It wasn’t really the kind of debut that Kili Watson wanted, but Friday night’s 51-14 home loss to Waipahu could hold value for Nanakuli’s new head football coach nonetheless.
The young Watson was measured afterward, and had good reason; it wasn’t a terrible loss under the circumstances. The Golden Hawks had precious little experience, while the Marauders returned a load of it. Both teams were at less than full strength because of several players landing on early season academic probation, but Waipahu returned talent at the key skill positions.
“For a lot of the boys it’s actually their first time playing football. Going out there and getting some experience,” Watson said. “But besides that, learn to measure one another. We did have low numbers. But what I am proud about is the boys did pull together. They learned to work with one another to accomplish their goals. Although it wasn’t the outcome we wanted.”
And there’s the whole coaching-on-the-field thing that a person hasn’t hasn’t done until they’ve done it.
“Nerves were definitely high,” said Watson, formerly the offensive coordinator. “But what I am grateful for is I have a great supporting cast with my coaching staff. So they definitely make the job a lot easier. In prior seasons I was only the coordinator so I only had to worry about one side of the ball. Now I’m in a position you have to think as a team and a whole. So I was worried about that, but what I am very thankful for is my staff. They were able to really support me.
Watson was aa coordinator with the Hawks ever since he graduated from Kamehameha in 2012. He was helping his older brother Keala, the former UH standout who stepped out of Nanakuli’s head position in March.
Nanakuli went 0-8 in 2016 while competing in the OIA’s Division I Red, the same conference it’s in this year compared to Waipahu’s Division II.
The older Watson pledged to stay on and help as an assistant. On Friday, he was up in the press box with a headset.
“It’s funny, he was telling us a joke,” Kili Watson said. “He’s like, ‘I almost teared tonight. It’s my first time watching a game in seven years.’ It was a tearful moment. But he did say he liked what he’s seen. The biggest thing he said he liked was the sideline control. There was no time where our sideline’s backs were slumped. With all the challenges we’re faced with, he’s trying to maintain high energy and positive morale. Make sure the boys got their heads on and we move forward.”
Sophomore quarterback Nahum Kipi was brought up from the JV and made his first start. He held his own for stretches of the game, going 19-for-33 for 177 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Kipi made some ballsy plays. He also got swallowed up for losses eight times by the Marauders’ defense.
“I was proud of him,” Watson said. “We pulled him up as a sophomore, and for him to go out and deliver the ball as he was tonight — it took him a while to warm up, but I was glad he was able to rise to the occasion, rise to the challenge. It took a half but at least we know he can get there. He can compete, he can drive the ball where it needs to be.”
Senior slotback Joey Vea-Quitog did what he could, snagging eight balls for 77 yards and scoring on a wildcat keeper. Junior running back Po‘okela Pi‘ilani picked up 59 hard-fought yards on 14 carries.
Nanakuli gave up the game’s first score but jumped ahead 8-7 on some busted play magic in the end zone. Kipi found Chayce Morgan over the middle for his only catch, and Kipi, the holder on the extra point, picked it up and ran to the pylon through contact when that sequence fell apart, too.
The Hawks fell behind 22-8 by halftime, and things didn’t get better.
A series of bad snaps in the third quarter resulted in a safety that Waipahu didn’t exactly coerce. Chalk that up as a teachable, fixable moment.
“We try to coach our team to be competitors,” Watson said. “We tell them competitors find ways to get things done. So tonight’s scenario with the loss, we’ve got to go back and find ways to fix our (errors). So it’s definitely a lot of learning experiences. Of course there are those nicks and knacks we gotta fix, but it was a game where we could take a lot from and work with it.”
Behind 149 yards and three touchdowns from running back Alfred Failauma — all TDs came in the second half — and three more from quarterback Braden Amorozo (two passing, one rushing), the Marauders raised their Jolly Roger flag high in the valley. Alika Ahsing chipped in a 44-yard scoring catch and a blocked punt return TD.
Waipahu’s coach Bryson Carvalho could empathize about the task of corralling a program coming off a rough season; the Marauders were 1-7 before he came in. They were 1-7 again his first year until last season’s turnaround to 8-3.
“Just to create your own culture is a little different,” Carvalho said. “It’s nothing that is bad from the previous or good from the previous. You’re creating your own culture. That’s always a little bit of a challenge because the kids are used to a certain way. But once they kind of get in a groove, you gotta just kind of keep on them, keep on them. There’s a lot I learned over the years. It’s trial by error, you know what I mean? Hindsight is always 20-20. You live and you learn. You make mistakes, but that’s just life. Roll with the punches. You just get better. That’s where I’m at right now. The kids are accustomed to what our program’s like and it’s just routine for them now.”
Note: Friday’s game would’ve been played at Waipahu if the Marauders’ field was ready to play on. Carvalho said he expects to be able to play there two weeks from now against Roosevelt.