WAILUKU–As Ofa Falekaono greeted his two young nephews after Maui High School’s 27-17 win over Baldwin on Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium, the Saber senior standout’s smile showed satisfaction.
His 45-yard interception return on the first play of the fourth quarter put the Sabers ahead 20-17 and completely turned the momentum in a game where both teams made significant progress after two lopsided, shutout losses to begin the season.
The play and eventual outcome also put big smiles on the faces of Nathaniel Vena, 9, and Ezekiel Vena, 7, as they hugged their uncle Ofa after the win. The Vena brothers each proudly sported custom-made shirts that had “Ofa” and his jersey number “1” on them.
Falekaono grabbed the interception out of the air after the ball was tipped by Jonaven “Bubba” Rodrigues. It was his first pick-six in high school play.
“He tipped it and then, you know, I just saw the ball going up and I just grabbed the ball and had the chance to get to the end zone,” Falekaono said. “This is my first. Oh, you know, it felt wonderful for the first time.”
The win left the Sabers atop the Maui Interscholastic League Division I standings at 1-0, while the Bears fell to 0-1. Lahainaluna will play its first game against MIL football Baldwin on Sept. 30 at War Memorial Stadium.
Only in-division MIL games will count towards state tournament qualification this season after the league was forced into an unbalanced slate due to the delays caused by the Aug. 8 wildfires. The D-I teams will play each other twice, for a total of four division games each.
“Well, I mean, Baldwin played tough, they really stopped what we wanted to do on the outsides, but I’m just happy that these guys got a little monkey off their back,” Maui High coach Aylett Wallwork said. “They can get a win right now and hopefully we can build off it.”
Falekaono admitted he was concerned when the Bears took the lead for the first time on a 37-yard field goal by Dylan Wallerstein midway through the third quarter. Earlier, Baldwin answered two go-ahead touchdowns by the Sabers to leave the game tied 14-14 at halftime.
“I had to talk to the team because they were falling apart when they started scoring,” Falekaono said. “I told them, ‘Every single play we gotta go 100 percent. Not just one offense and one defense.’ “
Falekaono could feel the momentum shift on his big play.
“Once that pick came all the way down, everybody’s mentality started going up, building and trusting, everybody with the coaches,” Falekaono said.
The Sabers were outscored 73-0 collectively in their first two games, making the need for a win so much more important for a team coming off two straight winning seasons following an 0-8 mark in 2019.
“Oh my gosh, it felt really good,” Falekaono said of his game-changing play. “I mean, after those two big losses it feels good for me as a team leader to step up.”
Falekaono knows several Bears from their Central Maui connections — he has played and trained with several of them extensively, including in Baldwin coach Cody Nakamura’s flag football program.
“Everybody knows each other,” Falekaono said. “They fought hard, during the plays, on the field: no family, no friends. On the field, it’s just football.”
Both head coaches acknowledged that they were somewhat anticipating a big, game-turning play from the 5-foot-10, 215-pound middle linebacker. Falekaono also carried the ball seven times for 23 hard-fought yards, the game’s first touchdown on a 3-yard run to cap the first possession of the night, and he also provided key blocking from his fullback position.
Falekaono’s opening touchdown run capped an 11-play, 59-yard drive. Falekaono carried four times on the drive for 20 yards, including a 10-yard run on second-and-9.
The Bears immediately answered with nine-play, 67-yard drive of their own, tying the score on a lightning-strike 19-yard scoring pass from Kalaheo Kanae Oliveira to Antone Sanches with 1:16 left in the first quarter.
Maui High responded with another long drive, taking a 14-7 lead on a 1-yard run by Piercen Cajical-Evans to cap an 11-play, 71-yard march. The big play on the drive was a 23-yard pass from Rodney Vaka to Sky Abilay.
Vaka and Nash Vida Ah Loo alternated series at quarterback for the Sabers. Vaka was 2-for-6 passing for 28 yards, while Vida Ah Loo completed his only pass for 15 yards and ran once for six yards.
Cajical-Evans led the ground game with 84 yards on 17 carries.
“Well, we have one quarterback with a strength that he can run our run game out of our wishbone (formation) and another quarterback can run better out of the I (formation),” Wallwork said. “So far, it’s working, this week. We’ll see how it goes next week.”
Baldwin’s final touchdown was set up by a stop on downs late in the half. Bears linebacker Toa Mata’afa-Grove caught Cajical-Evans for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-3, giving the ball to Baldwin on the Maui High 39-yard line.
Kanae Oliveira kept the drive alive with a nifty 11-yard run on fourth-and-11, and one play later he hit Sanches for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 55 seconds left in the first half.
Baldwin took the lead 17-14 on Dylan Wallerstein’s field goal and it stayed that way until Falekaono’s pick-six.
With Kanae Oliveira missing much of the final stages of the game with cramps, the Bears went three and out on their possession following Falekaono’s go-ahead touchdown.
A 3-yard punt gave the Sabers the ball on the Baldwin 18-yard line and
Aizley Lakalaka pushed the lead to 10 with a 5-yard scoring run with 7:38 to play.
The Bears also scored for the first time this season and showed big progress on both sides of the ball after being outscored 86-0 in their first two games. They had 224 yards of offense Saturday after averaging 71 yards the first two games.
