As the almost immortal Alfred Failauga passed the 200-yard mark with relative ease early in the fourth quarter, it seemed that No. 7 Waipahu would somehow find a way to rally.
The visiting Marauders had spotted Waianae a 21-point first-quarter lead, but the home team couldn’t seem to stop Failauga, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound running back. Failauga has been tremendous through three varsity seasons, but now, he is built and performs like a grown man pummeling boys. Or he did, for three-and-a-half quarters.
A 35-20 win over seventh-ranked Waipahu was almost surreal for a Waianae squad that lost to the Marauders — who went on to win the Division I state title last season. The home team, which won only one game last season, began with offensive fireworks, but closed the game with classic ground-and-pound football. The offense ran a four-wide set much of the first half with plenty of option action in the second.
“I want to bring the fans back into the stands,” first-year Waianae coach Mike Fanoga said. “Coach (Mike) Ulufale and our staff did a great job. He’s our offensive coordinator, and I told him, I’m not afraid of whatever you do. Just make it happen. We have a great staff that helps each other out and helps the kids.”
Down by 15 points, Waianae’s goal-line stand against Failauga and Waipahu’s sturdy offensive line with 7:16 left all but sealed it. Though there was plenty of time left, it was Waianae that turned the tables. After throwing the ball nearly half the time in the first half — 13 pass attempts and 15 rushes — the Seariders went to the option and Waipahu didn’t have much left in the tank to resist.
Playing without eight defensive starters, the Marauders had been valiant at times. However, Kolu Quisquirin-Sabagala ran roughshod through the Waipahu front seven in the second half. After rushing four times for 17 yards before intermission, Quisquirin-Sabagala had 10 carries for 133 yards in the second half. Versatile Saege Ayala added a 46-yard TD jaunt. Waianae finished with 36 rushes for 220 yards. The second half split: 21 carries, 200 yards.
“I was real proud of those guys. Those little guys are tough. They can go. That’s the first time I’ve seen them go live action in a game,” Fanoga said.
Two muffed punts and a bad snap by Waipahu changed field position significantly, but Waianae believes in making its own luck.
“Preparation. We worked on all kinds of different scenarios at practice. Our D-line is undersized, but they’re so quick and they help our secondary make big plays,” Fanoga said.
One of the biggest moments came with Waipahu inside the 5-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. They managed to stop Failauga, who finished with 234 rushing yards and two TDs, and the potent Waipahu offense.
“I stick to my (defensive) game plan, and they did it in the game. It’s what the doctor ordered,” Fanoga said. “So I was real confident in them. Now they believe in what we can do defensive-wise.”
The sacrifices were across the board. Co-captain Adonnis Puou, a 6-foot-2, 255-pound tight end, switched to guard because Waianae was a bit shallow in the trenches.
“We all talked to the team about being team players,” Fanoga said. “We needed someone to help us (on the O-line).”
Quarterback Sheldon McLeod’s debut as a Searider was borderline spectacular at times. He passed for 171 yards in the first half, eluding the pass rush. He finished 10-for-19 for 192 yards as Waianae relied on the ground game after the break.
“I didn’t realize he could run. All we’ve been doing all week is throwing the ball,” Fanoga said.
Perfection, of course, is not human at all. Waianae looked like championship material often on this night, but is still not quite in sync after such a short time in a new system with new coaches.
“We’ll take our opponents one at a time. Waipahu’s a good team, and I’m just glad we came out with a win. Payback is hard. We’re happy, but not super happy. Our guys got a taste of victory and the kids have more confidence in themselves. That’s all they need, is to believe in themselves and believe in the system,” Fanoga said.
Fans were delighted most of the night. They weren’t pleased with nine yellow flags for 78 penalty yards on the Seariders in the first half, but Waianae had just one infraction for 15 yards in all of the second half. That’s why Fanoga sees a mighty upside for the team in navy blue and red.
“You’ve just got to be calm, cool and collected,” he said. “I told the coaches on the sideline, you’ve got to calm down. Don’t be yelling at the players. You want the boys to be calm, you have to coach the kids calmly.”