew I owed it to my team to get the ball back.”
With Hilo positioning itself for a go-ahead score, Pei forced the ball out of Kilohana Haasenritter’s grasp for a game-saving takeaway — at least for the moment.
“His contributions are not only on the field, he’s become a leader and an example for our athletic program,” ‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said. “Those kind of guys don’t come around very often.
“Any time he’s on the field he’s going make things happen.”
He certainly did just before halftime when he fielded a punt at the ‘Iolani 6, broke to his left and sprinted along the sideline to send the Raiders into the locker room with a two-touchdown lead.
“I knew there was only going to be a little bit of time on the clock from when they punted it and they were running out the clock,” Pei said. “So I told my other punt returner, ‘I think I’m going to take this to the house.’ ”
Ultimately, the Raiders couldn’t quite bring home the program’s first Division I title to add to its eight D-II championships.
“We didn’t play very well offensively, especially in the second half,” Look said after the Raiders were held to 153 yards in total offense and 45 after halftime.
“You have to give (Hilo) a lot of credit. It was a game of two different halves. Our defense was rock solid the whole game, just we offensively put them in bad situations. But they’ve been our backbone the whole season. We just didn’t get enough done on offense to win the game.”
The conclusion gave ‘Iolani’s season a sense of symmetry. The Raiders began the regular-season with a 21-20 loss at Moanalua on Aug. 10 in a game decided on a last-second field goal.
“That’s what athletics is,” Look said of the learning experiences. “Win, lose, we have to learn how to deal with it and hopefully we represented our school well with a lot of class, a lot of pride. I’m proud of them, we had a great year. Obviously, we didn’t finish the way we wanted to, but you cant fault them for lack of effort. They gave everything they had.”