In a game in which Moanalua outgained its opponent 408 total yards to 73, Na Menehune found themselves trailing Castle by two points with less than three minutes to go.
And that wasn’t even their biggest worry.
Moanalua coach Savai’i Eselu found himself without an available player who had practiced a single rep at quarterback leading up to the season.
Starter Nick Au, who threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns, was knocked out of the game after taking a hit following an interception that was returned for a touchdown — the fourth of the game overall and third by a Castle player.
Senior receiver Ezra Grace, who caught seven passes for 109 yards, was forced to take the rest of the snaps with two other quarterbacks unavailable to play.
Grace tried to run out the clock, but a bad snap on a punt was recovered by Castle’s Braxton Wilcox in the end zone, and suddenly the Knights found themselves in front 36-34.
Moanalua had more than 70 yards to go to retake the lead. A field goal was out of the equation because Moanalua forgot to bring a kicking tee. Grace was tasked with trying to lead a two-minute drive to win the game, but just getting the right play off was tough.
Seconds ticked off the clock. Quickly it became fourth down. Castle called timeout, giving Eselu time to draw up one final play.
That play was a perfectly executed hook-and-ladder play with Grace hitting Makana Spencer for a short gain. As the defense swarmed in to make the play, Spencer pitched the ball to linebacker Micah Kim, who took off down the Moanalua sideline. It looked like a Castle player had an angle, but Kim burst past the last line of defense and went 67 yards for the game-winning score to give Na Menehune a thrilling 40-36 victory at the Knights’ field to open Division I play in the OIA-ILH football alliance.
“That was an answered prayer,” Eselu said. “In football you have a plan A, plan B, plan C, but you never think you’ll get to plan D and we were at plan W. It was all kinds of bad things.”
Grace, who had to make the throw to Spencer to start the play, had no quarterback experience. Kim, who had three of Moanalua’s seven sacks on defense, said he had worked on the hook-and-ladder play while playing junior varsity.
“That was our star play ever since I was on JV,” Kim said. “Coach said he needed me so he called my name and I was ready to deliver.”
It saved Na Menehune from what would have been a tough loss. Despite outplaying the Knights, Moanalua gave up 28 points on defense and special teams.
Castle senior Senituli Punivai scored three touchdowns and had three interceptions — all in the first half.
Au completed 69 percent of his throws (38-for-55) but couldn’t avoid the major mistake. One interception was a deflection off the receiver’s hands and another came on a forced throw on fourth down, but Au also had two picks thrown right at the defender.
His injury status moving forward is now the big concern for Moanalua, which gets Aiea on Friday in its home opener. Eselu said it was either a finger or wrist that was bothering Au.
“Welcome to OIA football,” Eselu said. “It was one of those wild nights.”
Tupu Alualu added three sacks for the Moanalua defense and four receivers had at least seven receptions. Javon Monico led all players with 127 receiving yards.