From the very start, the Kailua Surfriders knew it would be a challenging season.
Talent scattered across the roster, true enough. But a lot of youth moved up the ranks, and that included offensive skill positions. Where the Surfriders were once deep at receiver and experienced at quarterback, Coach Joe Wong and his program had a corps of first-year starters.
Once QB Keoni Serikawa Jr. suffered a season-ending injury to his collarbone, the challenge became even tougher. Wong never flinched, of course, and neither did his team. On Friday night, they were there on Waianae’s field, going toe to toe with a team that has been ranked in the Top 5 for virtually the entire season.
As the first quarter ended, Kailua trailed 7-6, had dominated time of possession and had the home team a bit rattled with 100 yards of penalties. It was physical, do-your-job, old-school football in the trenches, just the way Wong and his staff like it. Waianae eventually regrouped, stopped making quite as many yellow-flag mistakes, and used its power and depth to take control for a 41-12 opening-round playoff win.
For 13 minutes, though, it looked like a young Kailua squad had a shot. The No. 6 team from the OIA Red hung tough with the third-place team in the Blue.
“They’re a great team. They had a great plan and they got stops (early),” Waianae coach Walter Young said.
Wong knew he needed a near-perfect performance to stay with the Seariders.
“We had ’em on the ropes, but we didn’t convert. That’s the way the breaks go,” he said. “But you can never question their effort. They played their butts off.”
The Surfriders had leadership from a group of a dozen-and-a-half seniors that helped the youth brigade build confidence. Among them was defensive end/wide receiver/tight end Christian Mejia, who played both ways against Waianae and caught a 20-yard TD pass. One of his pass-rushing partners, Leighton Russell, had a busy night. Russell is just a sophomore.
A late-season comeback win over perennial powerhouse Mililani was a cornerstone victory not just for this year’s team, but for the 2017 squad that will build off this season.
“We played hard and played to the end,” senior running back/quarterback Mark Lagazo said. “We kept going and kept pushing. We kept trying to motivate everyone. We worked with each other and got better.”