By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Panaewa’s chant before kickoff — “Hard work, dedication” — was matched only by its gusto during the postgame celebration — “You’ve got to pay the cost if you want to be boss.”
The Alii were loud and proud and willing to share. From Pop Warner to all ages on up, Panaewa dedicated this victory to anyone who’s ever played football on the Big Island.
Gehrig Octavio threw for two touchdowns and ran for another Saturday as the Alii dominated Maui’s Wailuku Rainbows 30-8 at Wong Stadium in the Midget Division regional finals, hailing the state championship as the first of its kind for any isle football team.
“We wanted to make Hilo proud and come through for the Big Island,” defensive standout Sergio Mamone said.
The Alii advance to the Pop Warner Super Bowl, starting Dec. 7 in Kissimmee, Fla., on the doorstep to Disney World.
Whether it be World Series or Super Bowls, Octavio is certainly on a magic ride. The Waiakea freshman says he’s not a big fan of long plain rides, but he’s becoming quite the frequent flyer. Octavio was a member of the Hilo team that reached the PONY Baseball World Series last August in Pennsylvania.
“You’ve got to set your goals high and not stop until you get there,” he said.
After getting drenched with a Gatorade bath, coach Sergio Mamone told his team to soak it all in and enjoy their taste of history with their families.
“These kids changed my life,” he said. “We had our doubters, but I learned something from this team every step of the way.
“I hope we made Hilo proud.”
The Alii’s defense looked well on its way toward a shutout, but after Panaewa took a 30-0 lead on Hunter Rapoza’s 27-yard run in the third quarter, Pop Warner rules stipulated that Wailuku begin a series of plays from the Alii 20 until the lead got below 28.
Panaewa still made life difficult in that format, forcing a pair of fumbles. The Rainbows managed just 75 yards on 33 carries.
“I think we mixed up some things to confuse them,” the younger Mamone said.
The undefeated Alii’s rushing attack wasn’t as effective as it was in island playoff victories against Westside and Kohala, but Octavio was an efficient 5 of 7 for 134 yards, throwing touchdown passes to Israel Bowden and Abishai Campbell of 20 and 30 yards, respectively.
Bowden ran for 68 yards and made all three of his two-point conversion kicks.
Wailuku, which also entered the game unbeaten, elected not to punt during the game. The Rainbows enjoyed some initial success during their opening drive with two fourth-down conversions. But Panaewa stopped them the next five times to turn the ball over and set up short fields for the offense.
Octavio directed touchdown drives on Panaewa’s first three possessions.
“I’m looking forward to playing different teams and playing in front of crowds on the road,” said Octavio, who’s PONY team ultimately came up short at the World Series. “We want to win this Super Bowl.”
Campbell’s 28-yard reception and Bowden’s 35-yard run set up Octavio’s 4-yard touchdown run as the Alii took an 8-0 lead.
Coach Mamone credited his offensive line — Ryen Victorino, Steven Alapai, Joseph Collin Pakani, Micah Kang and Kyle Ortiz. The group, which has been nicknamed the Tsumani because it moves as a wave of one, didn’t allow a sack.
Kamaki Gouveia ran for 55 yards, including a touchdown for Wailuku.
As it makes plans for Florida, Panaewa founder Thomas White said the team would soon begin major fundraising efforts. According to White, $90,000 from the Big Island Pop Warner traveling fund recently went missing, triggering a need for community outreach.
“We’re begging now,” White said.
For more information on how to help the Alii, email firstname.lastname@example.org.