By Fred Guzman
Special to the Star-Advertiser
“He’s a very special player,” acknowledged Farrington coach Randall Okimoto after the junior quarterback willed Baldwin to a 28-24 victory in an opening round game of the First Hawaiian Bank/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division-I football tournament.
On a third-and-14 situation and with time winding down on Baldwin’s season, Ewaliko scored on a mad dash of 33 yards with 42 seconds left, sending a crowd of about 3,000 fans at War Memorial Stadium into a frenzy. The victory lifted the Bears into next Friday’s semifinals against second-seeded Punahou at Aloha Stadium.
“It was supposed to be a pass and I was rolling out to my left looking for (wide receiver) Brandon (Fernandez),” said Ewaaliko, recreating the game’s decisive play. “When he wasn’t open, I knew I had to take off. I broke one tackle and told myself, ‘This is it. We’ve come too far. I can’t let my boys down. I gotta get in the end zone.’”
And he did, breaking another tackle at the 7-yard line before diving into the end zone, enabling Baldwin to win a state playoff game for the first time in four years and improve its season record to 9-1.
Ewaliko was magnificent in the first half, completing 10 of 14 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown while also gaining 86 yards on 11 carries for 200 yards in total offense .
“We made some adjustments at halftime and did a better job of containing Ewaliko and (running back Kina) Malafu,” Okimoto said.
Indeed, Ewaliko finished with 109 yards passing, completing 13 of 20, and rushed 112 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
“But when the game was on the line,” Okimoto added, “that young man made a great play. You have to give him and Baldwin all the credit in the world.”
It was a painful loss for the Governors, who spent much of the season as the top-ranked team in the state and winning their first 10 games before suffering back-to-back losses to Kahuku in the OIA Red championship game last week and then to the hometown Bears.
Farrington had taken a a 24-21 lead with 5:01 left in the game on a 1-yard run by senior tailback Tyler Taumua, who finished with 157 yards and three scores on 27 carries. Then, for the fourth time in the game, a Farrington point-after went awry.
Farrington jumped out to a 6-0 lead on its first possession, going 92 yards on nine plays. Taumua’s 4-yard run capped the drive
But the Bears bounced back on a 17-yard quarterback draw by Ewaliko as the clock ran out on the first quarter and Ewaliko hooked up on a 12-yard scoring pss to Kaiana Camvel with 23 seconds left in the half for a 14-6 halftime lead.
A 1-yard plunge by Taumua brought Farrington to within a pair of points with 6:05 left by the state’s leading rusher was stuffed by Baldwin’s defense on a two-yard attempt.
The Bears couldn’t keep Taumua out of the end zone with 3:43 left in the third quarter, when he bounced his rush around the left side for a 20-yard run, giving Farrington an 18-14 advantage.
The see-saw battle continued as Ewaliko scored on a 1-yard run with 10:33 left and Dean Phillips converted on another point-after to give the Bears a 21-18 edge with 10:33 left, setting the stage for a dramatic conclusion.
For Baldwin coach A.J. Roloos, it was a grand way to celebrate his 39th birthday. But the biggest gift of all is the realization that Keelan Ewaliko has one more season of prep football left before graduation.
“That kid,” said Roloos, echoing the sentiments of his counterpart, “is a special player. “We put the game in his hands, and he came through.”