It may surprise some fans, but there are people on Oahu who never really want to see a great Division-II football game.
Sometimes it’s just the label that turns them off. Other times, it’s just circumstance. Out of sight, out of mind.
Nanakuli and Pearl City on Friday night — instant classic. The Golden Hawks rallied from 14 points down for a 28-21 win, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with less than 3 minutes left. Still, Pearl City had a nice drive into Nanakuli territory before an unexpected — and rare — turnover by stellar quarterback Jordan Taamu with 31 seconds to play.
Until then, Pearl City was all that, a tremendous offensive machine with a poised quarterback, a compact, powerful running back (Dominic Maneafaiga) and some speedy wideouts who get plenty of work deep downfield.
The Chargers had the game under control with a 21-7 lead by halftime. Nanakuli, maybe a wee bit anxious and tense on homecoming night, had already fumbled away two golden opportunities in Pearl City territory.
But the Golden Hawks didn’t panic. Coach Keala Watson stuck to the game plan. If anything, he said, his squad needed to simply execute the blueprint. The offense kept at its no-huddle, hurry-up pace. The defense began to squeeze the interior.
Nanakuli running back Makaila Haina-Horswill, who had one of his team’s first-half fumbles, settled down and became a workhorse. Seeing the statistics of playmakers like Haina-Horswill and his quarterback, Kale Kanehailua, that’s one thing. But seeing what they did under duress, it was outstanding. I never got to see legendary Golden Hawks RB Clayton Mahuka play in high school aside from some TV highlights, but Haina-Horswill’s late-game explosiveness was stunning. Maybe not the same kind of state-track champ speed that Mahuka had back in the day, but impressive, no questions asked.
Haina-Horswill grinded out three TD runs in the second half, and two roughing-the-passer calls on Pearl City on a crucial fourth quarter drive allowed the Hawks to tie the game. Pretty much anything that could go wrong for the visiting Chargers did.
Kanehailua was unflappable. Didn’t throw a pick, caught a TD pass on a trick play and targeted seven different teammates. His favorite target, Isain Wong, finished with six receptions for 62 yards.
Nanakuli pass catchers (targets), chronological order of pass attempts
• Clifford Cunningham: 2 receptions, 24 yards (six targets)
• Wong: 6-62 (eight targets)
• Luke Luna-Luuloa: 0-0 (one target)
• Keanu Momoa: 4-32 (seven targets)
• Kanehailua: 1-13 (one target)
• Louis Hulama: 1-16 (one target)
• Haina-Horswill: 1-14 (one target)
Note: Nanakuli had 29 pass attempts as a team. I’m missing five targets that I’ll catch up to when I get a look at the game video.
Pearl City’s offensive machinery had a wrench thrown into it, but it’s still regular season and Coach Robin Kami and his staff have time to work out any kinks.
“We’ll keep our heads up high. There’s still two games left (before the playoffs). As coaches, we’ll make sure the guys bounce back. That’s part of the game,” he said.
Coming into the game, the Chargers had scored 34 on Roosevelt, 34 on Waialua, 46 on Kaimuki and 34 on Radford. Nanakuli’s Randy Manewa, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior linebacker, was a key to their pass rush. He finished with 1.5 sacks, as did lineman Torae Redd (5-10, 181). Manewa also recovered a fumble.
Penalties were another factor. Nanakuli finished with eight yellow flags for 72 yards lost. Pearl City had 16 penalties for 152 yards.
Officials caught a lot of things, but that didn’t seem to help Nanakuli’s elite lineman, Lyle Tuiloma. He was sidelined for a short spell after taking one for the team.
“The guy grabbed my man jewels. That took a couple of plays. I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” said Tuiloma, a 6-3, 284-pound senior.
He kept at it on both sides of the ball, a stalwart protector at left tackle on offense. Then came the second half, when he wound up limping off the field at the end of a Pearl City drive.
“I got double-teamed and a third guy came to chop my leg. I stopped the running back,” said Tuiloma, who is a commit to Colorado. “I gotta watch for that.”
Nanakuli (6-0, 6-0 OIA D-II) will meet Radford next weekend at Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium, then close the regular season against Kalani at Kaiser Stadium.
Pearl City (5-1, 5-1) hosts Kalani and Kalaheo in its final two games before the playoffs.
At this point, Nanakuli has a playoff berth clinched. Kalaheo (2-4), Roosevelt (2-5), Kaimuki (1-5) and Anuenue (0-7) are mathematically eliminated Pearl City (5-1) has also clinched a berth; by beating Waialua earlier in the season, the Chargers own the tiebreaker in a worst-case scenario — losing their final two games and Waialua winning its last two.
Radford (5-1) and Kalani (4-2) are close to sealing berths. Pearl City and Radford need to win one game to clinch it. One of Radford’s last two games is against Waialua.
Kalani (4-2) has a one-game lead over Waialua (3-3), but the Falcons own the tiebreaker (Kalani beat Waialua 32-0 in the season opener). Waialua needs 1) Kalani to lose two in a row., and 2) wins over Anuenue and Radford.
Right now, though, Nanakuli has that magical feeling. The turnout for homecoming was massive. Strong community support. Going to a game there is always enjoyable. Parking lot literally next to the ticket booth, step down into the bleachers. Easy access concession stand and restrooms. For years, Nanakuli’s talent often went elsewhere, whether it was Waianae or the new guys down the road (Kapolei). But with the school offering a lot more Advanced Placement courses, there’s really no reason to go anywhere else. And there’s every reason for a born-and-raised Nanakuli guy to stay home, represent and get the black and gold back to the state tournament.
Somewhere out there, Mahuka must be smiling.