HALAWA — Despite struggling all night finding his touch, sophomore quarterbsck Sol-Jay Maiava could not have picked a better time to be on target as his go-ahead touchdown pass with 58 seconds left rallied No. 2 Kahuku by No. 6 Waianae, 10-7, in a nail-biting thriller Friday night to send the Red Raiders to next Saturday's Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I-Open title game for the third consecutive year.
The Red Raiders (11-1), who were shut out in the first half for the first time by a Hawaii team since a 2014 first round game against Hilo, will play Saint Louis Louis in the two teams' third straight title game matchup.
On second-and-goal at the Waianae 8, Maiava scrambled to his right to avoid pressure, cut back and found Duke Heffernan open in the middle of the end zone for an 8-yard scoring play, sending Red Raider Nation into a frenzy.
"It was great," said Maiava, whose 10-of-37 passing was his worst this season. "The beginning was a real humbling experience for me. I had to really bite down and get that play off. I just wanted to win the game."
That play was not luck. The Red Raiders have a scrambling drill at practice. Of course, they can do it because of Maiava's athletic ability.
"We work on scramble drills all week," said Heffernan, who accouted for all of Kahuku's scoring with a TD, PAT and field goal. "We just trust the process. When he starts scrambling, we just have to get open no matter what the situation is. We have to be sure we're looking (at the QB) at all times. Once we get to the top of our route, we look at him."
All night, the Seariders' secondary covered the Red Raider receivers, forcing Maiava to scramble.
"(The front) did their job for corralling (Maiava) in the pocket," Waianae linebacker Kanai Mauga said. "But our DBs couldn't hold them long enough."
Trailing 7-3, Kahuku was driving into Waianae territory. On third-and-9 from the Waianae 23, Maiava hit Wes Alo-Maiava, who fumbled after a hit by Tony Cabral, who also recovered the ball at the Seariders' 10 with 2:58 left.
But the Red Raiders' defense stiffened and used their final two timeouts with 2:05 and 1:58 left before the Seariders' punted. Kaonohi Kaniho's 15-yard return put the ball at Waianae's 45 with 1:47 left.
"We were fired up and ready to go," Maiava said.
Maiava completed his first two passes in the drive for a first down to the Waianae 32. After an incomplete pass, Maiava scrambled for a 16-yard gain and a facemask penalty set the ball the 8. On first down, Maiava, as he had done all night, overthrew a pass to Enoch Nawahine in the end zone. But on second down, Maiava evaded pressure and patiently waited for a receiver to get open before finding Heffernan.
"His ability to create plays and see down the field to hit the open receiver is uncanny," Kahuku first-year coach Makoa Freitas said. "He's just showing what type of an athlete he is."
The Seariders comeback attempt started at their 21. After a 7-yard loss on first down and two incomplete passes, Nalu Emerson intercepted Justin Tacgere's pass on fourth down to seal the deal for Kahuku.
As breathtaking a win it was for the Red Raiders, it was a heartbreaker for the Seariders, who played significantly better than their 37-0 loss to Kahuku during the regular season.
"My kids played a hell of a game," Waianae coach Walter Young said. "They held their head high. I'm proud of them. They make me proud and I wouldn't change it for the world."
Kahuku's Duke Heffernan comes down with the game-winning TD reception with 58 seconds left in the game.
Mauga made what looked to be a game-changing play in the fourth quarter. He jarred the ball loose from Maiava and Francis Mailo recovered at the Kahuku 12 with 8:29 left. On first down, Tacgere rolled left, but coud not find an open receiver and cut back and ran forward, but he fumbled en route to the end zone where Skyler Kaleohi recovered the ball for the TD. Joshua Cid's PAT gave Waianae a 7-3 lead with 8:17 in the game.
The first half saw the defenses dominate. Of Waianae's six series, four times they got into Kahuku territory but two possessions were stopped by interceptions by Nalu Emerson and Kaniho. Two others ended on downs at the Kahuku 9 and 34. On the series that ended at the 9, Waianae faced fourth-and-3 at the 8, but Rico Rosario, who led all rushers with 85 yards, was stopped by Laga Thompson for a 1-yard loss.
The Seariders might have elected for a field goal, but Tate Ebel was seen on crutches before the game. Young said he likely would have gone for a field goal, but wasn't sure Cid, who is up from the JV, had the range.
"You don't bank on people getting injured," said Young, who added he did not know the extent of Ebel's injury.
Kahuku's seven first-half series ended with four punts, one of them blocked by Jayce Gonzales. One was lost on downs and another ended with an interception by Braiden Ayala. The eighth was ended by the half.
The Red Raiders finally broke the deadlock with Heffernan's 31-yard field goal with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
Kahuku's struggle from its regular-season win against Waianae had different explanations.
"Whenever you a play a team twice in a season it always happens," Freitas said. "(Waianae) came out, they played hard, played with a lot of pride. They're a good team."
Heffernan felt his team might have taken the Seariders for granted.
"Honestly, I think we took them easily," he said. "We beat them once and I think we thought we could beat them easily. We didn't come here with the right mindset, honestly, but second half, we all got pumped and we had to pick it up."
The loss ended Waianae's season at 7-5. It had just come off an overtime win against Campbell for the final state berth.
"I wouldn't say it's disappointing," a gracious Mauga said of the season-ending loss. "It's a learning lesson. Yeah, our season ended, but there's a lot we can improve on for next year for the juniors that are coming up. It's been a long ride and I know my team's exhausted. It's going to take a lot to recover for next year."
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