HHSAA Football
Waimea holds off No. 15 Kamehameha-Maui to retain D2 state crown


Sat, Nov 25, 2023 @ Mililani [ 4:00 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
KS-Maui (7-2-0) 7 7 7 728
Waimea (4-5-0) 7 14 7 331

MILILANI — The title will stay on the Garden Island. 

Kaili Arakaki ran for 111 yards and a touchdown and Keona Tam scored on a 92-yard kickoff return to lead Waimea to its second straight First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division II State Championship with a 31-28 win over No. 15 Kamehameha-Maui Saturday night. 

A crowd of 1,386 at Mililani's John Kauinana Stadium saw the top-seeded Menehunes (4-5) rally from an early deficit, then hold off a late charge from the second-seeded Warriors (7-2). 

"It's pretty unexplainable, that feeling, can't really explain it, but it's a really good feeling, even for our fans — we try to make them all happy," said Arakaki, whose 80-yard touchdown run gave Waimea its largest lead at 28-14 with 5:09 left in the third quarter. 

Arakaki's long touchdown run punctuated a momentum-turning sequence midway through the third stanza. 

Waimea had a punt blocked by Kamehameha-Maui's Kaiwahawanawana Ho, who also recovered the loose ball to give his team possession at the Menehunes' 15-yard line. Just three plays later, on third-and-11, defensive back Kulea Kauwe intercepted Makana Kamaka-Brayce's pass in the end zone for a touchback. 

On the very next play, Arakaki found a crease in the right side of his offensive line and burst through the hole into open space. The senior running back broke a pair of tackles on his way to the end zone. 

Both Kauwe and Arakaki said it was about picking up their teammates on special teams after the blocked punt. 

"I just think of it as getting our teammates' back," Kauwe said. "We just come ball and when I saw the kick get blocked, we just had to make a play and get back in l, so that's what we did."

Arakaki had much the same to say about the sequence that essentially equated to a 14-point swing on the scoreboard. 

"Just keeping each other's backs on track and keeping each other up, talking to each, letting each other know everything's gonna be good, we got your back, play for the person next to you, that's how we do it," Arakaki added. 

The Warriors cut it back to a one-score game with Kamaka-Brayce's 1-yard TD run to cap a six-play, 73-yard drive, but Shayden Ranis-Alameda Dela Cruz converted a field goal from 40 yards out with 7:35 left to play that stretched it back to a 31-21 Waimea lead.

Kamehameha-Maui attempted to answer with a long field goal of its own, but Kayden Yap's try from 42 yards hit the crossbar, bounced backward and was no good. 

The Warriors got a defensive score to pull to within 31-28 with less than three minutes to play after Ramzak Fruean hit Arakaki and jarred the ball loose on a third-down run. Defensive linemen Joshua Kerr picked up the football and returned it 20 yards for a scoop and score. 

KS-Maui attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but the ball failed to go the required 10 yards and the Menehunes got the ball at the Warriors' 40-yard line with 2:52 remaining. 

Waimea was able to pick up two first downs and run out the clock to close out the contest. 

"We had our share of things that didn't go well for us, but when you play a team like Waimea you can't afford to have those mistakes," KS-Maui coach Ulima Afoa said. 

Afoa highlighted Tam's first-half kickoff return as a key turning point in the game. 

"I think it was a game of changing momentum. We got up first and then they caught up and then it's those little mistakes you can't afford to give up those big plays and so that happened to be the one that kind of affected us a little bit and it just got a little bit away from us in the second half, but give credit to our kids, they kept playing," Afoa said. 

The Warriors scored the game's first points on a 1-yard Kamaka-Brayce TD run about four minutes into the opening quarter. They converted a fourth-and-1 and also had a 55-yard pass play on the scoring drive, which covered 74 yards in nine plays and took 4:18 off the clock. 

Waimea got on the board with a 28-yard TD run by Wesley Santiago at the 2:35 mark of the first. Santiago followed the lead blocks of Daniel Kaohelaulii-Kala (6-5, 250) and Ethan Moniz (5-11, 290), who were aligned ahead of him in the backfield. Santiago turned the right corner and went untouched on the scoring play. 

KS-Maui reclaimed the lead with less than five minutes until halftime. On third-and-25, Kamaka-Brayce connected with Shane Ueki with a pass over the top of the Waimea defense for a 32-yard touchdown. 

Ueki was Tam's man to defend on the play. 

"I had him, but I looked inside to see if (Kamaka-Brayce) was looking this way and then he was far away from me and that's the mistake that I made to let them have a touchdown on me," recalled Tam, who spent most of the season on the junior varsity, but was called up for the state tournament — thus, the No. 52 jersey he donned Saturday. 

"That is a big step for him," Arakaki said of the sophomore. "When that guy caught that ball on him, we never even say nothing to him. We just brought him into us and hyped him up, keep him hyped, keep him on the top side and whatnot and he did his job, next thing you know, he's gone."

Tam fielded the ensuing kickoff at his own 8-yard line and set-up his blockers before he emerged from a mass of bodies into open space. Tam raced down the right sideline and away from the kickoff coverage team to seize momentum back from the Warriors. 

"Before that I had a little mistake where they scored on me, so my teammates hyped me up," Tam said. "They said, ‘You got this, you can do it again, you have redemption,' so I just grabbed the ball, saw a hole and I was gone. I saw green grass and I'm outta here."

The score was tied at 14 after the PAT by Ranis-Alameda Dela Cruz. Waimea took the lead for good 42 seconds before the end of first half on a 19-yard TD run by quarterback Kameron Apilado, who stiff-armed a defensive lineman en route to the end zone. 

Waimea led at the intermission, 21-14. 

The Menehunes ran for all of their 273 total yards (5.9 yards per rush); they did not attempt a pass. 

Arakaki carried 14 times and averaged 7.9 yards per rush. Santiago added 86 yards on 18 carries and Apilado ran eight times for 75 yards. 

KS-Maui finished with 304 yards of total offense. Kamaka-Brayce threw for 154 yards on 15-of-30 passing; He was sacked twice and intercepted as many times. 

Zedekiah Campbell ran for 110 yards on just 13 carries in the loss. 

It was the Warriors' second state title game appearance in three years; They were trounced by Kapaa — which has since moved up to Division I — two years ago, 61-7. They are still seeking their first state title. 

"Certainly a lot closer (than in 2021) and the idea with this is that the program keeps getting better and this is kind of a normal place for us to show up," Afoa said. 

Waimea defeated an opponent from the Maui Interscholastic League in the championship game for a second straight year. It claimed the first state crown in program history with a 45-6 win over Kekaulike a year ago. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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