by Gregory Kamisato – Special to The Waialuan
“If you lose a big fight, it will worry you all of your life. It will plague you – until you get your revenge.” – Muhammad Ali
As Tevesi Toia kneeled in the victory formation to complete Waialua’s 14-12 victory over Pearl City, all thoughts in the crowd of 1000+ at Toshi Nakasone Field turned to the Division II semi-final opponent: Kaimuki. In a rematch of week one’s 22-20 overtime loss to the Bulldogs at Kaiser High School stadium, this is the revenge game the Waialua players, students, and community have been waiting for. Penalties called back two Lancen Kuni kick returns for touchdowns, and another one negated a Kuni interception for a TD on the final play of regulation that would have given Waialua a huge win over a Kaimuki team that many saw repeating as OIA DII regular season champions. “It’s kind of sickening,” said free safety Daytin Vidad-Albeso, “We had three touchdowns called back. In the end, we let the refs to decide the game.”
The Waialua players are looking forward to playing Kaimuki again – but payback is not the only reason. Said defensive tackle Mathan Hachtie, “Playing Kaimuki again gives us a chance to show that we’re a different team from that first week of the season.” Not only have the Bulldogs played better in their last six games (going 5-1 with their only loss to regular season champ Waipahu), they also had 10 players who couldn’t suit up because they were on academic probation. “This game we have all those players who didn’t play because of grades,” stated Hatchie, “and we’re all gonna work together to make sure we win.”
To win, the players feel the ground game will be key. Hoku Campbell rushed for 158 yards against Pearl City and Makana Naho’oikaika added 104 yards and a touchdown to chew up time and run down the Charger defense. “We need to work as one team and run the ball,” said offensive tackle Kapono Kamai, “that way we keep the clock running while we gain yards.” The running game will open up the passing game and although Toia threw for only 61 yards, 12 of those were a touchdown to Kuni. Toia is the fifth leading passer in OIA DII with 1014 yards and 12 TDs to 15 interceptions. On special teams, Kuni is the dangerous returner everyone is keying on – and now they are directing kickoffs and punts away from him.
This game brings on a larger importance for the community. If Waialua wins, they will play for the OIA DII Championship, as well as qualify for the state football tournament for the first time. “A win in this game will put us on the map,” said assistant receiver coach Anthony Nery, “even though they’ve lived on Oahu all their life, not too many people know where Waialua is. Many think we’re located on Kauai (near the Wailua River). It also will give exposure to the program and the kids.” One thing is certain: the small community of Waialua/Haleiwa know about the team. Since the beginning of the season, the crowds have gotten bigger each game – even when they play away. “Here at Waialua, we only have a high school student body of roughly 440 kids. We get who we get – and it’s rough,” said Nery, “but we show that we can compete against the bigger schools and the community knows that and has backed us up by showing their support at all the games. They are SO proud of this team.”
There was a chilling calmness as the players talked about the rematch with Kaimuki while running their 100 yard sprints at the beginning of practice on Monday. They were loose, but everyone understood the challenge on Friday under the lights of Kaiser Stadium and the importance the game to the community. Kuni is one of those players who is fueled by avenging a hard-fought loss so many weeks ago. “It IS a revenge game,” he said, “we were robbed the first time and now we’re hungry to beat them to get to the tournament and win a state championship – that’s our ultimate goal as a team.” This semi-final game is billed as the “Battle of the Bulldogs”, but if the attitude of the team is any indication, Kaimuki better watch out because revenge is a dish best served cold – and Waialua is ready to deliver.