Sabers Snap 3-Game Losing Skid on Homecoming
By Rodney S. Yap
Maui High School’s youth, which was a weakness at the start of the 2012 football season, served as the team’s strength Saturday night, delivering the school’s first homecoming victory in more than a decade.
The Sabers held off King Kekaulike, 14-10, before a crowd of about 3,200 — mostly wearing Maui High colors on the Mauka sidelines, which was packed solid.
The win snaps a three-game losing streak and improved the Sabers’ overall record to 3-4 and 1-2 in the second round. King Kekaulike fell to 1-6 overall and 1-2 in the second round. Na Alii loss clinched the Maui Interscholastic League Division II crown for Lahainaluna, which had a bye week and returns to action on Friday, Oct. 26, in the season finale for both teams. The game will be at War Memorial Stadium, starting at 7 p.m.
Maui High used a mix of youth at running back, maturity at offensive line, and more youth on defense.
With an all-out ground assault as the game plan, junior running backs Justin McCrary and Mario Fernandez shared the ball with freshman Soane Vaohea and the trio rolled up 267 yards rushing behind senior linemen Jourdan Casio, Kason Alves, Sam Jody, and Josiah Sodetani. Junior tackle Jahstyn Aweau and junior tight end Jared Kapisi were the two underclassmen starters, while senior reserves Carson Kalikiano and Jim Hanlin also saw action.
Trailing 10-7, the Sabers went 86-yards in seven plays, executing the game-winning touchdown on a 49-yard counter reverse that saw Fernandez weave through some initial traffic before bursting into the open field all my himself. Kapisi’s extra-point kick capped the scoring at 14-10 with 10 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game.
“We’ve been working on that for the last two weeks and we finally got it down to where we were comfortable enough to run it in the game,” said Maui High head coach David Bui. “We were kind of saving it, we wanted to use it at the right time. Again, it was game management. We were sticking with our base (offense) and then when we got down there and we need to score I felt that was a good time to use it.”
The Sabers’ winning drive started at their own 14-yard line and it wasn’t until six plays later when the ball crossed midfield, that Bui decided run the misdirection play.
Fernandez also scored the game’s first touchdown midway through the first quarter. His 1-yard plunge capped a 10-play, 85-yard drive that saw Vaohea shred Kekaulike’s defense, setting the table for Fernandez with consecutive runs of 38, 8 and 8 yards, respectively.
Vaohea has 365 yards on 73 carries for the season, unheard of numbers for a freshman playing varsity.
Bui has not stopped auditioning young talent in the backfield, utilizing Vaohea out of the Wildcat formation on two successful series.
“We wanted to get our young freshman some snaps at QB, to see if he can call the play in the huddle, take a snap and manage the offense a little bit,” Bui said of Vaohea. “Like I said, we have some young guys at QB and everyone is still competing.”
It was a good thing Bui had already prepared Vaohea over the bye week, as starter Kealii Guzman went down injured in the first half, leaving only sophomore David Kahaleauki healthy.
Vaohea finished with a game-high 111 yards rushing on 20 carries. He was followed by workhorse McCrary, who added 73 yards on 15 carries and now has a league best 110 carries for 528 yards. Fernandez picked up 83 yards on just nine totes.
“They have to give the credit to their offensive line, because if their offensive line isn’t blocking they are not going to go nowhere. So a lot of the credit goes to the offense line. They have come a long way this season and they are blocking very well for our backs.
“We would like to pass the ball a little bit more but we’re young and inexperience back there. So we have to stick to what we do well. We lean on our defense and the running game is an attitude, too, so that’s the two things that we need to do well. We’re going to continue to work on our passing game, but the key thing for us is we need to play good defense and run the ball well.”
Defensively, the Sabers allowed Kekaulike 209 yards, giving up a 33-yard field goal to Ryley Widell and then a 28-yard touchdown pass from Widell to Austin Ferreira just before halftime.
“Our defense has been the foundation of our team this whole season,” Bui said. “They’ve been playing very well and our defensive coaches have done a good job preparing them, we’re excited about our defense of the future.”
The Sabers’ defense is made up of all underclassmen with the exception of two outside linebacker positions where seniors Jacob Kaninau and Jhun Gayoma lineup. Junior middle linebacker Tommy Fisher anchors the defense and he gets plenty of help from sophomores Leka Vainikolo and Moana Vainikolo. The others are Vaohea, Fernandez, sophomore Lucas Ibanez, and juniors Christian Valdez, Andre Pierman, and John Cobb.
“We’re a pretty young squad at this point and we’re trying to get better every day.”
Bui said the buzz the football team creates on campus goes beyond the game’s X’s and O’s.
“There’s a lot of things that are stabilizing, it’s not just about wins and losses. We look at the way things are on campus, during school, in the classroom. Things are stabilizing, but we still have a long ways to go to get to where we want to get.”
Meanwhile, the coach says he prefers to talk in the present, not the future.
“We’re young on both sides of the ball, and we’re excited about the future, but we’re still focused on this year and finishing the season strong for the senior class. We try to squash all talk of the future right now, because we are still focused on this season and we’re concentrating on one game at a time. We don’t want the kids to get to far ahead of themselves and start thinking about next year.”
Saturday’s Game Summary
Kekaulike 0 10 0 0—10
Maui High 7 0 0 7—14
MHS—Mario Fernandez 1 run (Jared Kapisi kick), 6:00.
KKH—Ryley Widell 33 FG, 5:42.
KKH—Austin Ferreira 28 pass from Widell (Widell kick), 1:46.
MHS—Fernandez 49 run (Kapisi kick), 10:30.
Junior varsity: King Kekaulike 10, Maui High 6.