Lunas Lose Contain Against Ewaliko in Overtime
By Rodney S. Yap
Keelan Ewaliko’s other address is the red zone at War Memorial Stadium.
Inside the 20-yard line is where the Baldwin High School quarterback has made his mark the last three years, destroying opposing defenses with superior speed, play-making ability, and sheer determination.
So when Saturday’s “Rematch” between Lahainaluna and Baldwin high schools ended in a 14-14 deadlock after 48 minutes of regulation time, the stage was set for sudden-death overtime and a heavy dose of the Maui Interscholastic League’s two-time Offensive Player of the Year.
“I feel like I’m most dangerous in that area,” said Ewaliko on Sunday about the 20 yards separating the Bears from victory and their third consecutive No Ka Oi Trophy.
“It’s an area where I can make things happen on the field with my arm or my feet. After they scored a field goal, it gave me a little more confidence to get a touchdown, knowing we can win the game.”
With five receivers spreading out the Lunas’ defense and no one in the Baldwin backfield, all 8,000 plus in attendance knew the Bears were going to give Ewaliko the ball. And like he had done many times before, the 6-foot, 180-pound senior put the weight of the team on his shoulders and secured a 20-17 victory.
His trot into the end zone came on the Bears’ third running play, from 7-yards away. By choosing to take the wide route, Ewaliko made the game-winning score look easy, when in reality the Lunas were a coin-flip from perhaps their own celebration.
“It was an awesome feeling and I’ll take some of the credit but it took a total team effort,” Ewaliko said. “I couldn’t do it alone, I needed my offensive line and everybody else that played. I just helped put it away.”
“They made the right calls at the right time and you have to give them credit for that,” said Lahainaluna co-head coach Bobby Watson. “It was a tough game, the kind of game we expected it to be. We knew he was going to run and we knew they were going to spread us out . . . basically, he just outplayed us in overtime. We failed to hold the contain and he ran outside on us.”
Baldwin head coach AJ Roloos said the overtime period could not have played out any better for his team, starting with the coin toss.
“We wanted to go on defense first . . . and after we held them to a field goal, we liked our chances,” the coach said. “On the drive before that we spread them out and I decided to run Keelan to see what happens and we got into field-goal range.
“We were going to spread their defense, put the ball in his hands, and do the same thing in overtime. If he should pick up 4 to 6 yards a carry, after three to four plays we should be able to score.”
Ewaliko’s career rushing average is 6.8 yards per carry, scoring a touchdown every 7.5 plays.
“I’m kind of feeling it today. I’m a little sore,” said the three-sport athlete, who has already made a verbal commitment to University of Hawaii. “The Lunas are very discipline in their tackling. I knew we were not going to get a breakaway run, so we wanted to chip away at them as much as we could.”
Coach Watson said he was proud of his player’s effort and cited turnovers and poor punt/kick coverage as keys to coming up short.
“Our kids didn’t quit. They keep fighting and then hoping we had a chance. But things went their way in the last couple of minutes of the game. . . . They came to play and the kid is good — he made some good runs against us. We had to stop him and basically we did that all the way up until the fourth quarter.”
Baldwin’s Abraham Reinhardt, the MIL’s undisputed Special Team’s Player of the Year, had an interception in the first half and a fumble recovery late in the game, when the Lunas’ lost the ball attempting a routine handoff while trying to run the clock down with about 3 minutes to play.
“That turnover killed us,” Watson said. “But up until then, it was our kicking game that hurt us the most, we gave them good field position on kickoffs and punts.”
In their efforts to keep the ball away from Reinhardt on special teams, the Lunas shanked short kicks and punts, shortening the field for Baldwin’s offense.
Meanwhile, Ewaliko’s foot is a defensive special team’s weapon that can make life miserable for opposing offenses. He has yet to have a kickoff returned this year, and his coffin-corner punts on Saturday were almost perfect, with the exception of the one rugby-style punt the got blocked.
“Choosing to not cover our kicks, eventually hurt us because we gave up field position and it put us in a hole. And when we punted the ball we gave them good field position.”
The Lunas entered the game with a better punt average than Baldwin, 37.15 yards to 32.9
Ewaliko made the Lunas pay for fumbling late in the game, connecting on a pair of passes that put the ball at the 9-yard line. The second completion to Chris Kazanecki went for 28 yards — a the longest play from scrimmage by either team. One of the Lunas’ defensive backs was out of coverage, leaving Kazanecki wide open and Ewaliko lofted a pass perfectly over the defense.
On the next play, Ewaliko threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Zach Coloma-Mariano. The slotback added the extra point afterwards to tie the game for the second time, 14-14.
“I went through my progression reads when I saw Zach near the end zone,” said Baldwin quarterback of the touchdown pass, which he threw from the far side hash mark on the field. “It was just a matter of getting the ball there. I had to gun it in there.”
Ewaliko finished with 192 total yards, including 142 yards rushing on 20 carries.
“He’s just a remarkable kid,” Roloos said of his three-year all-star. “He works hard and now he’s starting to believe that it is not all about him and you need everybody else to make you better. . . . Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great athlete, but we have to keep him humble, because when he goes to the next level it’s not like that.”
Lahainaluna’s defense, led by Semisi Filikitonga and linebackers Bronson and Brandon Kaina played well front three, nose guard Connor Mowat and ends Hercules Mataafa and Sam Filiai, were busy making tackles and cutting off angles to Ewaliko and running back Dusty Flores, who scored the game’s first touchdown on a 3-yard jaunt up the middle. The touchdown was the first scored on Lunas’ defense this season.
Flores finished with 79 yards on 21 carries, running behind a patchwork offensive line that included James Kidder-DeCambra for ill teammate Alika Ezera.
“Flores ran hard,” Roloos said. “The kid is a downhill runner and strong as hell.”
On the defensive end, in addition to Reinhardt’s play, the Bears got solid production from regular starters Miki Fangatua, Teva Eldridge, Nohea Keahi and Danny Welds-Ebanks. But it was the play of Semisi Malafu, and returning outside linebackers Jordan Hoiem and Afoa Laga, who both suited up for the first time Saturday because of injuries.
Roloos, who also calls the plays on offense, watched the game from the coaches box instead of sidelines, where he usually communicates with Ewaliko.
“I can see a lot more from up there because what I hear and what I see are two different things. If I’m up there, I can just decide on what we’re going to do and what I’m going t call. And (quarterback’s coach) Jordan (Helle) relayed the messages to Keelan.”
What the coach also saw from his vanish point above the bleachers on the Mauka end of the stadium, was a strong show of support for prep football on the Valley Isle.
“We were expecting a huge crowd. Every time we play Lahaina it’s a big crowd . . . looking into the stands from the box and seeing all the fans in red on one side and maroon and blue on the other side was pretty awesome. It was a great game to coach and a great game to watch, the best game we’ve had in the MIL all year.
“We were expecting a huge crowd. Every time we play Lahaina its a big crowd . . . looking into the stands from the box and seeing all the fans in red on one side and maroon and blue on the other side was pretty awesome.”
The line for tickets went through the stadium parking lot to the fence surrounding the Little League fields, 10 minutes before kickoff.
“When we walked in at 6:30 the line was already forming and we had a hard time just getting into the stadium. it was crazy. But I told the kids during the week that the stadium would be packed with people. Someone told me that there was still a line to get tickets after the first quarter.”