Since Sept. 17, the Waianae Seariders have two victories.
They made those wins count, though. A 41-20 shellacking of Radford on Oct. 8 gave the Seariders just enough to qualify for the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red playoffs.
Two weeks later, they triumphed in a 49-7 playoff win over Kailua to secure a spot in the semifinals. Losses to Mililani and Leilehua followed, and normally, that would mark the end of a season for OIA teams.
Instead, the whole Kahuku debacle ensued, and with the league favorite disqualified from competition, the fourth-place team — Waianae — suddenly became the third and final entrant into the state tournament.
There will be no thank-you cards mailed from the Leeward Coast to the North Shore, but the Seariders do feel thankful. Instead of turning in their helmets and shoulder pads, they have a reasonable shot at knocking off Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion Kealakehe tonight when the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I Football State Championships begin.
A win over Kealakehe — no BIIF D-I team has won a state-tourney game — would propel Waianae to a semifinal matchup with OIA champion Mililani. Waianae handed Mililani its only loss, 42-28 on Sept. 24.
That’s why, despite a 4-7 overall record (4-5 OIA), coach Danny Matsumoto’s Seariders could conceivably play for the state title. Seventh-ranked Waianae could become the first state champion with a .500 (or lower) win-loss percentage.
But first, the BIIF and its history of struggle against D-I competition:
» Nov. 20, 2009: Farrington 48, Honokaa 16. The Govs were ranked No. 3 in the state at the time. Honokaa didn’t match up well with the bigger Govs and couldn’t get its passing game unleashed until the game was out of reach. This game was played at Kealakehe’s stadium.
» Nov. 21, 2008: Farrington 30, Kealakehe 13. Again, it took time for a BIIF champion to get used to the pace and power of an OIA program. This game was at Roosevelt’s Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium. By the time Kealakehe quarterback Kawai Kanuha got comfortable, the Waveriders were well behind. By late May 2009, the BIIF stripped Kealakehe of its league title due to an ineligible player.
» Nov. 17, 2007: Waianae 21, Kealakehe 17. This was the closest of state-tourney games for a BIIF D-I champ. The Waveriders played well on their home field after halftime as Kanuha overcame three picks to rally his team from a 21-9 deficit. Waianae ate up the final 5 minutes and 43 seconds with smashmouth football. The visitors rushed for 455 yards in victory.
» Nov. 17, 2006: Waianae 28, Kealakehe 14. The Seariders won at home as Kealakehe’s super back, Gabe Tuata, struggled against a swarming defense.
This year’s Kealakehe squad, guided by Gary Clark, is less dependent on one standout offensive player. Psalm Wooching rushed for 148 yards on 22 carries against Keaau, but the Waveriders spread the ball around.
Two quarterbacks, Tyler Yates and Dominick Trevino, have shared time. Yates is the better runner, while Trevino has been utilized as a receiver and pass rusher. He had a sack in Kealakehe’s title-clinching 32-14 win over Keaau last week.
While the offense has been very good against BIIF competition, the defense is stacked. Fia Paogofie, Kaiwi Canda-Alvarez and Tama Paogofie-Buyten also had big games against Keaau, and defensive back Peni Vea is arguably the best at his position in the BIIF.
Kealakehe hasn’t been as dominant as in years past. Even with a litany of lopsided scores this year, the ‘Riders struggled past cellar-dweller Waiakea in their regular-season finale. Keaau was down just 19-14 late in the game before Kealakehe pulled away.
Waianae, meanwhile, has faced Top 10-level opposition nearly every week. That includes matchups with then-No. 1 Kahuku and No. 2 Saint Louis to open nonconference play.
The Seariders amassed 374 total yards in last week’s 28-20 loss at Leilehua. The offense that struggled early in the season has developed with time and patience. Quarterback Puletua Wilson’s downfield vision is a key; he connected with seven teammates through the air last week. Though Wilson scrambled for 93 rushing yards, no other Searider had more than 11 yards rushing.
Waianae passed nearly as much as it ran, with 36 rushes and 33 aerials. For a team that once used its prolific ground attack — the wing T — to pummel Kealakehe in the past, there may be no going back.