Sunday | December 10, 2017
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HHSAA football: Wildcats fight back, but fall in 7OT all-time classic against Lunas

HONOLULU — The HHSAA Division II championship between Konawaena and Lahainaluna could not be decided in four quarters.

Heck, it couldn’t even be decided in four overtimes.

In the longest and highest scoring game in state tournament history, the Lunas outlasted the Wildcats in seven overtimes, 75-69, to become the first neightbor island team to repeat as state champions.

“We had our opportunities,” said Konawaena head coach Brad Uemoto. “That’s all you can ask for. Hands down, that has to go down as one of the best games in state history.”

Hawaii high school overtime is played similar to college, with each team lining up at the 20-yard line.

The overtime started with the game tied 31-31, but back and forth, the teams traded shots — touchdown, after touchdown. For a change of pace, in the sixth overtime, the squads traded field goals.

The game deciding play came when Konawaena drove to Lahainaluna 1-yard line in the seventh overtime, but the snap was fumbled and the Lunas recovered. Joshua Tihada notched the game-winning score on a 4-yard run.

“Our kids battled,” Uemoto said. “That’s what we talked about at halftime and that’s what we talked about for two weeks.”

Austin Ewing — the two-time BIIF Offensive Player of the Year — completed 33 of 55 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the game. He also rushed for 68 yards and two scores.

“He played a heck of a game,” Uemoto said. “He caught a rhythm and kept riding it.”

Mariani-Louis scored two TDs in overtime and finished the game with five total touchdowns — four rushing and one receiving, and had 249 all-purpose yards, including 191 on 42 rushes.

“We rode them all year. That’s what we were going to do and that’s what we did tonight,” Uemoto said of his dynamic duo.

The Wildcats made history just by making it to Aloha Stadium. In the long and storied history of Konawaena, it was the first state championship appearance for the program in football. It was also the first for the BIIF, although it came just hours before Hilo took the field for the Division I final against Damien.

For the core group of seniors — including Mariani-Louis and Ewing — their last game was a memorable one. But the team will be remembered as much for their fight on the field as their poise after the emotional loss.

“It was amazing. It’s been my dream since I was a little kid, to finally step on this field and play the way that we played,” Ewing said. “We gave everything we had. I told my team, no matter what happens I’m going to love them either way. We put it all on the field and the only thing that didn’t go our way was the championship.”

Konawaena’s defensive strategy was obvious early — stack the box. And it was the right thing to do. But with no defender beyond five yards of the line, Lahainaluna — which didn’t complete a pass in its semifinal win — took advantage. Nainoa Irish found a wide open William Kai Bookland, who ran untouched 66 yards for the opening score of the title tilt.

According to Hawaii Prep World, the reception was the second longest in Lahainaluna’s HHSAA history, behind a 68-yard score by Scott-Isaac Medeiros-Tangatailoa’s against Nanakuli in 2012.

It was deja vu for Konawaena on the Lunas next score, which was set up by an Ewing fumble early in the second quarter. Safety Boaz Ayers was in better position to make a play, but Irish and Bookland connected again, this time for 31 yards to make it 14-0 after the kick.

Lahainaluna and passing are two things that don’t normally go together, but the Lunas picking their spots to strike through the air was the difference. As a whole, the MIL champions were 8 of 11 for 231 yards and three touchdowns.

Konawaena entered the half down 21-6, its lone score coming on an 80-yard drive in the second quarter, concluding in an 8-yard run by Ewing.

A lot of things went wrong for the ‘Cats in the first half — including the Lunas scoring 14 points off turnovers and an uncharacteristic amount of penalties. However, they were still within striking distance.

The Wildcat fans —mostly huddled in the shade below Aloha Stadium’s upper level — could exhale and say “finally” after a snap went stray on the Lunas opening drive of the second half and Jeriah Cacal recovered.

Quickly after the turnover, Ewing led the Wildcats on a four-play, 41-yard drive, finding Mariani-Louis on a 5-yard touchdown pass. The scoring drive took just 31 seconds off the clock.

With the Wildcats clawing back the Lahainaluna offense embarked on its second 80-yard scoring drive in the game, using Paea Tasani as a battering ram to get inside the 10. Tihada polished off the 11-play drive, finding the outside on a 7-yard sweep.

Harry Hill has put a lot of field goals on the board this season for Konawaena, but the outstanding Wildcat specialist saved his team at least a pair of points when he corralled a snap over his head and got of a short punt out of his own end zone. The Lunas started inside the red zone, but didn’t pick up a first down and the kick went off the goal post, keeping it a two possession game at 28-13.

Mariani-Louis got things closer with a 1-yard TD plunge and Hill hit a 25-yard field goal to pull the Wildcats to 28-23.

Pablo Rico hit a 42-yard field to put Lahainaluna back up by eight points, but the Wildcats refused to go away.

With 45 seconds to play in regulation, Mariani-Louis scored on a 3-yard run and Ewing hit Hunter Wehrsig on a pass for a successful two-point conversion to tie the game for the first time since is was 0-0, completing an 18-3 run in the fourth quarter.

While the final numbers are deceiving, the Konawaena defense played a huge role in the game, slowing down the Lunas’ vaunted and pounding rushing attack. Michael Banagan-Brock racked up 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks, while Seau Amor and Paka Cacoulidis combined for 15.5 tackles. The Lunas did not have a 100-yard rusher, recording 209 total as a team with 10 different ball carriers. Five different Lunas threw a pass.

More points were scored in the overtime periods than in regulation and the clutch plays were too many to count.

Neither team was kept out of the end zone during the first five OTs. Ewing used his arm to find two of the first three scores for the Wildcats, connecting on a 12-yard pass to Wehrsig and a 10-yard play to Tyler Libarios. The Konawaena QB then used his legs to keep the Wildcats in the game in the fourth overtime period with a 7-yard TD run.

Lahainaluna matched Konawaena point-for-point, behind Tihada, who score on three runs of seven yards or less in the first three OT periods. Ragudo found the end zone next on a 2-yard plunge. In the fifth OT, Irish tied the game up with a 20-yard pass to Bookland.

The Wildcats finally slowed the Lunas in the sixth overtime period, holding them to a 27-yard field goal. However, after converting on fourth down, Konawaena was also eventually forced to kick, with Hill converting from 32 yards away to tie the game at 66-66.

In what would be the final OT, Konawaena converted on a 3rd-and-1 play, but Lahainaluna forced a fumble by Ewing on the 1-yard line. Kamelei Watson recovered for the Lunas.

“It was a quarterback sneak, and our center was out of the game. The officials thought he was injured and made him come out,” Uemoto said. “I called timeout, thinking it would reset the injury. I should have changed the play.”

Tihada took over for Lahainaluna after the turnover, rushing the ball for a pair of five-yard gains and followed with a six-yard scamper before ending the game with a 4-yard TD run.


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