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ON FOOTBALL: Waipahu Rides A Thoroughbred And Two Other Horses To A Stupendous 49-41 State D-I First-Round Shocker Over Kapaa

Note: As a bonus, you can listen to the soundtrack of this post while reading.


That was the word I was hoping would arrive for this story in between the time Friday’s football game ended and the typing began Saturday morning.

That game 12 hours ago still seems like a hard-to-capture blur, but thank the Lord there was no pressing deadline. Some special moments deserve extra careful reflection that is impossible to do when an editor is clamoring for copy within an hour or so after the final whistle.

You’ve heard the story about how Moses parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape the Epgytians? Well, that can serve as an analogy of what transpired.

Don’t take this the wrong way, dear reader. This is not about biblical prophets or persecuted people. Just an athlete who opened the door wide enough for his teammates to all hustle through to victory.

And when I say “opened,” let it be known that the door had been not only shut, but also triple locked.


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Most of this incredibly special chapter of the Waipahu Marauders football season is about a highly talented thoroughbred named Liatama Uiliata, who has been doing incredible things all season long. For anyone expecting that he might fail in his ability to lead the team Friday night were seriously mistaken.

On his way to the postgame handshake line, Waipahu’s Liatama Uiliata gave a special hand symbol in honor of his grandfather, who he was named after.

To properly set the stage of the Marauders’ 49-41 victory over Kapaa in the Division I first round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships, you first have to know that the visiting Warriors threw some heavy first punches to take a sizable 35-13 second quarter lead.

The game is over, right?

Not so.

As soon as Uiliata moved from his receiver position to quarterback, the whole complexion of the game changed. And let it also be known that without some major help from many other of Waipahu’s resilient players, this turn of the tides would not have happened. More on two of those other needle-moving, momentum-changing horses later.

Before we get into Uiliata’s stats, the light should shine on what he showed to the fans in the stands on the field.

First of all, it helps to understand that Kapaa’s heavy pass rush during the first two quarters was aimed squarely at freshman QB Elijah Mendoza, who was playing in his second varsity game after an incredible performance in leading the Marauders to a 38-30 win over Aiea in the OIA D-I title game two weeks ago.

That pass rush, however, was dissolved into basically no threat as soon as the fleet of foot Uiliata took his first snap.

And aside from that first word at the beginning of the article — dazzling — here is what I remember:

Take the snap, wait for the rush to come in, sidestep one, two or three defenders, cut this way, cut that way, find open space and go.

Uiliata did that repeatedly. And let me tell you, those cuts were on a dime and very subtle with seemingly minute machinations that turned what looked like an inch gap into a few untouchable yards.

Waipahu’s Liatama Uiliata found a lot of room to run in leading the Marauders to Friday’s 49-41 D-I state semifinal win over Kapaa.

One pinpoint touchdown pass later, Waipahu was on its way back, trailing 35-19 at halftime.

It was a lot more of the same in the second half. And another thing that makes the picture clearer: You really can’t call what he did scrambling. He was never haphazardly trying to find his way to open space. He was gliding and he never panicked.

Two of the more impressive athletic moments stand out in the memory banks, too.

>> 1. While running toward the sideline and about three feet away from a closing defender, he stopped, turned toward his own end zone and then spun around, leaving the Kapaa player standing there, dumbfounded.

>> 2. While bursting to his left, he looked like he was going straight into the grasp of Kapaa linebacker Solomone Malafu, the man with 12 FBS Division I offers. Before you could blink, though, he bounded more to his left and downfield, leaving Malafu behind.

Well, you get the picture.

Here are the stats: 4-for-8 passing, 106 yards and two TDs and 11 rushes for 96 yards and a TD. Add to that his two kickoff returns for 50 yards and a punt return for 21 yards.

