Samoa football has come a long way since first trip to Oahu

Samoa players enjoyed a meal prior to their appearance in an all-star game at Aloha Stadium in 1978. Star-Advertiser file photo

The goodwill between Hawaii and Samoa continues on Friday night high above Honolulu.

Fagaitua will visit Kamehameha’s Kunuiakea Stadium for the first time on Friday, taking on the ILH’s Warriors. The Vikings will be making their first trip to Oahu since 2015, when they took on Saint Louis at Aloha Stadium and got a taste of Tua Tagovailoa in a 55-6 loss.

Samoa has sent eight teams to Oahu over the years, but only Samoana has left a winner. The Sharks beat Nanakuli 12-6 in 1997 and Radford 25-14 the next year. A team from Samoa has never beat an ILH school on Oahu and never won a game on artificial turf on the island.

The goodwill began in 1978 when Samoa’s high school league was in its infancy when Gus Hannemann and Samoa mayor Peter Coleman arranged a Goodwill game dubbed the “Kava Bowl” at Aloha Stadium, although players referred to it as the “Samoan Bowl” since the Kava Bowl had been contested in Samoa since 1969. Although Samoa had sent teams to Mid-Pacific’s basketball tournament and fared very well prior to the hookup, the football game was a completely different matter.

The visitors brought 22 kids to compete and immediately had their roster boosted to 33 with some of Hawaii’s best prep players. Saint Louis connection Wayne Apuna, the Star-Bulletin’s reigning player of the year, and Paul Goo agreed to play for the Samoans against their island brethren. OIA stars to cross the line included Gary Page of Waipahu, Waianae’s Fred Mahuka and Ernesto Lacaden. In addition to Loo and Apuna, the ILH donated the talents of Punahou’s Whitey Kahoohanohano and ‘Iolani’s Eric Keola and Harrison Ishida to the cause.

The Samoan squad needed the help, as Hawaii’s team boasted of Leilehua’s Mark Barefoot, Feleti Brown of Waianae and Kaiser receiver Danny Demello. With mostly Oahu specialists helping the Samoa team, Hawaii selected its finest trench warriors to bang heads with the visitors. The group was led by current Polynesian Hall of Fame chairman and Hawaii football legend Jesse Sapolu of Farrington. He was joined by Punahou’s Ben Karnuth, Zachary Kon of Castle and Kahuku center Matt Anae.

Kalaheo’s Danny Akiu was chosen as Hawaii’s quarterback with Radford’s Roy Thomas opening at running back.

Despite all of the borrowed talent, head coach Famika Anae‘s team failed to score against Hawaii’s best in a 21-0 loss in front of a crowd of 4,447.

Goo completed only five of 14 passes for 57 yards with two picks and none of his completions going to Apuna. Vaipuna Leleiloai, Samoa’s top passer that year, didn’t complete any of his attempts and was also intercepted twice. Akiu threw two touchdown passes, one of them on a flea-flicker, but in hindsight the highlight might have been a 33-yard reception by Sapolu from Moanalua’s Ross Shimabuku. Sapolu never had a catch in his subsequent college and professional careers.

“I thought they played admirably, Fagaitua coach Pete Poumele said. “They played well because of the fact that most of these kids had only two years experience playing football. ”

The Samoans took the lessons learned on the Aloha Stadium turf and hoped to improve their game.

“First of all, we have to get more qualified coaches because that is what we are lacking over there,” Poumele said. “And second, we need facilities. I think with their play tonight and qualified coaches, it might take about five years for us to be really competitive.”

It took nearly two decades before a Samoa team strapped it up on Oahu again. Here is a look at each of those times that were recorded in a newspaper:

1994: Kahuku 52, Leone 6

Leone was invited to the preseason Shawn Akina Classic, but couldn’t have drawn a tougher foe. The Lions stepped in against OIA power Kahuku and got throttled by the Red Raiders behind Kolo Funaki and Vai Notoa. Leone, playing on artificial turf for the first time, turned the ball over multiple times and scored its lone touchdown with 25 seconds left when John Tufa hit Charles Fano from 27 yards out.

“I don’t mid the score,” Leone coach Francis Tuitele, who prepped at Kaimuki, said. “It is just the experience of playing here.”

