Sabers, Bears ready for next chapter of renewed rivalry
Maui High can clinch state berth with win Friday
After 13 seasons of one-sided dominance, the rivalry between the Baldwin and Maui high school football teams is back.
The Sabers beat the Bears 32-21 on Sept. 16 to win the Maui Interscholastic League first-round title. It evened the series at 4-4 dating back to 2014 — quite a change from 2001 to 2013, when Baldwin won all 26 games played between the two largest schools in Maui County.
Friday night, the regular season ends for both teams with their meeting at War Memorial Stadium. Baldwin must win to force a championship playoff game the following week with the MIL Division I state berth on the line.
“The key word is ‘opportunity’ — that’s all you can ask for,” Bears coach Pohai Lee said. “It’s a game where we have to win, obviously. So, we’re getting prepared as best as we can. Including the fact that it’s senior night, it’s also a big night for them.”
A Sabers win in either of those games would send them to the state tournament for just the second time in 17 seasons.
“We feel good, everybody’s healthy, we had a good workout in the weight room, good workout on the field, you know, preparing for Friday night,” Maui High coach Rodney Figueroa said. “It’s a big game and a lot of these kids have never been in a big game. It’s going to be something new on Friday night.”
Baldwin’s league-leading offense, averaging 422.7 yards per game, runs into the Sabers’ No. 1 defense, which surrenders just 243.7 yards per game.
Baldwin does bring experience in games like this one. After losing their first meeting 3-0 in 2015, the Bears beat Maui High 35-21 in the second-round meeting to force a championship game that the Bears won 56-7.
Lee said the Bears are relying on third-year varsity players Chayce Akaka, Nainoa Keahi and Aloalii Laga to recount how the comeback that season unfolded.
Akaka, the quarterback who is a two-time MIL Offensive Player of the Year, comes in to the game with 48 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in his MIL career. The league’s rushing leader this season, he also has 1,756 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground in his three seasons.
This year, Akaka also has caught six balls for 104 yards and a touchdown. Last week, he added to his resume with a 70-yard touchdown return on a free kick following a safety in a 59-47 win over Kamehameha Maui, the highest-scoring game in MIL history.
“In terms of being a leader, he’s grown more and more each week,” Lee said of Akaka. “He’s been really upbeat and positive in terms of picking up his teammates. That’s been huge for us.”
Akaka has passed for 995 yards and 17 touchdowns, rushed for eight touchdowns, run for one 2-point conversion and kicked three extra points this year, meaning he is responsible for 167 of the 272 points Baldwin has scored in league play.
“In terms of being a dual threat, he’s definitely been that this year,” said Lee, giving credit to first-year offensive coordinator Cody Nakamura for Akaka’s continued development.
In the first game between the Bears and Sabers this season, however, Maui High forced Akaka into a night where he threw three interceptions for the first time in his career. He finished 6-for-21 for 72 yards passing, although he did run for 105 yards on 16 carries.
In that game, Maui High broke out a wildcat formation, running on 47 of 50 snaps. Solomone Tongi ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns, while Naia Nakamoto had 75 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
“It is tough because we have to account for (Nos.) 5, 25 and 12 (Nakamoto, Tongi and Justin Pulido),” Lee said. “It’s a chore.”
Baldwin’s Bishop Wickes is second in the league in rushing behind Akaka. Nakamoto, Tongi and Pulido are Nos. 5-7, while Sabers quarterback Kainalu Tancayo is 10th on the rushing list.
Figueroa said Maui High will stick with the game plan that won the first game — containing and pressuring Akaka in the pocket as much as possible, and running the football. He said keeping his team calm will be key.
“Trying to clinch this thing, I know a lot of them are going to be super fired up,” Figueroa said. “We’ve got to make it through the first minutes to calm down and play the game. How they react is key. That’s going to be a huge game.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MIL Second-round standings
Overall MIL record in parentheses
W L Pct PF PA
x-Maui High (4-3) 2 1 .667 89 53
Baldwin (4-3) 2 1 .667 128 70
W L Pct PF PA
y-Lahainaluna (7-0) 3 0 1.000 93 31
KS Maui (3-4) 1 2 .333 70 86
King Kekaulike (0-8) 0 4 .000 12 152
x-won first-round championship,
y-clinched league championship
Baldwin vs. Maui High at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Kamehameha Maui at Lahainaluna, 7 p.m.
End of regular season