by Brian Vitolio
The Faga'itua Vikings' varsity football team won its' eighth championship- and their fourth in six years - after beating the Leone Lions 28-21 in a see-saw of a game last Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The game was a rematch of last year's championship game in which the Lions won 34-22.
However, a referee's mistake on a blocked field goal attempt had the Lions' coaching staff incensed because an inadvertent whistle brought to a stop a development that could have led to a Leone score with the Vikings leading 21-14 early in the fourth period.
The Lions had just stopped the Vikings on third and goal at the Leone 7, so on fourth down, Faga'itua's field goal team came out for a 25-yard attempt.
But the snap was bad, with the placeholder just managing to a-right the ball as Michael Meaole followed through on his kick attempt. But those precious few seconds that the placeholder used up in trying to put the ball in place for the kick cost them as several Leone players blocked the kick.
The ball bounced backwards and kept going backwards with Leone's Ilalio Sila making the recovery. With several teammates around him and the closest defender at least six yards back, Sila could have scored with the subsequent two-point or PAT attempt a determinant factor on a one-point edge by the Vikings on a failed try or either a tie game or one-point lead by Leone if successful.
However, a whistle was blown inadvertently after the ball was blocked, thus the play was ended with all other whistles blowing after that first one. By rule, when a whistle blows inadvertently, the ball goes to the team that last held it when the whistle sounded off.
Faga'itua held it last but on a blocked field goal on fourth down, so it was a turnover on downs with the Lions taking over at their own 15. Three plays later they punted the ball away, and the Vikings came right back to score to take a 14-point lead (28-14) with 5:42 remaining in the last quarter.
Some Leone fans blamed the referees for this, saying that this call cost them the game.
But despite this, it still was a tough game for both teams with turnovers, punts and great defensive play. Faga'itua held the edge in takeaways with four (recovering three fumbles and making one interception) while the Lions had three (recovering two fumbles and one interception).
The Vikings also won the points off of turnovers edge by scoring 21 from three takeaways while Leone only had 8 points off of one turnover.
William Chan Kau fumbled twice in the game for the Vikings, with his first one coming on their first possession of the match turning into a Leone score five plays later on a six-yard touchdown run by Beck Coulter with 5:37 remaining in the opening period.
A five-yard penalty against the Lions for a false start on the two-point conversion attempt did not faze Leone as Sila completed a pass to Ryan Taifane to give them an 8-0 lead.
A series of turnovers came one after the other a possession later as the Lions coughed up the ball to Faga'itua, then got it right back on Chan Kau's second fumble a play later, only to give it away again when quarterback Panapa Lolo was sacked with the ball coming loose and Faga'itua recovering it.
Faga'itua did not shy away from giving Chan Kau the ball even after two fumbles on this next possession as they kept going to him to move the ball and then finishing off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run by the game's most valuable player, Atimua Migi.
The Vikings had a scoring opportunity on their first play of the possession to waste as they pitched out to Chan Kau for a run to the left, but instead he stepped back and attempted a pass to a wide-open Travis Silafau downfield.
Chan Kau overthrew his receiver, so the Vikings decided to stick with what they do best: run the ball. On the next two plays, Chan Kau took it for 10 and 13 yards, respectively, and then Migi gave him a breather by running it for two yards. Chan Kau ran again with a trap inside for 10 more yards, followed by a seven-yard gain by Migi up the middle.
Five more yards were tacked on after the run from the 10 to Leone's five because the Lions were penalized for a leading-with-the-helmet penalty, and three plays later Migi scored their first touchdown. Meaole kicked the PAT to make it 8-7 in favor of the Lions with 7:59 left to play in the second.
Faga'itua got a huge break on the ensuing kickoff after the Lions were flagged for playing offside. The Vikings had tried a short kick but it backfired when the Lions recovered it and returned it to inside Faga'itua's 40.
The Vikings opted to re-kick, and they kicked it to deep inside Leone territory. Taisi Ualesi caught the ball inside the 10 and then was slowed down by two defenders. He was still moving forward, but he had exposed the ball, thus allowing Michael Anthony Leutele to strip the ball loose.
