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Wildcats go down to the wire against Waipahu for state title game ticket

Updated: 
November 5, 2017 - 12:05am

KEALAKEKUA — Much like the number of points that made their way onto the scoreboard, Konawaena head coach Brad Uemoto had plenty of words to describe his emotions after his team’s thrilling 53-50 HHSAA D-II semifinal win over Waipahu on Friday night at Julian Yates field.

“Joy, happiness, relief,” Uemoto said after the victory. “To be honest, it’s hard to describe. I don’t know when it’s all going to sink in.”

He wasn’t alone in that sentiment, as the sellout crowd in Kealakekua had a bunch to process after a game that featured a mind-boggling amount of offense, the most points in state tournament history and even more emotional highs and lows. It all wrapped up with a stunning fumble recovery by Konawaena defensive tackle Tevin Canda on a 1st and goal situation for the Marauders, which sent the Wildcats’ sideline — and the stands — into a frenzy.

But what was the most important takeaway from the wild night in Kealakekua? The Big Island is heading to the big show for the first time.

The Wildcats will play in the Division II state title game against defending state champion Lahainaluna on Nov. 18 at Aloha Stadium. Joining Konawaena on Hawaii prep football’s biggest stage is Hilo, which won on Saturday night against Maui.

It’s an opportunity the Wildcats had been so close to for the last two seasons, but came up just short, falling in a pair of close semifinal contests to Radford in 2015 and Lahainaluna last year. Both of those opposing squads went on to win state titles, while the Wildcats watched from home.

“You can’t explain the feeling, especially after coming up short the past two years. It’s amazing for this team and this community,” Konawaena senior quarterback Austin Ewing added. “You dream about having a chance like this when you’re 8 years old, playing in the backyard. You pretend you are in Aloha Stadium and say ‘this pass is for the state championship.’ Now, we have a chance to actually live that.”

Ewing has been the centerpiece of the Konawaena offense since he was a sophomore, helping the program gain a reputation as an offensive juggernaut. While he has had a few nights in his career where his raw numbers were better while slicing up BIIF defenses, his performance against the Marauders was a masterpiece.

Ewing completed 30 of 53 passes for 370 yards, setting the state tournament record for completions, attempts and passing yards. He accounted for six total touchdowns — four passing and two rushing — and saw more than a handful of reps at safety on defense.

“It was the best I’ve ever seen him play,” Uemoto said. “Take the numbers out. He went out there and competed. Heck, he even played defense tonight.”

So what did Ewing see on the field against Waipahu that helped him push his game to the next level?

“I saw a lot of big boys,” Ewing said of the Waipahu defense with a laugh. “I didn’t want to get hit so I tried to get rid of the ball quick to my receivers and let Chauncey (Mariani-Louis) do his thing running the ball. We had to keep going strong every play.”

The teams combined for 181 plays from scrimmage, and neither squad could afford to take a play off, with both Konawaena and Waipahu showing the ability to score in a blink of an eye. And while Ewing was doing his part to help the scoreboard operator stay active, The Marauders did theirs, too.

Sophomore running back Alfred Failaga set two state tournament records with 283 rushing yards on 42 carries for Waipahu. Quarterback Braden Amorozo racked up 337 yards passing and three scores, bringing his season total to 2,536 yards and 29 touchdowns, with just eight interceptions.

While the numbers are downright nasty, it overshadows the job the Konawaena defense did against a Waipahu offense armed with speedy weapons and a deep playbook.

A pair of turnovers by the Wildcats’ defense were turned into scores by the offense, which included an interception by Boaz Ayers on the first pass of the game and a forced fumble by standout defensive end Paka Cacolidis. Orion Smith also notched a defensive touchdown for the unit, scooping and scoring on a 34-yard fumble recovery in the first quarter.

There was also that final play, when pressure from linebacker Michael Banagan-Brock forced a fumble and Canda landed on top of the ball, effectively ending the game after it looked like Waipahu would have a chance to complete a fourth quarter, 16-point comeback for the win.

“Ho, brah,” Cacolidis said, recalling Waipahu’s final drive, on which the Marauders converted a fourth down and were aided by two big penalties. “I was getting a little nervous, but it just came down to heart. When I saw that ball pop out, the adrenaline was going. All I was thinking was that it paid off — the blood, sweat and tears — it paid off. Finally.”

Uemoto grew up watching Konawaena football, admiring the program that dominated the Big Island for more than a decade. He played for the Wildcats in high school, and while a standout, he never won a BIIF title. That experience, however, makes it all even sweeter.

“This is almost like my second chance. It’s been a blessing to be able to coach for three years, get three BIIF titles and now we are going to the state championship. I couldn’t ask for more,” Uemoto said. “This program has so much history and to be the first is incredible. I couldn’t be more proud of these kids.”

That being said, Uemoto knows the job’s not done. The Wildcats will take a few days to celebrate before revving up preparations for the hard-running Lunas.

“We can’t stop, we can’t celebrate, we can’t get too high and let this be the end. We have one more game,” Uemoto said. “We don’t just want to show up there. We want to go there, compete and try to win this thing.”

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