Moving the football wasn’t a problem for the West Eagles on Friday night – except on fourth down.
It was a glitch that short-circuited the offense and ultimately doomed the Alaskans in a 33-26 loss to Aiea under the lights in Honolulu, Hawaii.
West overcame a 12-point, second-quarter deficit to take a one-point lead early in the third quarter but went 0-for-5 on fourth down in the second half to suffer its first loss of the season.
It was the kind of result that will have the Eagles (3-1) thinking woulda, coulda, shoulda on their flight back to Anchorage.
West quarterback Azariah Atonio ran and threw for a touchdown, running back Davis Iloilo rushed for two scores and defensive end Jordan Muasau was a one-man wrecking crew.
Muasau was among the Cook Inlet Conference leaders in tackles last season and Friday was a man among boys as the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder threw would-be blockers aside on his way to four TFLs and double-digit stops.
He clogged the interior, took away the edge and delivered big hits on Aiea’s burly, 220-pound-plus back. Muasau was the man.
Aiea’s other back broke off a 49-yard scoring run to put the Hawaiians ahead 33-20 with 3:02 left.
But after Muasau and Co. made a stop on third down to force a punt and give the Eagles the ball back, West gave itself a chance in the closing moments after scoring with 20 seconds left and then recovering the ensuing onside kick.
In the end, though, Aiea (1-3) held on to collect its first win of the season. The Na Alii this year have moved up the Open division in Hawaii, the state’s premier league.
Alaska still holds a 7-5-1 advantage in the series with the 808 state since 1991.
West has many players with family ties to Hawaii and two assistant coaches who used to be on staff at Aiea.
The Eagles were shown Aloha before the game but once it started, the home team came out swinging against the visitors from The Last Frontier.
Aiea built a 19-7 lead late in the first half on the strength of two TDs, safety, field goal and fake punt first down.
West’s first TD came on a 2-yard run by Iloilo. The Eagles struck again at the end of the first half on Atonio’s beautiful over-the-shoulder throw to Aaron Hampton in the corner of the end zone from 26 yards out with 24 seconds left before halftime.
West running back Mason Tanoa did much of the heavy lifting on that scoring drive that pulled the Eagles within 19-14.
Tanoa and Iloilo were effective as a 1-2 punch and combined for 150 yards in the second half, chewing up yards and punishing the defense in the spread offense.
West kicked off to start the second half but got the ball right back on an interception in Aiea territory.
Atonio hit Hampton on a short pass that the all-star wide receiver turned into a 20-yard gain with a little shake and bake. On the next play, Iloilo punched it in from the 5-yard-line to give West the lead at 20-19. The two-point conversion failed.
Aiea answered right away, using a big pass play to set up 4-yard scoring run to go up 26-20.
That’s when West’s offense stalled on fourth down, failing to move the sticks five times on four passes and one run.
In the third quarter, West moved the ball to the Aiea 5 only to get a holding call followed by three consecutive incomplete passes to turn it over on downs.
In the fourth quarter, Jarel Tom’s 31-yard kickoff return followed by Atonio’s 26-yard pass play to Hampton put the Eagles at the Aiea 28. But West shot itself in the foot after giving up a sack followed by three straight incompletions.
That was the story of the second half.
It spoiled the fine play of Muasau and a ground-and-pound running attack. In the second half alone, Iloilo had 82 yards on eight carries and Tanoa had 68 yards on 14 carries.
Atonio threw for 102 yards across the final two quarters, including 46 to Hampton. Atonio ran in an 11-yard scoring run with 20 seconds left to pull West within 33-26 after the kick missed.
West kicker Calin Crowley moneyed the onside squib that was recovered by Ariel Sanchez at midfield to give the Eagles a slim chance. But a Hail Mary pass on the final play was intercepted at the goal line to end the game.