By Randy Dela Cruz. Ho'okele Sports Editor
What looked to be just another Sunday in the park for the Wahine Koa women’s flag football team turned into an adventure of the unknown for many of the team’s players.
After going undefeated for four years, the Wahine Koa got beaten by the Wardawgs, 14-12, on March 16 in an Extreme Flag Football league matchup at Keehi Lagoon Park in Honolulu.
Both teams entered the showdown with league records of 4-0, but for Wahine Koa, which played as the Navy Sharks in their first two seasons, the loss was tough to swallow after years of perfection came to a crashing halt.
Many of the players from Wahine Koa are active-duty military or family members of the armed forces based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, while the Wardawgs are equally stocked with personnel affiliated with Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay.
“It happens to the best. You can’t win them all,” said Wahine Koa head coach August Young whose wife, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Adriana Tirado-Young, is a starting defensive back on the team. “We actually beat ourselves. We didn’t read what they were giving us on defense, which was a man-to-man coverage. I kind of picked up on it just a little bit too late. As a team, we know we lost together. We just couldn’t crack what they were doing.”
An omen for things to come may have been established early in the contest when Amilea Kulas, a Navy spouse, recorded a safety within the opening minutes to give the Wardawgs a 2-0 lead.
However, coming from behind for the first time this season didn’t appear to hamper the Wahine Koa attack as the team responded midway through the first half by moving 40 yards on three plays to take the lead at 6-2.
Quarterback Dana Hester came up with the big play on the short drive by picking up 38 yards on a keeper before retired
Army veteran Simone Davis broke the goal line on a two-yard plunge for the score. An interception by Wahine Koa defensive back Shardae Ingano ended the Wardawgs final drive in the first half to preserve the Koa’s four-point advantage going into halftime.
After both teams exchanged the football on downs to start off the second half, the Wardawgs got a huge boost from Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Lachandra Owhochokwo, Partrol Squadron 47, who returned a punt all the way to the Wahine Koa 20-yard line.
Working with a short field, Wardawgs quarterback Loretta Palmer, a Navy spouse, finally broke through the Wahine Koa defense by capping off a five-play drive on a one-yard keeper up the middle to put her team up by a score of 8-6.
“Talking at halftime, the first thing I said was our defense was playing great, but now we have to get our offense into the end zone,” said Wardawgs head coach Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Arthur Manning, 3rd Marine Regiment. “We stuck to our guns.
We knew what would work. We didn’t make any adjustments. We just changed mentality. Let’s get aggressive and run our plays.”
Immediately after Palmer put the team back out on top, the Wardawgs defense got the biggest play of the game when defensive back Amanda Pendarvis stepped in front of intended receiver Sandy Robinson in the flat and recorded a pick-six for a 14-6 lead.
“I was watching the quarterback’s eyes,” Pendarvis said. “I had to get it done. We needed a cushion. It was follow that first block and get into the end zone.”
The defense then followed up with a gutsy four-and-out stoppage after Ingano returned the kickoff to the Wardawgs 15-yard line.
Later, after Davis ran in for her second touchdown of the game to pull the Wahine Koa back to within two points on the final play of regulation, the Wardawgs sealed the win by stopping a two-point conversion attempt.
“From here, we just forget about it and moved on,” said Young about the loss. “The ride of being undefeated was good, but now it’s like the regular season is thrown out. We could lose next week and it don’t matter. But come playoffs, championship time, that’s when we know we really got to step it up and take no prisoners.”
Although the win was extremely exciting for Manning and his players, the head coach said that there’s still some unfinished business to take care of.
He said that in order to stay locked in and focused, he would make sure to keep the gals busy in practice. “First I’m going to work them hard in practice tomorrow because it keeps them humble,” he pointed out. “You can’t let attitudes inflate, but always remember to put work on the field. That’s what gets us wins. It’s not your attitude, not your personality or that you’re a great athlete. It’s because you put work in.”