STATE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pelefoni Soliai of Kahuku powered his way into the end zone as time expired for the winning score in last night's first state Division I semifinal.
Kahuku comes through
The OIA champs score on the game's final play to beat Baldwin in a state semifinal
This was supposed to be the game Baldwin finally broke through.
After three defeats in the last four state football semifinals, the Bears couldn't have put themselves in a better position to make their first-ever state championship game.
For 47-plus minutes, the Baldwin Bears took Kahuku's best shot, and still found themselves with a free kick after surrendering a safety with a four-point lead and just 10 seconds remaining.
But in an incredible turn of events, the Red Raiders returned the kickoff to the 43-yard line, and on the final play of the game, Shiloah Te'o took a lateral pass from quarterback Richard Torres, and hit Pele Soliai with a bomb that he took into the end zone to give Kahuku an amazing 22-20 victory in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank Division I State Football Championships last night at Aloha Stadium. Next Friday, the Red Raiders will play Saint Louis, a 10-7 winner over Waianae in last night's late semifinal.
"To be honest with you, I was already thinking about turning in my pads on Monday," Kahuku defensive lineman Kaniela Tuipulotu said.
Kahuku piled up 412 total yards to just 125 for Baldwin, and held the ball for twice as long as the Bears, yet found themselves trailing 20-14 with less than 2 minutes to go when they failed to convert on fourth down at the Baldwin 19.
After quarterback Jordan Helle, who finished with 104 yards passing and one touchdown, took three consecutive knees to run down the clock, the Bears tried to punt with 13 seconds left, but fumbled the snap, and punter Dane Fernandez tossed the ball out of the end zone to take a safety.
Baldwin still found itself in a great position, as Kahuku took the ensuing free kick to the 43-yard line with just 5 seconds left. Kahuku ran a double pass, something they hadn't practiced all week, and Baldwin bit on the lateral, allowing Soliai to sneak behind the defense and haul in the game-winning touchdown.
"We were in a prevent defense and we were telling our guys nothing over the top," Baldwin coach Jimmy Morimoto said. "They threw the underneath pass and our guys came up for whatever reason and they made the play."
"My offensive coordinator (Sterling Carvalho) deserves all the credit for that play -- he came up with it," Kahuku coach Reggie Torres said. "Our guys persevered and fate was on our side tonight."
The Bears had a chance earlier in the fourth quarter to put the game away, as they took advantage of a fumbled punt by the Red Raiders to get the ball on the Kahuku 10-yard line with 6 minutes left and a 3-point lead, but could only settle for a field goal as Kahuku kept it a one-possession game.
"Field position seemed to kill us all night, but especially in that position, (the defense) knew we had to hold them to three if we were going to have a chance," Tuipulotu said.
Junior Mataafa led the Red Raiders' rushing attack with 112 yards on just nine carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run in which he ran over three different Baldwin defenders that gave Kahuku a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
A blocked punt by Baldwin's Jojo Dickson helped set up a 40-yard field goal by Dane Fernandez to put the Bears on the board for the first time. Baldwin was again given great field position after a fumble by Torres inside the Kahuku 10-yard line, but Rayton Rowland got it right back with an interception in the end zone, one of three for the Kahuku defense.
The Bears got the ball back with less than 2 minutes left in the half, and on a third-down play with 30 seconds remaining, Helle hooked up with Chase Nakamura for a 29-yard touchdown on a fade route to give the Bears a 10-7 halftime lead.
"We struggled with turnovers and field position, but the worst thing was the dumb penalties," Torres said. "We're going to have to change it, but I want to say hats off to Baldwin and (Morimoto). They played so well and deserved that game. We just got fortunate at the end."
Kahuku racked up 105 penalty yards as Baldwin took its largest lead of the game midway through the third quarter, when linebacker Kyle Kaimiola-Kaaihue forced a fumble by Torres, which was scooped up by David Kaanana in the end zone to push the Bears' lead to 17-7. Kaimiola-Kaaihue (12 tackles) and Kaanana (10 tackles) were the stalwarts of the Bears defense all night, combining for six tackles for loss.
The Red Raiders fumbled the ball seven times in the game, but only lost two, and as all great teams do, the Red Raiders answered when they needed to. After nine straight runs put the ball at the Baldwin 25 on the next drive, Richard Torres fooled the defense on play-action, and found a wide-open Jordan Kapu for a 25-yard score to cut the deficit to three as Kahuku managed to stay close every time the Bears attempted to break the game open.
"They played so well and forced us to make a lot of plays," Soliai said. "We had many miscommunications on offense that they took advantage of, and we're going to have to play a lot better if we want to win next week."
Lehi Aumua added 100 yards on 19 carries for the Red Raiders, who didn't score in three different red-zone chances. Nakamura finished with 100 yards on five catches for the Bears.
Kahuku 22, Baldwin 20
At Aloha Stadium
Kah--Junior Mataafa 80 run (Kaika Sasaoka kick).
Bald--FG Dane Fernandez 40.
Bald--Chase Nakamura 29 pass from Jordan Helle (Fernandez kick).
Bald--David Kaanana fumble recovery (Fernandez kick).
Kah--Jordan Kapu 25 pass from Richard Torres (Sasaoka kick).
Bald--FG Fernandez 21.
Kah--Safety, ball fumbled out of endzone.
Kah--Pele Soliai 43 pass from Shiloah Teo.
RUSHING--Kahuku: Mataafa 9-112, Lehi Aumua 19-100, Neal Lokotui 5-35, Richard Torres 18-32, Blane Beatty 6-21, Kaliki Unga 2-4, Teo 2-2, Nai Fotu 1-1, Ian Rigterink 1-(-12). Baldwin: Chansi Bolosan 10-38, Chase Nakamura 1-2, TEAM 4-(-19).
PASSING--Kahuku: Torres 3-9-0-74, Teo 1-1-0-43. Baldwin: Helle 10-23-2-104, Fernandez 0-1-1-0.
RECEIVING--Kahuku: Kapu 3-74, Soliai 1-43. Baldwin: Nakamura 5-100, Bolosan 2-(-10), Colten Quinabo 1-8, Ikaika Lau 1-4, Brennan Canencia-Black 1-2.