Sharks champs in 7- 6 thriller
The American Samoa High School Athletics Association (ASHSAA) closed off its 2017-18 football season last Saturday morning, with a championship game at the Veterans Memorial Stadium where the Blue Empire claimed this year's varsity championship title, after defeating the Warrior Nation by one point, 7- 6.
Coverage of ASHSAA football is sponsored by Congresswoman Aumua Amata.
Deja vu was the name of the game on Saturday.
In 2009, the last time Samoana High School won the ASHSAA varsity football title, it was a player from Fagaalu — BJ Misi — who scored the winning field goal against Tafuna High School. Fast forward 8 years later, and it’s another Fagaalu kid, who kicks the winning field goal against Tafuna.
Elliot Lelei — Samoana’s star wide receiver — led the way for the Sharks, by not only scoring Samoana’s only touchdown of the game, but also kicking the winning field goal that clinched the title.
The main factor in the "Rise of the Blue Empire" is the leadership of head coach Pati Pati who took over Samoana’s football program three years ago, and established an unstoppable rhythm over the years that has now led to this year's championships.
Congratulations also goes out to not only the head coach and his team, but to Samoana HS principal Tupa’i Rod Atafua, who in his first year as SHS principal is celebrating having both the JV and varsity football division championship titles in the house.
THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Samoana 7 — Tafuna 6
It was the battle of the defenses, as both defensive squads gave their best performance of the season. Samoana opted to receive the opening kick off to start the match, but they were stopped by the Warriors before they reached the red zone.
Quarterback Tala Sufia, who played for the first time in three weeks, always had a sharp passing game but he just couldn’t pull the trigger, as Samoana’s pass coverage was on point from the opening quarter of the match.
It wasn’t until a Tafuna third down from midfield that Sufia looked far downfield to fire a long one to Pulenu’u Fono; but that pass was intercepted by Elliot Lelei. The play showed Sufia that the Sharks defense came to play.
Lelei, Samoana’s star wide receiver, was moved to safety since the playoff game two weeks ago against Faga’itua. He showed up big time for Samoana’s defense last Saturday. He nearly recorded his second pick in the second quarter of the game, but was bobbled out of bounds after a match up against Pene Fa’avae.
It wasn’t until the final minutes of the first half that the Warriors were able to pound in the opening score of the match.
2:06 remaining in the first half, and Sufia opts to tuck and run the ball in from the one-yard line for the opening touchdown of the game, on a first down and goal situation for the Warriors.
The two point conversion was an inside hand off to Ben Tuimaseve who was stopped immediately at the line of scrimmage by Kidman Sea to deny the Warriors extra point.
The Warriors led 6-0.
As the Warrior Nation roared in celebration of their lead, the Sharks silenced Tafuna’s sidelines after Lelei clearly beat his coverage in plain sight and scored the tying touchdown.
Just after Tafuna scored, they kicked the ball off to Samoana, and it was received by Moses Michael Samia to spot Samoana a first down on their own 30-yard line.
There was a fake hand off to David Mikaele, as Anthony Feala dropped back and charged a long pass out to Lelei, who outran his defender and stormed towards the sidelines to make a perfect connection with Feala’s pass, as Lelei hauled in Samoana’s first touchdown of the game to tie things up at six a piece.
During the extra point conversion, it was an obvious field goal situation for the Sharks as head coach Pati Pati called Lelei in for the sure field goal, that gave the Sharks the 7-6 lead going into halftime.
During the second half, it was a showdown of the defenses, as offensive units were shut down to being scoreless.
Sufia and the Warriors fought to the last second.
It was a Tafuna 4th and long from midfield, with less than 10 seconds remaining on the clock, and Sufia has already scrambled out of the pocket desperately looking for a target.
With a lot of time to spare, Sufia fired a dangerous pass to two of his receivers. The pass was tipped by Samoana’s Kalisi Lotulelei, and it fell right into the hands of Tafuna’s Frank Mulipola who secured the catch and side stepped his way towards the end zone.
But Lelei stormed in with the touchdown-saving-tackle that stopped Mulipola at the 3-yard line as the clock hit zero.
2017-18 ASHSAA FOOTBALL AWARDS
Most Valuable Player — Elliot Lelei (#7) Samoana High School
Offensive Player of the Game — Moses Samia (#1) Samoana High School
Defensive Player of the Game — Kidman Sea (#33) Samoana High School