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Prep Football Preview Special
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveNovember 19, 2023, 6:31am
Sat, Nov 18, 2023 @ Waipahu [ 7:00 pm ]
WAIPAHU — The Waipahu Marauders will get their revenge game after all.
Nearly a year after it lost to Konawaena in the Division I state final, No. 10 Waipahu did its part to secure a spot in the rematch against the Wildcats with a nail-biting 21-20 win over No. 11 Farrington Saturday night.
A crowd of about 1,500 fans at the Masa Yonamine Athletic Complex saw the host Marauders (7-4) hold off the pesky Governors (7-4) in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships.
It was the second time the teams faced off in a span of 15 days; Waipahu came away with a 48-26 win over Farrington for the OIA crown two weeks prior.
This time around, a couple of first-year players helped the Marauders earn another shot at Konawaena. Transfers Eric Stephens (Moanalua) and Elijah Nahoopii (Aiea) each had a hand in it; Stephens finished with 179 all-purpose yards, including 144 receiving yards and a touchdown on 13 catches, while Nahoopii's blocked extra point early in the contest proved to be pivotal to the end result.
"It feels really great. Some of these boys, last year lost to Konawaena. Now we get to play them again for the state championship this time, but we're going to try to bring it back this year for them," said Stephens, a senior wide receiver.
Nahoopii, a senior defensive back, saw his junior season with Na Alii come to an end at the hands of the Wildcats last year with a 27-24 loss in the semifinal round of the state tournament.
"It means a lot, man. I want to win a ring hella bad," he said. "I want to get all the revenge from last season when we lost to Konawaena, so we're just coming back this season stronger."
The Marauders had to climb out of an early deficit Saturday night. After quarterback Elijah Mendoza was intercepted on just his fifth pass attempt of the game, the Govs recycled the takeaway into points with Sitani Mikaele's 32-yard touchdown scamper with 7:28 on the clock in the opening quarter.
Mikaele started left on the scoring play before he cut back toward the middle of the field, found a crease and jetted his way through the Waipahu secondary and into the end zone. However, Nahoopii seized back some of the momentum for his team when he blocked the ensuing extra point.
"This whole week we've been practicing it. We couldn't get it down against all the other teams, but then when it came down to this game, we had to execute it and the play came," said Nahoopii, who has a track record of success on special teams against the Govs dating back a few years.
"So last season I blocked two of their field goals, then when it came to this season I had the same opportunity and when I came in free, I hit the ball and I knew they didn't score that extra point," he recalled.
Waipahu tied it not long after with a 1-yard Faafetai Failauga TD run that was set-up by a 31-yard completion from Mendoza to Jayden Chanel. The PAT that followed was blocked by Farrington's Jordan Paredes.
The Marauders took their first lead with 3:21 left in the first quarter on a one-play drive. On the scoring play, Mendoza and Failauga ran what appeared to be a speed option to the left of the formation. However, Mendoza instead shoveled a short forward pass to slotback Tai Aipia-Barrett, who was coming across the formation and went untouched around right end for a 90-yard touchdown.
Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho was a big fan of the play call by offensive coordinator Zac Mauga, who also came over from Aiea this year.
"When Zac came over as the OC, I told him — because I knew he ran that at Aiea — I said that ‘you gotta put in that screen play that you run a lot and that was my number one request and he called it at the perfect time," Carvalho said.
Ezekiel Stewart knocked through the extra point to give the Marauders a 13-6 lead that held through halftime and until the 10:06 mark of the third quarter, when the Govs capped their opening possession of the second half with a perfectly-placed 22-yard touchdown pass from Noah Spencer to Chansen Smith.
On the scoring play, Spencer looked off the Waipahu secondary with a fake wide-receiver screen set-up to Jacob Talamoa, who was aligned wide to the left of the formation. However, that allowed Smith, who was in the slot, to get free from his defender on a corner route to the back, left corner of the end zone, where he pulled down the over-the-shoulder grab from Spencer.
Farrington then pulled ahead, 14-13, after Spencer hit Mikaele on a short pass for a successful two-point conversion.
Waipahu reclaimed the lead near the end of the third quarter. One play after Mendoza completed a 5-yard pass to Stephens to move the chains on a third-and-3, the same pair hooked up for a 56-yard TD pass down the left sideline. Stephens beat single coverage on his side of the field and Mendoza hit him in stride on the long scoring play.