Fagaitua might have been the ultimate winner of the trip, taking Doug Semones‘ Kahuku playbook home with it, according to “Tropic of Football” by Rob Ruck, and built a program around it.

1997: Campbell 21, Samoana 6
Darren Hernandez hosted Samoa’s next game on Oahu soil, taking out Samoana. Former UH offensive lineman Moamoa Vaeao led his Samoana crew to the island along with Tafuna for a doubleheader at Nanakuli. Young Thompson scored Samoana’s lone touchdown on a 2-yard run but couldn’t counter Rodney Tavui‘s 244 yards passing and 92 yards rushing from Jason Albritton. Robby Takara led the Sabers with 12 tackles and Kerwin DeMello came up with two interceptions against the Samoa squad.

Aug. 22, 1997: Samoana 12, Nanakuli 6
Thompson showed off Samoa’s ability to throw the ball in the first win over an Oahu school, chucking up two touchdown passes — one to Uiese Thompson and the other to Eteuati Lalau — in a surprise over the Golden Hawks in the second game of a doubleheader at Nanakuli. Sam You gained 80 yards on the ground for the hosts, whose only score came on a blocked punt. Tafuna scared Lahainaluna in the first game of the doubleheader but fell to the Lunas 40-30. Jay Arcangel ran for 195 yards and three touchdowns for Lahinaluna, which also got 93 yards and three more scores from Kawika Kawabata. Samoana running back Ben Solomuli covered 160 yards and quarterback Oteta Sosoli threw two touchdown passes and ran for another.

Aug. 1997: Nanakuli 35, Tafuna 20
After watching the Golden Hawks lose to Samoana the week before, Tafuna stayed on Oahu to try and make it a Samoa sweep. Nanakuli’s Matthew Asinsin had other ideas, though. Asinsin scored 17 points by himself (on a reception, fumble return, three PATs and a conversion) to send the home crowd home happy. Silas Ah Sui also got in on the act for Nanakuli, returning an interception 80 yards for a score and throwing for another to outduel Sosoli’s two touchdown passes for the visitors.

Aug. 1998: McKinley 26, Samoana 20
Samoana went on to win its league’s championship in 1997 and tried the same formula the following year with another two-game trip to Oahu. The Sharks held tough against its first town team at Roosevelt, finding themselves leading 20-12 with a quarter to play before imploding. Zachary Lui, who finished the game with a school-record 278 receiving yards, started the fourth quarter with a 68-yard touchdown from Darin Garcia and ended it with a 34-yard pick-six off Samoana quarterback David Richmond for the final tally. Richmond threw three touchdown passes in the game, two of them to Faasuka Lutu.

Aug. 1998: Samoana 25, Radford 14
The Sharks tightened up their defense before a trip to Radford a week later, and it paid off with Samoa’s second win on Oahu soil. Talamoa Faalevao, Andy Andermann and Joseph Seko all scored touchdowns for the Sharks, who held the Rams scoreless in the first half in building up a 17-0 led before Radford rallied on scores by Maurice Brown, who finished with 98 rushing yards, and Mason Keliikupako.

Aug. 2000: Saint Louis 55, Samoana 6
The Sharks took a huge step up two years later, stepping in to take on the Saint Louis dynasty when national power Clovis West backed out of its scheduled trip to Aloha Stadium citing financial problems. The Crusaders scored early and often and got three quarterbacks and the entire roster in on the action. It was 35-0 before Samoana finally got on the board on a 29-yard pass from Oliver Ta’amu to Malcolm Fa’atoafe.

Aug. 21, 2015: Saint Louis 55, Fagaitua 6
15 years later, it was a different Samoa team but the same result. Fagaitua was overwhelmed by Tua Tagovailoa and the Crusaders, getting their lone score when Malaki Peko Thompson hit Raemos Fano from 37 yards out with the score already 28-0. The game marked the debut for Saint Louis backup quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, who was a perfect 6-for-6 for 80 yards and a touchdown in garbage time and went on to add to the Crusaders’ championship history.

Check back later tonight for more on this year’s edition of Fagaitua, which practiced this afternoon at Kamehameha ahead of tomorrow’s game against the Warriors.


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