Intense, Emotional Week Pays off for Maui High
By Rodney S. Yap
The sleeping giant from South Lono Avenue woke up Friday after 14 years of losing to Central Maui public-school rival Baldwin in Maui Interscholastic League football.
This time it was fourth-year head coach David Bui on the Maui High School sidelines. Bui promised to change the “culture” in Kahului in hopes of returning the Sabers to their glory years, restoring the school’s once prideful ways and its winning gridiron tradition.
Bui and the Maui High football team erased a 26-game losing streak to the Bears with a 20-17 come-from-behind “Big Game” victory before a War Memorial Stadium crowd of about 3,800.
The win improved the Sabers’ overall record to 3-0 and 2-0 in the MIL Division I race.
When asked it he could feel the proverbial monkey off his back, Bui said: “Definitely. Relieved is the word I would use. It’s a big win for us, but we have to keep our eyes on the prize though, and that’s the MIL (championship).”
Although a Division II school from Lahaina, Lahainaluna, has been the cream of the MIL crop the last couple of years. Maui High has a bye next week and will play Lahainaluna on Saturday, Sept. 13, at War Memorial Stadium, beginning at 7 p.m.
Afterwards, Bui did not want to hear any talk of Baldwin and “Big Game II,” scheduled for Friday Sept. 26.
“Oh no, we have to get past Lahainaluna first. And like a lot of people predicted, it was a physical game (Friday). So we are kind of limping into our bye week and it comes at the right time.”
For more than a decade the Sabers were ill-prepared to withstand Baldwin’s onslaught, often wilting after trading punches early. On Friday, however, it was Baldwin who took it in the chops early and it was Maui High who got off the turf late in the game and made the plays when it counted.
“We had our opportunities and we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities and in the end they made the plays and we didn’t,” said Baldwin head coach Keneke Pacheco. “That’s how things go sometimes.”
“We’re happy for the kids,” Bui noted. “Win or lose we were happy for them that they get to play in a game like this. When I was in high school I never got to play in a game like this. We were always the doormat and there aren’t many kids who get to play in a big game like this and we were just happy for them.”
Maui High wasted little time, scoring the game’s first touchdown — a 53-yard run by Onosai Emelio — on its first play from scrimmage. A Baldwin fumble and a personal-foul penalty on the ensuing possession gave the Sabers the ball on the Bears’ 29-yard line before quarterback Austin Hoe found 6-foot, 4-inch, 240-pound tight end Tristan Nichols two plays later.
“I think our boys prepared well and had a good week of practice. We came in a little fired up, even the coaches. It’s been an intense week, really emotional, and after we got up on them early we kind of got a little carried away with all the penalties and stuff. So we kind of had to settle down and regroup ourselves, and in the second half we put together a better game.”
Maui High was whistled for 8 penalties for 77 yards in the first half.
Pacheco admitted the Sabers’ 12-0 spurt was a surprise.
“We weren’t really settled and they caught us off guard, but I am proud of the way our boys battled back. Once they settled down they started to make things happen and they took control of the game for a little while. They should a lot of character.”
Quarterback Tage Akaka-Foster sparked the Bears’ first scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown run and just over four minutes later Keenan Luis’ 20-yard touchdown, coupled with Keli’i Kaiama’s extra-point kicks, put the nine-time Division I champions ahead 14-12 before halftime.
“We’ve been working really hard to get to this point and I know it has been emotional. At halftime I came in the locker room and told the kids that it was my fault and I told everybody that it is 0-0 going into the second half and we need to settle down and play ball.”
A 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct on the Sabers’ bench helped Baldwin keep its second scoring drive alive.
Bui said emotions got the best of him and added: “It’s understandable, we’ve been working really hard and it was an intense week.”
In the second half, Baldwin played without its team captain and vocal leader Nohea Keahi, who suffered an ankle injury at the end of the second quarter and roamed the sidelines with crutches in the second half.
Pacheco said Keahi’s injury does not appear to be serious but it could force him to miss the Bears next game against Lahainaluna on Saturday, Sept. 6. Meanwhile, an elbow injury from last week’s game against Edison (Calif.) will kept strong safety Laakea Kahoohanohano-Davis out for the remainder of the first round, Pacheco added.
A shoulder injury from practice reduced Maui High running back Daniel Kelley’s playing time against the Bears. The state’s top rusher — 375 yards in two games — was held to 50 yards on 10 carries on Friday, but came up with the big yards when it counted, including the game’s go-ahead touchdown with 7 minutes, 14 seconds left in the game.
“We weren’t trying to save him for the end. We knew “Ono” (Onosai Emelio) was playing two ways and Tyson (Takabayashi) was playing two ways, so it would have been more ideal to use Daniel more, but Daniel was nursing a sore shoulder,” Bui explained. “So we wanted to get him in there and give “Ono” a rest and give him some carries, but there were some plays we couldn’t have him in there, like some of the pass plays, because he couldn’t lift his arm to catch. So we had to limit his carries in this game.”
Friday’s MIL Scoring Summary
At War Memorial Stadium
SABERS 20, BEARS 17
Baldwin ………. 7 ….. 7 ….. 3 ….. 0-17
Maui High ….. 12 ….. 0 ….. 0 ….. 8-20
MH—Onosai Emelio 53 run (pass failed), 11:37.
MH—Tristan Nichols 29 pass from Austin Hoe (run failed), 9:29.
BH—Taje Akaka-Foster 5 run (Kelii Kaiama kick), 3:54.
BH—Keenan Luis 20 run (Kaiama kick), 11:51.
BH—Kaiama 27 FG, 6:48.
MH—Daniel Kelley 1 run (run failed), 7:14.
MH—Safety, Akaka-Foster sacked in end zone, 1:26.
Junior varsity result: Baldwin 33, Maui High 7.
* All individual statistics complied by Rob Collias of The Maui News.