“Teamwork, brotherhood and leadership” is how Tama described the win after the game. “Brotherhood comes from Waipahu, where we’re from. We stay loyal to this. All the boys, we’ve got each other’s back. Leadership — everybody on the team was showing leadership, trying to stay positive and that’s really what it took. We’ll cherish the moment right here, but we gotta stay focused and put in the work still, day in and day out. We can do this. We can take it all the way home.”

And now is a good time to talk about those other two main horses that brought the Marauders (10-1) to the win.

The other obvious one was Anieli Teleaai. Whew boy. On his 18 carries, he chugged for 140 yards, three TDs and three 2-point conversion runs.

One of the many other things of note about this guy is the abundant different ways his last name is spelled at various places on the Internet.

I got this straight from coach Bryson Carvalho earlier in the season, so let’s set the record straight right now if anyone out there is wondering: It’s Teleaai. If anyone in his family wants to tell me differently, email [email protected] and we’ll get it corrected in no time.

But a better tale to think about when Teleaai comes to mind is that he thought his career was done after an early season concussion. Fortunately, he went through the protocols and made it back for this important moment in Waipahu football history.

To use some well-worn sports verbiage: Teleaai was running downhill all night. He hit the hole quick and hard and if there were any openings at all, he was well on his way downfield.

The other “hoss” on the night, of course, was the man at middle linebacker, Romeo Tagata, who is somewhere above “beast” on the scale of possible worthy adjectives.

Tagata finished with 10 tackles, but you would be hard pressed to find one more important than the stop he made with 2:36 left in the third quarter. That’s when the Warriors still led 35-27 and were looking to punch it in from the Waipahu 9. On third and six, Tagata lunged to corral Kapaa running back Kamalei Gonsalves on a jet sweep. A TD there could have spelled doom for the Marauders. On the next play, the Warriors missed a field goal, keeping Waipahu within reach.

“I love my teammates, man,” Tagata said afterward. “They play with heart. That’s all it was. We wanted it more. We came out here and fought. And Tama, man, he’s a train and he doesn’t like to be stopped, doing every aspect. Throwing it, playing defense, running the ball, he’s it.”

Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, a 27-yard Uiliata option touchdown run — courtesy of his fake handoff that fooled a handful of defenders — and Teleaai’s second 2-point run put the Marauders into a 35-all tie.

And then a bit later, Tagata took advantage of a huge punt block by teammate Seth Setu by scooping and scoring for a TD from 8 yards out for a 41-35 edge with 8:23 to go.

Little did the Marauders know at the time, but Tyrus Niuatoa’s interception on Kapaa’s next play from scrimmage turned out to be ultra important. It had the feeling of the final blow to the Warriors, but as you will see, it wasn’t.

Uiliata’s 31-yard TD pass to Chazen Rodillas-Vesido followed by Teleaai’s third 2-pointer of the night to make it 49-35 was not the insurance that it appeared it was going to be. In the end, it was actually the final difference.

After yet another Niuatoa interception with 5:50 left, Kapaa didn’t go down easy. When the Warriors got the ball back, quarterback Kapono Na-o gave them a glimmer of hope with a 3-yard TD run with 1:30 left on the clock, cutting the gap to 49-41. After that, though, the visitors did not recover the ensuing onside kick and Waipahu went into victory formation until time ran out.

Na-o had a whale of a game for Kapaa, with 26 carries for 126 yards and a TD. He also threw a TD pass and his handling of a tricky option offense gave the Marauders fits until some third quarter adjustments.

“We played hard,” Na-o said. “We just couldn’t execute to the finish, but helluva game though. We did really good in the first half. In the second half, our head was too high.”

Up Next For Waipahu: Top-Seeded And Defending D-I State Champion ‘Iolani

The next opponent in the Marauders’ ongoing magical season is ‘Iolani (9-0) of the ILH in the semifinals next Saturday at 3 p.m. on the Raiders’ home field.

Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho was going to wait until Saturday morning to start concentrating on those Raiders, who are the defending D-I state champions.