“We’re definitely taking strides in the right direction,” Nakamura said. “I think the boys could see that tonight. It was really good to actually be up in the game in the fourth quarter, so we got that feeling and we just have got to continue to build on that. We’ve got a long way to go, but that’s something to build off of.”
Nakamura smiled when asked about Falekaono and his big play.
“That was the focus of the week, just kind of make sure we keep an eye on Ofa, offensively and defensively,” Nakamura said. “He’s going to make a play at some point. He makes the pick, we just gotta try and make that tackle and things like that.
“He’s going to make a play, we just have got to stop him from there and try not to make it a huge game-changer like it was. That boy, both ways, special teams, everything, he’s always on the field flying around, making plays. He showed it tonight.”
n Robert Collias is at
Maui High 7 7 0 13–27
Baldwin 7 7 3 0–17
MH–Ofa Falekaono 3 run (Nash Vida Ah Loo kick), 6:33.
B–Antone Sanches 19 pass from Kalaheo Kanae Oliveira (Kilikopela Kamakeeaina kick), 1:16.
MH–Piercen Cajical-Evans 1 run (Vida Ah Loo kick), 7:49.
B–Sanches 29 pass from Kanae Oliveira (Kamakeeaina kick), 0:55.
B–FG Dylan Wallerstein 37, 6:12.
MH–Falekaono 45 interception return (kick blocked), 11:48.
MH–Aizley Lakalaka 5 run (Vida Ah Loo kick), 7:38.
First downs 12 16
Rushes-yards 36-159 40-112
Passing yards 43 112
Total offense 202 224
Return yards 55 58
Comp-Att-Int 3-7-0 5-9-2
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-1
Penalties-yards 4-45 1-5
Punts-avg 2-30.0 1-3.0
RUSHING–Maui High, Cajical-Evans 17-84, Lakalaka 11-46, Falekaono 7-23, Vida Ah Loo 1-6; Baldwin, Brock Toma 22-105, Josiah Nakihei 8-9, Kanae Oliveira 7-8, Gavin Acosta 1-2, team 2-(minus 12).
PASSING–Maui High, Rodney Vaka 2-6-0–28, Vida Ah Loo 1-1-0–15; Baldwin, Oliveira 5-8-1–112, Nakihei 0-1-1–0.
RECEIVING–Maui High, Sky Abilay 1-23, Lakalaka 1-15, Jonah Cariaga 1-5; Baldwin, Sanches 3-70, Trotter Apo 2-42.
MISSED FIELD GOALS–none.
Junior varsity–Baldwin 27, Maui High 0.
Kamehameha Maui 34, King Kekaulike 21
Kamehameha Maui 7 7 0 20–34
King Kekaulike 0 0 7 14–21
KSM–Kaonohi Casco 3 run (Kamalei Cua kick), 9:03.
KSM–Dylan Schnitzer 5 pass from Makana Kamaka-Brayce (Cua kick), 2:49.
KK–Ikea Sumibcay 8 run (Soana Akinaka kick), 7:42.
KK–Kalelepono Wong 23 run (kick failed), 11:55.
KK–Wong 1 run (Jordan Yoro run), 9:07.
KSM–Teiva Kauhaa-Po 6 pass from Kamaka-Brayce (Cua kick), 5:26.
KSM–Frank Abreu 40 pass from Kamaka-Brayce (pass failed), 1:29.
KSM–Logan Andrade 30 interception return (Cua kick), 1:10.
First downs 23 16
Rushes-yards 22-146 48-268
Passing yards 188 31
Total offense 334 299
Return yards 122 94
Comp-Att-Int 17-22-0 2-6-1
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 9-45 8-70
Punts-avg 1-42.0 4-36.0
RUSHING–Kamehameha Maui, Zedekiah Campbell 11-63, Kamaka-Brayce 6-49, Kauhaa-Po 4-31, Casco 1-3; King Kekaulike, Wong 10-90, Kalani Puu 13-83, Yoro 12-61, Sumibcay 12-33, Cove Campas 1-1.
PASSING–Kamehameha Maui, Kamaka-Brayce 17-22-0–188; King Kekaulike, Wong 2-6-1–31.
RECEIVING–Kamehameha Maui, Kauhaa-Po 7-54, Abreu 3-57, Schnitzer 3-43, Kapohai Abreu 2-20, Campbell 1-8, Casco 1-6; King Kekaulike, Yoro 2-31.
MISSED FIELD GOALS–none.
Junior varsity–Kamehameha Maui 6, King Kekaulike 0
MIL FOOTBALL STANDINGS
Note: Only in-division games count for state qualification; overall record in parenthesis
W L Pct PF PA
Maui High (0-2) 1 0 1.000 27 17 Lahainaluna (0-0) 0 0 .000 0 0
Baldwin (0-2) 0 1 .000 17 27
W L Pct PF PA
KS Maui (3-0) 1 0 1.000 34 21
King Kekaulike (2-1) 0 1 .000 21 34
Kamehameha Maui 34, King Kekaulike 21
Maui High 27, Baldwin 17
Friday, Sept. 22
Baldwin vs. Kamehameha Maui at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 23
Maui High at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.