Former MIL Football Players Put on The Pads
By Rodney S. Yap
The dream of putting on the pads one more time became a reality for 119 former Maui Interscholastic League football players thanks to Alumni Football USA.
The nationwide program made its second stop to the Valley Isle Wednesday, Nov. 27, suiting up players from Maui High and Lahainaluna as the two teams battled like old times before a War Memorial Stadium crowd of about 3,000.
After a scoreless first half, Lahainaluna converted three Maui High turnovers into a pair of touchdowns and a field goal en route to a 16-6 victory in its AFUSA debut.
“It was a dream come true for a couple of my nephews to be able to play with us older guys,” said Lahainaluna’s Paea Lapale, who flew to Maui from Utah the night before the game and returned home with his wife, Laura, and daughter just hours after the game. “It was also a dream come true to be able to play with the younger generation.”
Lapale, a 1989 graduate, was among the oldest players on Lahainaluna’s 65-player roster.
“As soon as I received the phone call, I wanted to be here,” said Lapale, who owns his own construction company in West Jordan, Utah, and works part-time for Delta Airlines. “I love the sport and I love my school. But I have to go back for the Turkey Bowl tomorrow and rugby on Saturday.”
Lapale said: “Since I left high school I’ve been playing every single weekend” either adult football where he resides, or rugby, the game he took up as a youth playing with men at the Lahaina Recreational Center field.
“I found him in Utah and when I called him, he said, ‘I’m coming.’ He wanted to fly back for every practice,” said Lahainaluna’s Mike Kahula, who helped organized the Lunas’ alumni.
Maui High fumbled its opening possession 43 seconds into the second half and Lahainaluna’s Kekoa Mason Panis recovered the loose ball at its own 20-yard line. Two plays later, the Lunas’ Jojo Hidalgo scored the game’s first touchdown on a 19-yard run. John Lopez added the extra point to put the Lunas ahead 7-0 with 13 minutes, 30 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Maui High’s defense forced the Lunas to go three-and-out on their next possession and the Sabers would take over at their own 46.
Seven plays later, Maui High’s David Tufaga rolled to his right and hit tight end Vesi Uta alone in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown on 2nd-and-6. The Sabers missed the point-after attempt to cut the Lunas’ lead to 7-6 with 5:45 to play in the third quarter.
The Sabers’ scoring drive covered 46 yards and lasted 4:17. A 13-yard pass from Tufaga to Uta and a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the Lunas helped extend the Sabers’ drive.
Then late in the third quarter, Tufaga tried to scramble for a first down on 4th-and-4 from the 20-yard line and appeared to get it before losing the ball as he was hit. Lahainaluna middle linebacker Bubba Kukahiko recovered the fumble on the 14 to end the third quarter.
It was all Lahainaluna in the fourth quarter and Maui High was its own worst enemy committing untimely penalties and a pair of interceptions contributed to the Lunas’ final 9 points.
Sione Taufa’s interception of Uta set up the Lunas on their own 26-yard line. Lahainaluna quarterback Jake Manning rushed three times, the first for 9 yards on 4th-and-2 from the 18. The Lunas’ drive would eventually stall at the 6 before Lopez drilled a 23-yard field goal with 5:39 to play. The score put Lahainaluna ahead 10-6.
Lahainaluna forced the Sabers to punt on their next possession. But a low snap to punter Uta led to an ill-advised pass that was picked off by Lahainaluna’s Sua Hargis, who returned the ball the the Lunas’ 9-yard line. After three unsuccessful plays up the middle, the Lunas called time out on 4th-and-goal from the 5 before Manning executed a play-action pass to a wide open Hargis to cap the scoring with 1:16 remaining. Lahainaluna’s two-point rushing attempt failed as Maui’s Solomon Vainikolo tackled Kahula.
In all, there were 21 total penalties, including nine 15-yard personal fouls.
“I’m a little sore, but I’m blessed to be out here with the boys,” said Maui High’s Tufaga, a 2001 graduate who last year sparked the Sabers’ 42-0 win over Baldwin. “Lahainaluna came to play and they deserve the W.”
“It wasn’t the outcome I wanted but it was still a great experience and we had a lot of fun,” said Kenneth Carroll, Tufaga’s classmate. “We tried to prepare the best we could, but Lahainaluna was just the better team today.”
Lahainaluna’s Sonnie Waiohu went from coaching the 2013 Lunas to one of their best MIL seasons ever to a full night’s work at center.
“Guaranteed sore tomorrow,” smiled Waiohu. “I’ll be down for the next three months.”
When asked how it felt to put on the pads again, the 1993 graduate, said it was worth it.
“Playing along side guys we’ve coach was great. It was funny and almost surreal to be taking off the coach hat and putting on the player hat.”
AFUSA is in 24 states and allows some 75,000 football players from all over the country — and from different eras — to field their dreams of putting on the pads and playing the game they love. AFUSA provides all the equipment and serves as the vehicle for each team to give back to their respective communities or schools.
“Lahainaluna offered to do the concession stand and get to keep 100% of the profit,” said Noeau Lindsey, the Hawaii Team Coordinator for AFUSA. “The Lahainaluna players sell pre-sale tickets and 50% of the pre-sale tickets go back to them so them can give it to the school or organization of their choice.”
Lindsey said schools who are supportive of the alumni game benefit the most, like in the Lunas’ case as the school’s softball team ran the concession.