A week-long celebration of the Polynesian culture culminated with a football game that had a little bit of everything.
Strong wind gusts, an occasional downpour of rain and two all-star football teams loaded with dominant defensive players made for an offensively challenged Polynesian Bowl that ended with Punahou’s Jeff Chan kicking a 20-yard field goal with 39 seconds remaining to give Team Stanley a 9-7 win over Team Mariota at Aloha Stadium.
A crowd of 5,227 watched the inaugural Polynesian Bowl high school football all-star game that featured some of the nation’s top talent.
Nobody stood out more than Team Stanley’s AJ Epenesa, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end who spurned Alabama by staying closer to home and committing to Iowa.
Epenesa had five tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles to help his team win despite finishing with only 55 total yards in the entire game.
“We were trying to win. The coaches preached all week that we’re here to win and we’re not out here to be each other’s friends,” said Epenesa, who was named defensive player of the game. “I mean, all of these guys are my friends, but like I said, we’re out here on the field trying to get the ‘W’ and I was out here competing.”
Uncommitted running back Conor Wedington of Sumner, Wash., was named offensive player of the game after rushing for 47 yards and scored Team Stanley’s only touchdown on a 7-yard run in the second quarter.
There were a combined six turnovers in the first half and a seventh — an interception by Kapolei’s Leonard Lee — was taken off the board for an illegal blitz.
Wedington followed up a 19-yard run with his touchdown run for the only points scored in the first three quarters.
Team Stanley completed only one pass in the second half and fell behind 7-6 when Moanalua quarterback Alakai Yuen threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mark Webb.
Chan then nailed the game-winning field goal after his own coach called a timeout and nearly iced his own kicker.
“I didn’t even know it was our own timeout but things happen and as a kicker you try to keep the right mind-set and stay focused,” Chan said. “Any kick is a big kick. You really try not to think about one kick more than another but I would by lying to you if I said I wasn’t nervous.”
With Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa unable to play per NCAA rules, Yuen had the most luck of any QB in brutal wind conditions.
He threw for 125 yards completing 10 of 26 passes and hit two big throws late to set up a 46-yard field goal by ‘Iolani’s Evan Minami that fell short as time expired.
“I feel like I could have done better but you just learn from your mistakes and work on that two-minute drill,” Yuen said. “I learned a lot in the past week. Just being on ESPN and having other kids come out here too to bring attention from the other states — it all made me proud to be a part of this.”
Two of Hawaii’s top uncommitted seniors made their decisions public during the fourth quarter.
Leilehua’s Charles Moku Watson, who had originally committed to Washington State in the summer, chose Oregon State over Brigham Young.
“I kind of slept on it,” Watson said. “It was a really hard decision. It took me until today to figure out where I wanted to go. Both of them are great programs. I just woke up this morning and that’s what my heart chose.”
Saint Louis linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia, who received an offer late from Oregon, chose the Ducks over Nebraska.
“After my official visit with (Oregon), everything felt so perfect and their coaching staff was amazing,” Slade-Matautia said. “The environment there was so beautiful and I just saw myself playing there in the future.”
Kahuku’s Aliki Vimahi had a game-high six tackles with 21⁄2 tackles for loss and linebacker Sampson Niu, an Oregon commit, had the only sack for Team Mariota.