Leutele recovered it and ran it back but was tackled at the Lions' three. A play later, Eldon Maui'a came from his receiver's position to receive the handoff on an inside trap but was met at the one by Leone's Wayne Saumalu. But instead of falling down, Maui'a twisted away from Saumalu's grasp to fall into the end zone for the go-ahead score just 33 seconds after their first touchdown. Meaole kicked the PAT for a 14-8 Faga'itua lead that they never relinquished.
The Vikings had two more chances in the second quarter to score but a 40-yard field goal attempt by Ieti Ieti was just outside of the left goal post in a kick that had the distance and height.
They also recovered a fumble at Leone's 38 but squandered that away with an interception a play later, so they went into the half up by six, 14-8.
Three possessions into the third quarter and Leone turned the ball over again on an interception by Taulafoga Vaina on a pass from Lolo intended for Coulter.
The subsequent possession by the Vikings was their third score off of a turnover, also a rushing touchdown, this time by quarterback Joey Iosefa. Migi and Chan Kau took carried the Vikings on their backs during this possession with Iosefa running an option with Maui'a. Iosefa froze Saumalu by faking a toss to Maui'a, then cut back tot he inside to score from 11 yards out. The Meaole PAT made it 21-8 with 2:49 remaining to play in the third.
It took the Lions only three plays to replay with a score of their own as Afasene Tasi took an option from Coulter, ran towards the sideline and then won a footrace with the last two defenders for a 46-yard run 32 seconds after the Vikings' last score.
Sila helped the drive along with a long return that started inside their territory and taking it to Faga'itua's 20. However, a holding call against the Lions at the 50 brought the ball back to the Lions' 40, and they lost five more yards before they could get off the first play of their possession.
Lolo, playing quarterback, overthrew Tasi on a halfback screen but then made up for it on the next play with a 19-yard run and a first down on 2nd and 15. Lolo was taken out of the game after this play to take a breather with Coulter lining up behind center.
The attempt for two was stopped by the Vikings to maintain their seven-point lead, 21-14, with 2:17 to play in period.
Two possessions later the Vikings scored their last touchdown of the game with Migi capping off a seven play, 35-yard scoring drive with a six-yard touchdown run with 5:42 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Faga'itua started from Leone's 35 after Leone was hit with a 15-yard, personal foul penalty during the punt return. Meaole's final PAT attempt made it 28-14.
Leone answered on the ensuing possession with an 8-play, 65-yard scoring drive that was finished off by Lolo scoring from inches away.
Lolo started it off with a 15-yard run on the first play, but they regressed on the next when Tasi was stopped for a loss of three yards. A false start on the Lions sent them back five, but they marched forward 15 yards because Faga'itua was hit with a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
Lolo moved the ball forward again with a run of 13 yards, then he brushed off two defenders, one after the other, in the backfield to avoid a sack and run for nine more yards.
He went out for a break and Coulter stepped in behind center, and he completed a 24-yard strike to Ualesi to set up Lolo's score two plays later.
Leone went for two and failed on a pass attempt, but the Vikings were cited for holding on the play, so on the re-play the Lions sent out Fa'anati Uti to kick the PAT, which he did, with only 2:12 left to play.
The Lions tried for an onside kick but were hit with a kicking infraction when the ball went out at the 50, and Faga'itua opted to start from there on what turned out to be the game's last possession as they eventually ran out the clock with four straight runs by Migi, a delay of game penalty and two knees by Iosefa.
Migi ran for three yards on the first play and then they were hit with the delay of game penalty, moving them back five yards, but Migi ate up seven more on his next carry to set up a 3rd and five situation. Leone used up their second timeout of the half only to see Migi gain nine on his next carry for a first down and a new set of downs for Faga'itua with 42.8 seconds to play.That new set of downs eventually finished off the game for Faga'itua to earn their eight ASHSAA football title.