Kapolei recovers in vigorous defensive slugfest

Kapolei's Aizak Naulu (94) and Johnny Morrison (96) teamed up to bring down Campbell quarterback Kawika Ulufale during Friday  night's game. The Hurricanes rallied back from a 7-3 deficit to defeat the Sabers 16-7. Jay Metzger / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Kapolei’s Aizak Naulu (94) and Johnny Morrison (96) teamed up to bring down Campbell quarterback Kawika Ulufale during Friday night’s game. The Hurricanes rallied back from a 7-3 deficit to defeat the Sabers 16-7. Jay Metzger / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Close-to-the-vest, defensively played football is a rarity these days.

So folks who headed west to see Campbell at Kapolei on Friday were treated to an old-school escapade in which the Hurricanes fought back for a 16-7 win to reach the .500 mark.

Offenses be damned. This one was like a 1-0 baseball game won in the bottom of the ninth.

Only 3 points were electronically zapped on to the scoreboard (and scoreboards are known for their 76-53 and 90-0 results lately) by the end of three quarters, and that was because Beau Meyer booted a 23-yard field goal on No. 10 Kapolei’s first possession.

This next section of the story may be the most boring prose you’ve ever seen, but it tells the tale. It wasn’t a punt-fest. The two teams moved the ball, but were eventually stuffed most of the time.

Kapolei’s 11 possessions and how they ended:
>> 1. field goal
>> 2. interception
>> 3. downs
>> 4. punt
>> 5. downs
>> 6. halftime
>> 7. punt
>> 8. interception
>> 9. punt
>> 10. touchdown
>> 11. touchdown

Campbell’s 11 possessions and how they ended:
>> 1. punt
>> 2. downs
>> 3. interception
>> 4. punt
>> 5. downs
>> 6. punt
>> 7. punt
>> 8. touchdown
>> 9. interception
>> 10. downs
>> 11. interception

Head coach Darren Hernandez of the Hurricanes (3-3, 2-3 Oahu Interscholastic Association Blue) said he loves defensive battles, especially if his team ends up on top, so he got his wish.

“Before this game, I would have said we’ve improved every game,” he said. “(Tonight), we stalled a little on offense, but I’d say we got better on defense.”

Linebackers Timmy Choi, Dillon Pakele (tackle for loss) and Omar Mareko, defensive linemen Johnny Morrison (sack, tackle for loss), Junior Tuia (sack), Aizak Naulu (sack) and Dylan Naehu (sack), and defensive back Jonathan Liana (interception) had huge games for Kapolei.

But two players had even bigger games on defense for the Hurricanes.

Jay Amina‘s interception and 19-yard return set up Leighton Rosa‘s 1-yard touchdown run that gave Kapolei the lead for good with 4:42 to go in the game.

With 1:12 left, Amina batted down a fourth-down pass on Campbell’s second-to-last possession. It led to Rocky Savea‘s 13-yard touchdown reception. Savea, who had a 10-yard sack on the Sabers’ penultimate possession, came up with an interception of his own just before time ran out.

So, as the timeline goes, Savea’s huge plays (sack, touchdown, interception) came, in order — with less than 2 minutes to go, with 24 seconds left, and as the final 2 seconds ticked away.

Hernandez said Kapolei’s defense allowed one big play, and that play almost led to disaster. Sabers backup quarterback Siaosi Soto‘s screen pass to Noah Esprecion covered 65 yards at the end of the third quarter and it led to starting QB Kawika Ulufale‘s 10-yard fade route touchdown pass to 6-foot-3 wide receiver Markus Ramos early in the fourth.

“Esprecion made the only play that really hurt us and that’s the reason they scored,” Hernandez said. “Other than that, we did a great job on defense. And Campbell did a great job on defense against us. They pressured us and had a bunch of sacks. And they took away our best receiver. Jaymin Sarono had 15 catches for 156 yards (against Moanalua) last week. He was our top receiver tonight, but only had (four receptions for 73 yards).

“It was a rivalry game. When we play Campbell, it’s always a street fight, always close.”

And now this is the part of the saga that we talk about freshman quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who has surpassed and just misseed the 400-yard passing mark in his previous starts. This time: 265 yards.

“In a way, he is the victim of his own success,” Hernandez said about Tagovailoa. “He is so mature beyond his years, and he throws for (265 yards) and people will say he didn’t do what he usually does.”

It’s also time to interject the big-time performance put in by the Campbell defense. Maunakea Matthews-Medeiros, Tyson Tafai and Jeremiah Leanio had sacks and Austin Fuga and Keani Pacheco had interceptions. Defensive back Aaron Bunting also had a big game for the Sabers. He had a big swat of a pass that Pacheco eventually picked off.

There were no fumbles lost in the game.

“Campbell is the best 0-5 team in the state,” Hernandez said about the Sabers, who are also 0-4 in the OIA Blue.

Campbell head coach Amosa Amosa said his defensive players “played their hearts out” in only allowing 3 points until 4:42 remained.

But it doesn’t get much easier for the Sabers, if at all. They finish with Aiea (1-4, 1-3), Moanalua (2-3 1-3) and No. 6 Farrington (4-0, 3-0).

Kapolei is off next week and closes with games against Farrington and Aiea.

“We’re angling for third place (in the Blue), and that’s the best we can do (Kailua is 4-0 in the Blue, followed by Farrington and Mililani both at 3-0 in the division),” Hernandez said. ” Our three losses are to three undefeated teams, Mililani, Kahuku and Kailua.

“This win (and last week’s win over Moanalua) was good for us. Losing three in a row before that was not a fun feeling.”


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