It wasn’t the feature game of two semifinal matchups at Aloha Stadium on Friday, but it quickly turned into a highly intriguing skirmish.
No. 6 Waianae — which got blitzed by No. 2 Kahuku on Oct. 3 in the regular-season finale — pushed the Red Raiders to the hilt before finally succumbing 13-0 in the Division I semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.
Had the Seariders won, it would have represented an upset of monumental proportions. It was 0-0 all the way until 5 seconds remained in the first half, when the Red Raiders’ Kekoa Sasaoka kicked a 22-yard field goal.
That’s right, 0-0 nearly until halftime. That’s something the Seariders can take home to their cousins and buddies on the Waianae coast who weren’t able to make it out to Halawa. That was a far, far cry from the 30-0 whipping Kahuku put on Waianae last month.
“All that hard work coming to this end,” Waianae junior linebacker Jaylen Gonzales said seconds after the game ended, fully exhausted and his upper nose bloody. “We came up short; it was close, but … .”
That “but” lingered as Gonzales stared out in front of him in disbelief, begrudgingly admitting that Waianae played a great game.
When someone suggested to him that Waianae played a great game and that he must be feeling proud of that, he said, “Not yet.”
“We gave up our chance for the title this season,” he continued. “We played our hearts out and I thank all my teammates for taking us this far and I wish the best for all of our graduating seniors. We will be training harder next season.”
After that close first half, what would Waianae do in the second half against this Kahuku team that steamrolled through most of the Oahu Interscholastic Association season and knocked off defending D-I state champion Mililani in the league title game?
In the first 24 minutes, the Seariders (9-4) rode their defense and some fine punting by Kade Abrocio to hold the field-position edge.
Perhaps Waianae’s biggest mistake was to come out throwing in the second half. It worked in the first half, with Jaren Ulu connecting with Isaiah Freeney a handful of times for good yardage on sideline patterns.
But, ironically, this westside bunch that has lived by the run for decades died by the pass on Friday. Three times in the second half, Ulu was intercepted, and the first of two picks by Keala Santiago on the Seariders’ first possession of the second half was a crushing blow. Santiago returned it for a touchdown that — judging by the way this defensive slugfest was going -— pretty much put the game away.
“I thought we had to take a chance against an undefeated Kahuku team,” Waianae first-year head coach Walter Young said about putting the ball in the air. I thought we had to go out and make plays, and that turned into a mistake.”
Still, the Seariders’ effort in slowing Kahuku’s bruising running game and not allowing the Red Raiders (12-0) to score an offensive touchdown on 11 possessions all game is something every player on that Waianae team should remember.
“Holding Kahuku to 13 points, we played amazingly,” Young said. “It was a magnificent year and something to build on.”
Gonzales, linebackers Noah Kealoha and Toto Mailo (fumble recovery), and defensive backs Ikaika Pa‘ao‘ao-Ahina and Mosiah Brame (interception) were just a handful of Seariders who went down with the ship on defense but proved Waianae belonged in this D-I state semifinal game and that the future of the program is really bright.