Turnovers fueled Leilehua’s second-half surge against Waipahu in their regular-season meeting.
When the teams met again — with far higher stakes — on Friday, Waipahu did the taking.
The Marauder secondary, living up to the school’s nickname, swiped four interceptions in the second half and Waipahu knocked off No. 9 Leilehua 29-6 in the semifinals of the OIA Division I playoffs.
The win sent Waipahu, the division’s third seed, to next week’s championship game against the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between Castle and Moanalua at Mililani.
The pick total could have been even higher with four potential interceptions falling off the hands of Waipahu defensive backs in the first half. The Marauders secured those opportunities in the second half with safety Zeondre Benjamin coming up with the first and Deacon Kapea snagging the next two.
Kapea returned his first interception 12 yards for a touchdown that all but sealed the upset in the fourth quarter and made a juggling one-handed catch moments later. Cornerback Armani Miles capped the second-half shutout with a pick on Leilehua’s final offensive play of the season.
“We adjusted and prepared this week for our best game and that’s what we came out to do tonight,” said Kapea, with the team’s “94 Block” chain hanging around his neck.
In the first meeting on Sept. 28, Waipahu led 13-12 at halftime before a flurry of turnovers — with two returned for touchdowns — contributed to Leilehua’s 35-point third quarter and a 50-20 win.
Waipahu running back Alfred Failauga had two fumbles in that game, but bounced back on Friday to rush for 187 yards on 29 carries, including a 43-yard touchdown burst late in the third quarter to give the Marauders a 20-6 lead going into the fourth.
“He’s so deserving,” Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho said. “Been a captain for us since his freshman year, so I don’t know anybody more deserving.”
But Failauga’s run was arguably the third-most spectacular touchdown of the game.
After Leilehua took a 3-0 lead, Branson Jay Reyes returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to give the Marauders the lead.
The Waipahu offense committed seven false start penalties in the first half and the Marauders struggled to sustain drives early on. They got the ball back with 3:56 left in the half, tied at 6-all, when quarterback Cody Marques led a 13-play, 84-yard march, completing four of five passes, including a 17-yarder to Matthew Fiesta to give the Marauders first-and-goal at the Leilehua 5 with 12 seconds left.
After yet another false start, Marques took the shotgun snap and dropped back. He then took off up the middle and with the goal line in sight, went airborne. He was hit during his leap, sending him into a mid-air somersault before landing in the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown.
“Amazing,” Carvalho said. “That’s gotta be SportsCenter Top 10.”
Failauga and the Waipahu defense took over in the second half. The Marauders held Leilehua to 86 yards rushing and just 62 passing with Leilehua quarterback Max Nichols completing nine of 30 pass attempts. Running back James McGary finished with 27 yards on 10 carries and had to leave the game early in the third quarter with an apparent ankle injury.
Carvalho said a key was “Just making sure we matched up with them speed-wise. They have a bunch of speedsters that run routes and we had to contain their running back. With (McGary) going down it allowed us to really just focus on preventing deep passes down the field.
“The secondary did an amazing job today. Deacon, Zeondre, they did real good job back there and the big boys up front played well.”
Well after Waipahu’s raucous bus pulled out of Hugh Yoshida Stadium, Leilehua coach Mark Kurisu reflected on an abrupt end to an 8-3 season in a quiet gym.
“When we play in games we call (it) ‘in the moment,’ (but) this is a different type of moment,” Kurisu said beside stacks of jerseys and shoulder pads. “It’s a TV game, could be your last game, and we just didn’t perform. We were busy letting the moment get to us instead of just doing our job. All the credit goes to Waipahu. Proud of our seniors and underclassmen. Had an incredible run, but all things come to an end.”