Sabers play on

Maui High holds off rival Baldwin 29-20 for MIL D-I championship, state spot

Maui High School’s Naia Nakamoto stiff-arms Baldwin’s Chathan Foster on a run during the second quarter of the Sabers’ 29-20 win over the Bears in the MIL Division I overall championship game Friday night at War Memorial Stadium in Wailuku. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — Mitchell Hirose is listed on the Maui High School football roster at 5-foot-6, 145 pounds, but the Sabers senior came up big in his team’s most important game of the season.

Hirose overcame a rare mistake by making key plays down the stretch to lead Maui High to a 29-20 victory over Baldwin in a winner-take-all Maui Interscholastic League Division I championship game on Friday night at War Memorial Stadium.

The victory sends the Sabers (5-4 MIL, 5-5 overall) to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state tournament against top-seeded Hilo next Friday at Keaau High School. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

“Feels great, I mean I put my head down but my teammates picked me up a lot,” said Hirose, whose his fumble on a punt led to the Bears going up 14-3 in the game. “They told me to keep going and that was a big touchdown to redeem myself and put my team back in it.”

Indeed, Hirose put the Sabers ahead 16-14 with a nifty 25-yard scoring run on an end-around pitch play with 2:49 left in the third quarter. The play capped a seven-play, 47-yard drive set up by an 18-yard punt by Baldwin.

The Bears’ Bishop Wickes runs for a touchdown. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

On the next Sabers’ possession, Hirose had a key reception over the middle on a 22-yard gain that set up a first down on the Baldwin 20. After a couple of penalties, Christian Lee caught a 33-yard scoring pass from Brex Delray to push the lead to 22-14 with 10:41 left to play.

After the Bears scored on a 2-yard run by Bishop Wickes to cut the Sabers’ lead to 22-20 with 7:28 to play, Hirose was put in on defense for the 2-point conversion try, and his pressure on an edge rush caused La’a Asuega-Stark’s pass to fall incomplete.

“It feels good to win — we wanted to get revenge on them for beating us last time,” Hirose said.

The Bears got the ball back after forcing a three-and-out and a 26-yard punt. Wickes hit a 41-yard field goal to apparently give the Bears a 23-22 lead, but Baldwin was whistled for a false start and Wickes’ 46-yard try moments later was wide left with 3:55 on the clock.

The Bears got one more shot, but it went awry when a long pass on fourth-and-8 glanced off Wickes’ fingertips with 1:55 to go.

Maui High’s Torryn Kauhaahaa-Salusi breaks up a pass in the second quarter Friday. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Naia Nakamoto put the exclamation point on the Sabers’ third state berth in the last five seasons when he scampered in on a 9-yard run with 1:02 left.

It was a stark contrast from Baldwin’s 24-14 win over Maui High on Oct. 20 that set up the championship game. The Sabers came into Friday having lost their last three games.

“Very proud of our team effort today,” Maui High coach James Kammerer said. “Our coaches put in a lot of work. It was a hard month to stomach and we really had to dig deep and regroup as a team.”

The Bears took a 14-10 lead into the halftime break behind a pair of touchdown runs by Wickes, who finished with 101 yards on 13 carries in the first two quarters.

In between those TDs, the Sabers got a 26-yard field goal by Brex Delray less than a minute into the second quarter.

After Wickes ran in for a 20-yard score, Maui High responded as Delray hit a wide-open Takara on a 60-yard pass on the first play of an 80-yard, six-pay drive. Nakamoto scored on a 3-yard run up the middle after the drive was helped by a roughing-the-passer penalty that gave the Sabers a first-and-goal from the 10.

Nakamoto, the MIL rushing leader with 1,240 yards in eight games coming into the game, was limited to 26 yards on 10 carries in the first half. He finishes the league season with 1,353 yards, an MIL record, after he had 12 carries for 87 yards in the second half.

The Bears appeared to be in trouble after a 1-6 overall start to the season, but they reached the championship game with two must-wins before Friday night. Wickes finished with 117 yards rushing on 21 carries and two catches for 32 yards.

“We expected it to be a tough battle and it was,” Baldwin coach Pohai Lee said. “It could have gone either way. They came back at halftime and made the plays they needed to — credit to them.”

Lee said he is looking forward to the future with a young roster that returns several key players next season.

“It’s been frustrating at times and it’s been rewarding at times,’ Lee said. “That’s what coaching is about, getting better. You know, getting to the championship game, that was a step forward.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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Maui High 0 10 6 13–29

Baldwin 7 7 0 6–20

First Quarter

B–Bishop Wickes 4 run (Isaiah Souza kick), 8:02.

Second Quarter

MH–FG Brex Delray 26, 11:07.

B–Wickes 20 run (Souza kick), 2:16.

MH–Naia Nakamoto 3 run (Delray kick), 0:59.

Third Quarter

MH–Mitchell Hirose 25 run (pass failed), 2:49.

Fourth Quarter

MH–Christian Lee 33 pass from Delray (kick blocked), 10:41.

B–Wickes 2 run (pass failed), 7:28.

MH–Nakamoto 9 run (Delray kick), 1:02.

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DIVISION I STATE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

Friday, Nov. 9 • Semifinals

Maui High vs. No. 1 Hilo at Keaau, 7 p.m.

Iolani at No. 2 Waipahu, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 24 • Championship

Maui High-Hilo winner vs. Iolani-Waipahu winner at Aloha Stadium, 4:30 p.m.

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