“Definitely celebrating tonight,” he said. “I tell the kids you have to stop to appreciate the moment. This doesn’t happen every day. We’ll think about ‘Iolani at 8 a.m. We practice at that time every Saturday. ’Iolani is very smart and it’s instilled by their coaching staff that I have so much repsect for. Coach (Wendell) Look and his staff, to me, is the premier staff in the state. They’re just consistent every year. Teams fear them and some don’t want to play them because of how good and disciplined they are.”

Carvalho went into detail about how the defense got the job done Friday night.

“I’m so proud of this team and especially the adjustments we made on defense,” he added. “We had to stop them, too. They were scoring. They scored 35 points in the first half. That never happened to us. Coach Lasi (Eselu) did an incredible job to slow down their run. Basically, we were submarining the ‘A’ gaps, which is basically falling down and getting in the way and allowing our linebackers to make the play. Their big plays were on faking the jet sweep with the quarterback going up the middle, so now he (Na-o) has four human beings in his way. It gave us that one or two seconds for the linebackers to come up.”

And about the switch at QB to Tama, Carvalho said, “They (the Warriors) had their ears pinned back with Eli in there, coming after him, coming after him. But with a guy like Tama in there, you can’t really go full speed because one juke and you’re totally out of position. It slowed down their pass rush.”

Kapaa’s season is over. After getting past Waimea for the KIF title, the Warriors (5-4) had their eyes on going all the way to the D-I state championship just one season after winning it all in D-II.

Had it not been for Uiliata and company in the second half Friday night, that goal would still be obtainable.

Keeping With The Horse Theme

Ever hear of Cliff Nobles and Company?

Probably not, but if you saw the initial editor’s note to this story and played the soundtrack, you may have seen that Cliff Nobles and Company is the artist responsible for that 1968 instrumental that rose to No. 2 on the charts.

And yes, the Waipahu band did actually play that song Friday night. Certainly you’ve heard this ubiquitous tune at lots of football games.

And yes, you can hear it once in a while on the oldies stations and, yes, I did hear it on the way to the game, believe it or not.

Here is another clickable link to it:




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  • Waipahu’s defensive adjustments were to tackle the offensive line and twist their ankles and knees. #51 for Waipahu was the dirtiest of them all. Don’t know how Waipahu can be proud of to win like that. You could see the Waipahu coaches telling and showing the d line to tackle the Kapaa o line and even twisting. That has no place in football or any high school sports. Not to take away from #2. He is a great athlete but likening him to Moses is blasphemy

    • Keoni,

      Thanks for your comment. I do not know if what you say is true or not. It could be. I am not doubting you. But I will look into it further and call coach Mike Tresler to see if he agrees. And I will get back to you here on this thread.

      Also, just to be clear, I am not likening him to Moses. It’s an analogy, a literary tool for effect. Moses parted the Red Sea. Tama parted the Kapaa defense. Often, an analogy is comparing one small action to another large action. In the story, it clearly states that I am not using what Tama did in biblical terms. So, on this point, I 100 percent disagree with you that I have been blasphemous.

      Do you understand what I’m saying?

      Thanks and aloha for reading,
      Nick Abramo
      Bedrock Sports Hawaii
      Formerly at The Garden Island newspaper, 1989-2000

    • OK Keoni,

      I did not reach Mike Tresler right away, but I did speak to someone very close to the Kapaa football program and they agree with you — that in their opinion Waipahu was dirty and used the tactics you describe. This person may be sending me videos. If dirty tactics are evident in the videos, there will likely be a story about it.

      Once again, thanks for reading and thanks for the comment.

      • Hi Keoni,

        I spoke with the HHSAA head of officials and he explained the rules and the interpretation of the rules and they actually took a look at videos of that game as part of what they do for all state games. It was enlightening to me. You may want to speak with him personally so you get a better idea of what the officials are looking at when they make calls or don’t make calls.

        Thanks again for reading.

  • #61 Tamasoalii Sione

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