Two outstanding defensive units had to meet on Friday night.
Waipahu’s defense never gave up, and the Marauder offense rallied as the OIA Division I champions advanced past ‘Iolani 20-19 I the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I State Championships seemed
‘Iolani’s defense practically shut down most of its ILH and OIA foes — and limited Oregon 6A defending champion Clakamas to seven points. For one half, the Raiders were large and in charge on Friday night.
Well, maybe not that large, physically, but Kyler Mento, Lanakila Pei and the rest of the stalwart defensive unit had stifled Waipahu. The visiting Raiders led 19-7 at halftime. Momentum. Control. The game seemed to be completely in favor of Raider Nation.
Waipahu’s 20-19 comeback win before a crowd of around 2,000 at Masa Yonamine Athletic Complex ended ‘Iolani’s title hopes.
“We left it all out there. We worked very hard and did everything we could’ve done,” Mento said. “Next year, I’m confident they’ll get back and win it.”
‘Iolani last won a state title in 2014, beating Lahainaluna 31-14 for the D-II crown. The Raiders advanced to the D-I final in ’16, losing to Mililani 31-20. This time, in a gridiron chess match between ‘Iolani’s Delbert Tengan and Waipahu’s Ron Johnson, the Marauders came up big after halftime.
Deacon Kapea had three interceptions as the front seven of Waipahu brought heat on ‘Iolani quarterback Jonah Chong.
“The defensive switches, really what we did, we sent a little bit more of our guys. Their quarterback was camping back there all day. Coach Ron brought a little more pressure and we played man coverage pretty much most of the night. When you’ve got five, six guys coming, you’ve got to get rid of the ball real quick.”
It was a true battle of evenly-matched teams, even though their first matchup in August was a 55-14 win by ‘Iolani. This time, Waipahu was fully loaded, roster-wise, and didn’t wilt on defense. With each team starting first-year quarterbacks, Chong was clearly the better performer in the first half.
In the second stanza, Cody Marques showed his ability to elude pressure and run for first downs. That was a huge perk for Waipahu, which changed things up in the trenches on offense.
“We were just able to get past the line of scrimmage and stop dancing in the backfield. There are teams that will allow it, but with ‘Iolani’s speed, they just didn’t allow it,” Carvalho said. “We like to pull, and every time we pulled, they replaced that and made tackles in the backfield. The kids are coming off telling us the problem. I said, we have to talk solution, let’s find a solution, don’t just tell us about the problem. They said, we think we can run the ball straight at ‘em. We listened. We listened to the kids and they were right. We ran the ball straight at ‘em, mixed in some of our counters, and stuff like that.”
The Raiders didn’t have a consistent answer to Waipahu’s retrenched attack.
“What I saw in the third quarter, they looked confused. They didn’t know if we were going to run straight at them or around them, and then we did a good job mixing that stuff up, and then Alfred did his thing,” Carvalho said.
Alfred Failauga and his offensive line prevailed, plugging away at the relentless ‘Iolani front seven. The straight-ahead approach did the trick. That practically eliminated the false starts and holding calls. Waipahu had well over 200 yards of penalties.
“We got in there at halftime. We started talking to the team about our mistakes, what was going on with the line and what kind of adjustments we had to make. So we switched up our blocking,” Failauga said. “We’ll get back to practice and fix this up.”
Failauga’s touchdown run with 1:59 left finally gave Waipahu the lead.
“Shout out to my offensive line. Without them, I wouldn’t have scored that touchdown. All glory to God. To all the fans that came out, love you guys,” Failauga said.