Moanalua takes a 3-game win streak into playoffs

Moanalua's Ezra Grace, shown returning a kickoff against Kailua, caught three touchdown passes in a one-point win over Radford. Photo by Jay Metzger/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Moanalua receiver Ezra Grace felt bad for making a mistake on an apparent touchdown pass that was called back late in the game Friday against Radford.

He more than made up for it on the next play.

Grace caught three touchdown passes from Nick Au, including a 40-yarder late in the game, as Moanalua wrapped up the OIA Blue’s No. 4 seed in the league playoffs with a 21-20 victory over Radford at Aiea.

Na Menehune’s Ezra Bantolina hauled in what appeared to be a 64-yard touchdown pass late in the contest, but Grace was called for an illegal block, which put the ball at the Rams’ 40.

“I was very sad because I felt very selfish because I wanted to make a big hit,” Grace said. “But for (Bantolina), that was going to be his first touchdown of the season, which I really felt bad for. I put that on my shoulders.”

On the next snap, Au hit Grace on a touchdown pass down the left hash marks, which made it 20-20. Griffin Motas made the PAT to put Moanalua ahead.

“I was just thankful they called that play,” Grace said. “I had trust in my quarterback since we practiced that all week.”

The winning drive was set up by a fumble recovery by Moanalua’s Tupu Alualu at Na Menehune’s 32-yard line.

The scoreboard went out early in the third quarter, so the time was kept on field.

Na Menehune’s Tre’quan Henderson made an interception with about a minute remaining to seal the victory. He had two picks in the game.

“Once again it was listening to my defensive back coach,” Henderson said. “He puts me in the place to make all those plays and stuff and I love him for that. He believes in me more than anyone else.”

Na Menehune (3-5, 3-4 OIA D-I) won their final three games of the season, including a forfeit over Kaiser.

“It’s a huge blessing to get (seed) No. 4, especially in this competitive level of football,” said Moanalua coach Savai‘i Eselu. “Team-wise, we kind of faltered big. It was a bad, little deal going on during the game. We were just lost, but we bounced back and we got it done.”

Grace caught 4- and 50-yard touchdown passes on Na Menehune’s first two possessions. Moanalua’s offense then sputtered until the go-ahead touchdown.

“The communication just was non-existent,” Eselu said.

Grace caught five passes for 112 yards.

“We just trusted each other,” said Au, who finished 15-for-26 for 225 yards. “I just threw the ball to him and made the plays.”

Radford’s Randy Wright connected with Robert Garrison on a 16-yard scoring pass and Cameron Copeland on a 22-yard touchdown before halftime. Iovani Alatini scored on a 6-yard run in the third quarter to put his team up 20-14, but the PAT kick failed.

Wright completed 11 of 23 passes for 156 yards and Alatini rushed 21 times for 68 yards for the Rams (1-7, 1-6).

“They played hard. That’s all you can ask for,” said Radford coach Lon Passos. “It was a close game. They played their butts off.”


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