It didn’t look too good for the 10th-ranked Waipahu Marauders at halftime.
They were trailing 19-7, but somehow found a way to shut out ‘Iolani in the second half and win 20-19 on Friday night in the Division I semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships in front of their home fans at Masa Yonamine Athletic Complex.
It turned out to be, as defensive lineman Kealii Barrett said, “A beautiful moment in history.”
As he was saying it, he was sort of in a trance, as if he still couldn’t believe that Waipahu actually won the game. He had a small cut on his nose.
As he was being interviewed, athletic director Stacie Nii came over and grabbed the 6-foot-3, 271-pounder around his huge shoulders and said, “I love you, man.”
Barrett was already breaking down crying before she hugged him. He recovered quickly and rolled on about what this victory meant.
“This is such a great accomplishment,” he said. “We’re out here making history. This is a beautiful moment in history. I just love this feeling. We’ve never won a state championship and we still have that opportunity.”
Waipahu has been knocking on the door for quite some time.
“The fire came from one team coming together,” Barrett said. “We didn’t want to hang our pads up on Monday. We played our hearts out, 100 percent.”
Barrett, who had 10 tackles in the trenches, gave props to his defensive mates. He was asked about some of the heavy hitters on this night — safety Deacon Kapea, who had three interceptions, Zeondre Benjamin (interception), Amo Montero, and Fiva Tulafale (six tackles, including a sack).
“Deacon, three (picks) man,” Barrett said. “That’s crazy. Amo was giving that pressure all night to give us better advantages. Zeondre was swarming all over the field. Fiva, he’s a crazy hard hitter. He puts his body on the line and gives it his all.”
Montero saved the game when he blocked Mika Makekau‘s 38-yard field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter.
Throughout the final quarter, Waipahu’s defense put a lid on ‘Iolani’s offense.
And on offense, it was all about junior Alfred Failauga and his blockers up front.
Boxed in and outfoxed?
Yes, Failauga was in that category in the first half, when he was contained for just 62 yards. But he made a point of not going down easy in the second half and finished with 162 yards on a whopping 38 carries. But it wasn’t the yards as much as the sheer will of getting the job done.
Basically, he willed Waipahu (9-4) on two TD drives to turn the tide.
Head coach Bryson Carvalho said he asked his players at the half which plays were working and then picked a few of their suggestions. Gone was the pulling guards. In was running straight forward.
Raiders coach Wendell Look on Failauga: “The longer the game goes on and the more carries he gets, the stronger he gets. That’s what playmakers do. He put them on his shoulders and carried them.”
And this is what Carvalho said about Failauga and Kapea, “We were going to run Al until we couldn’t run him no more. That kid did it again tonight. And Deacon Kapea, he’s amazing and such a selfless player. He puts the team ahead of himself. He could play running back, but he is an awesome safety. He kills it back there for us and doesn’t complain about not running the ball.”
And so now, the OIA champion Marauders will face defending state champion Hilo in the title game on Nov. 24 at Aloha Stadium. They’re trying to make more history and looking for that breakthrough.
In the past few years, Waipahu has been eliminated in some gut-wrenching losses — 53-50 to Konawaena in the D-II state semifinals a year ago and 36-35 to Waialua in the OIA title game in 2016.
Waipahu has 12 OIA titles, including eight in Division I back in the day, then three in Division II before breaking through again in Division I this year.
Carvalho was crystal clear about what the Marauders want. He was smiling, but he was also resolute.
“We have Hilo next,” he said. “Waipahu (has never) won a state championship. We want one this year really bad.”