Jaren Ulu showed a willingness to absorb punishment in the pocket throughout No. 8 Waianae’s spectacular second-half duel with No. 4 Kamehameha on Friday night.
The Searider quarterback wasn’t shy about delivering a blow either.
Before slinging the decisive touchdown pass in Waianae’s breathtaking 26-20 opening-night win at Kamehameha’s Kunuiakea Stadium, Ulu’s turn as a lead blocker helped spark the Searider offense late in the third quarter.
Both defenses controlled the action through the game’s first 31 minutes and Waianae opened the scoring on defensive end Kanai Mauga’s interception return.
The offenses combined for 11 punts and just five plays covered more than 10 yards in the game’s first 15 drives before Waianae took possession with 4:50 left in the third quarter.
What ensued was sheer madness, and it started with a simple handoff from Ulu to Rico Rosario on second-and-10.
Instead of hanging back after tucking the ball into Rosario’s midsection, Ulu took off downfield ahead of his running back hunting for contact. He put his shoulder into a linebacker to help spring Rosario for a 32-yard gain.
“I try my best to help out my running backs as much as I can,” Ulu said. “If anything a little lead block counts a lot.”
Ulu, who completed four of his first 10 pass attempts for 12 yards, then completed five straight for 40 yards and Rosario punctuated the drive with a punishing 6-yard run to give Waianae a 12-0 lead.
Kamehameha answered with an 11-play scoring drive and took the lead on sophomore Tiger Peterson’s 75-yard punt return. Waianae’s Kade Ambrocio returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to tip the lead back to the Seariders only to see Thomas Yam lead Kamehameha on a 76-yard march to claim a 20-19 lead with 1:34 left.
That edge lasted all of 20 seconds.
Javen Towne nearly broke away on another kickoff return and his 39-yard burst set up the Seariders at their 46.
On first down, Ulu drifted pressure from his right and stepped up in the pocket. He appeared to have room to salvage a few yards if he chose to keep the ball. Instead he pulled up short of the line of scrimmage and took a jarring shot as he lofted a deep ball down the sideline that Isaiah Freeney chased down for the go-ahead 54-yard touchdown.
“He worked on his footwork this summer and it showed,” Waianae coach Walter Young said. “He was able to move around and get his eyes down the field.
“I think he grew up. Now he’s becoming a leader and he’s doing the little things that’s going to help us.”
After running headlong into Kamehameha’s sturdy defensive front for most of the first half, the Seariders spread the field, dropped Ulu back into the shotgun and the senior completed nine of his last 11 attempts for 112 yards, connecting with Freeney on his final throw of the night.
“We’re going to try to be balanced,” Young said. “Whatever works that day, that’s what we’re going to stick with.”
Waianae next faces Kapolei, a 38-0 winner over Campbell on Friday, on Aug. 13.
“It showed us what we have and there a lot of things we can work on,” Young said, “like starting ealrier on offense, taking away some of the penalties, special teams.
“This just showed us what to work on, so we’re going to go back and regroup and get started for the next game.”