Protected by the Waianae mountain range on three sides and by the ocean on the other, Nanakuli Valley is a perfect place for a tribe to build a fortress.
It’s where the undefeated Golden Hawks call home, and it’s a place that instills pride in the players and coaches on the football team.
“Defend the valley,” a slogan on their fans’ and coaches’ T-shirts, is the call heard ’round these parts this year.
But now bigger things are on the line for the program that went through many lean years not so long ago. On Friday, the Golden Hawks leave home to visit Aloha Stadium for their toughest test yet, the OIA Division II championship game against Pearl City, and a win would mean the school’s first overall OIA football championship since 1983.
Beyond this game lies the state tournament, something Nanakuli has never won in football.
The Golden Hawks (9-0) showed their resilience in a 20-14 comeback win over Kalani at home on Saturday night. Two fumble recoveries led to two touchdowns that wiped out the Falcons’ 14-6 lead.
Nanakuli coach Keala Watson challenged his defense at halftime to make plays.
“And they actually did it. That’s the type of thing we’re going to need going into the championship game.”
Watson expected Kalani to give the Golden Hawks a tough time. He knew the Falcons meant business two weeks earlier in the regular-season finale, a 48-35 Nanakuli win at Kaiser Stadium.
Kalani coach Greg Taguchi called the Falcons’ 4-5 campaign “a very good season” and he was impressed with the strong effort that gave them “a good chance” to win the OIA semifinal game up until the late stages.
Taguchi’s ball-control style took a major hit when prolific running back Ace Faumui suffered an ankle injury late in the first half.
“We gave it (the game) to them,” he said. We didn’t take care of the ball and against a good team like Nanakuli, that will cost you.”
Against Pearl City the first time, Nanakuli came back with 21 unanswered second-half points for a 28-21 win. It is the Chargers’ only loss, so Friday’s title game appears to have all the makings of a close, hard-fought contest.
The Golden Hawks, no doubt, will need to have an answer for Pearl City quarterback Jordan Taamu, who threw three first-half TD passes in the Sept. 26 loss to Nanakuli, and shifty running back Dominic Maneafaiga.
After having successfully defended the valley, it’s time for the Golden Hawks to see what they can conquer away from home.
Before, during and after the win over Kalani, the fans swelled with pride and they will be out in force at Aloha Stadium.
Watson’s program is on the upswing and people are buying into it. Former head coach and current assistant Skip Lopes, who Watson succeeded, is one of Watson’s biggest fans.
After the game, Watson touched on some of his hopes for the future of the team and the tight-knit community:
“We want to go up to Division I and play with the big boys.”