Posted with permission, article and pictures, courtesy of Bedrock Sports Hawaii
Story by: Nick Abramo
It was one of those “You had to be there” moments.
You can look at the score and see that Kapolei beat Aiea 27-24 and you can even read the game stories by various media outlets.
But I’m here to expand on Na Alii’s effort while staring in the eyes of defeat because it was THAT special. You hear it all the time: Don’t give up until the final whistle. And that’s just what they did.
Only 8:51 remained when the Hurricanes finally got some breathing room and took a commanding 27-10 lead.
“A lot of time left,” some reporters said to each other, half in jest, knowing a comeback was only slightly possible. It was only ‘half’ in jest because those reporters had up until that point seen an admirable game played by both teams and that the Hurricanes were somewhat fortunate to be ahead by 17 at that point. Case in point: When it was 20-10, Na Alii got stuffed on a fourth and 1 situation deep in Kapolei territory at the end of the third quarter, and then the Hurricanes immediately drove for what looked like a decisive touchdown.
But that’s where no-quit Na Alii drew the line on giving in another inch. Every time quarterback Ezekiel Olie took a snap, he had great protection. He moved in and out of the pocket with proficiency and determination. He found his receivers and hit them, marching twice for touchdowns — one a 1-yard sneak and another a 12-yard pass to Geronimo Ulgaran.
But perhaps the iconic moment (if you can call it that when you lose a game) was the ensuing onside kick that Ulgaran jumped on and recovered and, after a major scrum that lasted what seemed like 10 seconds, came flying out with the ball up high to show Na Alii fans in the stands that he absolutely had it.
Below is a video of Aiea’s final scoring drive followed by Ulgaran’s supercharged play (emerging with the ball at the 3:05 mark) that gave Na Alii more life when all appeared lost.
Only 19 seconds remained, and it seemed like Aiea (1-1) could not be stopped. But that momentum was finally snuffed out by Kapolei after four tries from midfield.
Not long afterward, Wendell Say, the dean of Hawaii high school football coaches in his 30th season as Na Alii’s head man, imparted some of his Obi-Wan-like wisdom after watching some of his players get into a sort of heated exchange.
Light-saber quick, Say got the Aiea kids’ attention.
“We walk in here like gentlemen and we’re going to walk out of here like gentleman,” Say shouted (even though he’s not known as a yeller) so the whole squad could hear.
And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? If he had time to expand on it, Say could have continued with — You lose and there’s no shame. Don’t fall back on causing trouble. Carry that lesson with you in your life and you will be what we’re trying to teach you to be: upstanding members of the community.
“We are not going to hang our heads,” he added.
Guts goes both ways and by holding off such a furious comeback, Kapolei showed it had plenty of heart, too.
“Kapolei is most definitely a good team,” Na Alii defensive tackle Sila Unotoa said. “They’re really good. They also have a good motor just like us. I’m glad we had the opportunity to play against them.”
The loss to the Open Division (top tier) Hurricanes (3-0) did not dampen Aiea’s hunger to go all the way in Division I this year.
“Our goal is state champs,” Unotoa added. “Most definitely state champs.”
In 2021, Na Alii finished second in the OIA D-I regular season, but captured the league title in the playoffs to earn a berth at states. There, they fell in the semifinals to ‘Iolani, 21-0.
Hurricanes Start League Slate Vs. Waianae In 2 Weeks
In two weeks, on Sept. 2, Kapolei opens up its OIA Open schedule at Waianae.
Head coach Darren Hernandez confirmed that the team’s scheduled nonleague game at Kailua next Friday has been canceled. Apparently, it’s due to the same reason the Surfriders canceled their game at Mililani that was supposed to be held this Saturday — numerous injuries depleting the roster.
The biggest lesson Hernandez wanted to impart to his Kapolei players after Friday’s slim victory was the importance of overcoming adversity, which is exactly what they did in holding off Aiea.
The coach even said the fact that the Hurricanes faced that adversity is a positive.
“For two games (wins of 70-0 over Kealakehe and 42-0 over Farrington), we were on cloud nine,” he said. “Those guys (Na Alii) were ready to play. Our guys stood the test and ran the race and finished even though it was a nail-biter. I’m proud of them. Aiea is a good team. They’re going to probably be the best team in Division I. They look really good.”
Quarterback Liatama Amisone thought he and his Kapolei teammates took their foot off the gas too early.
And there was a certain revulsion that appeared to show in his eyes of Hurricanes defensive lineman Iosefa Tapeni, who had two sacks.
“We got ahead of ourselves and we stooped down to their level,” Tapeni said. “We thought we were going to smash them coming into our field. We just gotta keep working and be humble. We gotta keep working and get better, get rid of all the penalties and get more mentally focused.”