"We were trying to set it up the whole game, but we finally got it and he put that one on the money," Stephens said of Mendoza, who was 6-of-11 passing with two interceptions at one point in the first half.
Mendoza overcame three interceptions — he entered the game with seven on the year — to finish 23-of-38 for 315 yards.
Carvalho noted that the Govs made some adjustments to their defensive game plan since the OIA championship game.
"They did change up some coverage and it was a little confusing, I guess, but we just kind of didn't be patient and kind of nickel and dime them. We were trying to stretch the ball and you saw so many passes get overthrown and at the end of the day, we should have — like we did at the end, just hitch, hitch, hitch — just kind of slowly work our way down the field," Carvalho dissected.
Farrington had a long pass play of more than 50 yards on its next possession negated due to a penalty for an ineligible receiver downfield.
Waipahu had its own stroke of bad luck a few minutes later after play was allowed to continue despite television replays that showed Stephens's knee was down after a short pass completion. Consequently, Kaleb Delosantos picked up the fumble and returned it 83 yards for a scoop-and-score.
"I was down, but I mean, my teammates, they kept me going, they kept me positive, kept my head up and that was a bad play by me," Stephens said.
The fumble return for touchdown cut it to a 21-20 Marauder lead with 7:58 to play. Farrington opted to go for the go-ahead two-point conversion rather than kick a potentially game-tying extra point; Talamoa tried to run for it, but was stopped short of the goal line.
Carvalho expressed that he surprised by the Govs' gutsy call to go for two, but figured that Nahoopii's blocked PAT early factored into their decision-making process.
"He's just one of those guys that just wants to ball out and play and that blocked kick was a big play for us, for sure. That prevented them from going for a PAT the rest of the game, so I think they were afraid of that," Carvalho said.
Farrington coach Daniel Sanchez acknowledged as much.
"They blocked the first (PAT) and we kind of have been struggling with our PATs throughout the season, so we came here to win so why not go ahead and try to take the lead. (If) we get the two points, you know, good call. We don't make it, everybody's going to second guess," he said.
Waipahu began its final possession with 7:57 on the clock and never gave the ball back to the Govs. It put together a 14-play, 56-yard drive that included a pair of third-down conversions and culminated with three kneel-downs to run out the clock.
The Marauders were 7 of 15 on third downs, while the Govs were 6 of 13 in the category.
Waipahu tallied 18 first downs to 11 for Farrington, which finished with 214 yards of total offense. Mikaele carried 20 times for 109 yards, but quarterbacks Spencer and Mark Moreno combined to completed only nine of their 23 pass attempts for 93 yards; Moreno was intercepted twice and Spencer was sacked as many times.
"It was a tough game, it was a ball game, man. Both sides played tough. There's always gotta be a winner and a loser and unfortunately it was us, but hats off to them. I mean, I'm proud of my guys for battling and fighting. It was a hell of a run." Sanchez said.
Waipahu ran 67 plays from scrimmage (to 52 for Farrington) and racked up 421 net yards.
After the Govs dominated the time of possession in the first half, 17-plus minutes to fewer than seven for the Marauders, the home team flipped the script in the final two stanzas with nearly 17 minutes of possession time to about seven for the guests.
Lautiti Liufau led Farrington defensively with 9 1/2 tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage. Cornerbacks Leka Lilly and Everest Rodriguez each recorded an interception in the loss.
Caleb Lauifi tallied six tackles, two sacks, one pass break-up and an interception for Waipahu on defense.
Farrington was seeking its first appearance in a state final.
Waipahu, the No. 2 seed in the six-team bracket, will be making its third trip to the D1 title game since 2018. It lost to Konawaena by a score of 38-28 in the championship game a year ago.
"I know that this was Farrington's revenge game for them — they wanted to get back for what happened two weeks ago — and I told our kids that our revenge game is next week and to do that we had to take care of tonight," Carvalho said.
"Konawaena's been on their hearts for a year — that was tough to swallow — and I know they're gonna be real tough again this year. … We've got our hands full, for sure, in the next seven days and we gotta make sure we're able to coach up our kids and make sure they know what to do," Carvalho added.
The Wildcats, who are seeded first in the state tournament and ranked seventh in the ScoringLive Power Rankings, defeated No. 9 Kapaa, 37-19, Saturday night to lock up their spot in the final.
Kickoff between Waipahu and Konawaena is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at Mililani's John Kauinana Stadium. It will follow the D2 championship game between Waimea and No. 15 Kamehameha-Maui, which is slated for a 4 p.m. start time.
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