Make one big mistake and it’s over.
Waialua was clinging to a 1-point lead late in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division II championship game and could easily have blown it.
But the Bulldogs didn’t. And now after a 36-35 victory over Waipahu, they are owners of a league title for the first time since 1955.
How sweet is that?
Head coach Lincoln Barit was trying to make his way over to the edge of the field to join in the hoopla with the Waialua fans in the mauka sections. It took a while. Reporters kept wanting him to give them his take on what had just happened.
“Exciting,” he said, a huge maile lei around his shoulders that he wore all night. “Relieved that we got that monkey off our back. I would like to say thank you to all the community and all the players and coaches and their wives. They gave up a lot for us to be able to do this. Waipahu was coming with the fight. I told the kids that we gotta take the fight to them. Our defense stepped it up and did what they had to do to get the ball back to the offense.”
Twice in the fourth quarter, Bulldogs defensive backs came up with acrobatic interceptions to stave off Waipahu drives.
Waialua’s Julian Fely-Menor stole a jump ball from the Marauders’ Isaac Yamashita with 10:31 to go. Then, Lancen Kuni dove to scoop up a tipped ball before it hit the ground with 6:01 left.
Without those two picks, who knows? As Barit said, Waipahu was bringing the fight.
Quarterback Tevesi Toia, who showed unbelievable poise all night, made a bullet pass to Caleb Apau for a first down. Only 5:13 left. Toia then scrambled for another first down before Waialua faced a fourth down.
Mathan Hatchie, a two-way lineman and another huge contributor all game, went back to punt. The snapped ball bounced off his hands and then off his facemask before it hit the ground and bounded back into his hands. He ran, but did not get a first down. Waipahu ball at its own 46.
In retropspect, that mistake turned out to be not big enough to change the outcome. At the time, the Marauders were now on the prowl and ready to try for the win … but not without the fight coming back right at them.
Waipahu’s AJ Contado made two catches, but he was met by the Bulldogs’ Kymani Ayonon both times. Now, there was only 1:49 remaining. Waipahu got as far as the Waialua 36 and then a deep pass was broken up by Kuni, who flung the ball out of the hands of Alika Ahsing.
A penalty pushed the Maruaders back before they tried an Isaac Yamashita reverse and he was stuffed by Waialua’s Dayton Lee.
Later, after a measurement, Waipahu faced a fourth down and 1 foot situation. Waipahu quarterback Braden Amorozo did not handle the snap, the ball hit the carpet and Hatchie came up out of the pile with it with 38 seconds to go, virtually ending the game.
“It’s unbelievable that we were able to pull this off,” Hatchie said “I’m just happy for my teammates, Happy everyone was able to do their jobs.”
Softly and almost as if asking a question, he repeated:
“We were able to pull this off!”
“Once we hit halftime,” Hatchie continued, “coach had to speak some sense into us. He told us we gotta take the fight to them.”
There is that word again. Fight. That necessary fight.
Toia finished with 80 yards and a TD on the ground. Using his feet, he also scrambled and bought time. With his right arm, he threw for 256 yards, going 24-for-36 with three touchdowns.
“He is a great role model,” Hatchie said about the QB.
Kuni, who caught six passes for 49 yards and a TD on offense, had this to say about Toia: “He’s like my other half since childhood days playing backyard football.”
Kuni then pointed to Hatchie, who was celebrating with fans, and said, “That guy right there is one bad guy. He is hard to stop. This (championship) is amazing, and I am so grateful. Thank you for the support, North Shore!! Waialua is back on top. Everybody played one helluva game, the whole team unit.”
Hatchie had four sacks and a blocked extra point that, at the time, allowed the Bulldogs to maintain a 21-20 lead.
And it turned out to be a 1-point game. Dylan Hardin kicked what turned out to be the winning extra point, making it 36-35 after Toia’s 8-yard TD pass to Risein Campbell with 11:43 to go.
According to one Waialua fan, the son of Toshiyuki Nakasone — Waialua’s head coach for that last championship team in 1955 and the person who the team’s field is named after — was in attendance for Friday’s victory.
Getting the tomahawk chop cheer from Kahuku fans waiting for the second game (the OIA D-I title game against Farrington) on the same mauka sideline helped the Bulldogs keep the momentum.
Toia’s poise in the clutch also worked wonders.
Barit said the QB will return for his senior year next season and that he “should be even better.”
Toia was thrilled with his team’s accomplishment.
“We made history, baby,” he said. “It was crazy. I told my teammates to push forward no matter what happens and then we’ll fight at the end. We’ll stay humble and go back home and celebrate the win.”
What’s next for the Bulldogs?
“States,” Hatchie said. “We’ll do our best. Just do our job and make it as far as we can. We’re ready for this. We’re ready to take on Damien.”
Waialua (7-2) and Waipahu (8-2) move on to the D-II state tournament Friday. The Bulldogs play against Damien (6-2) at 4:30 p.m. at the Campbell High field. The Marauders visit Lahainaluna (6-4) for a 3:30 p.m. game at Maui’s War Memorial Stadium.