Kailua was in full control of its destiny entering its senior night contest with Castle. After a 26-21 come-from-behind win over the Knights, the Surfriders are now playoff bound.
The road to get one of the four spots in the OIA Division I playoffs wasn’t easy, especially on Saturday night. The Surfriders had to rally from a 21-6 deficit in the second quarter and held the Knights without a point twice in the fourth quarter deep in their own territory.
The hard-fought nature of the game was expected for Kailua coach Joesph Wong, who was certainly relieved afterwards.
“We wouldn’t have it any other way. Myself and (Castle) coach John (Hao), we texted each other to have a good showing tonight,” Wong said. “It’s always going to be like that with Castle and Kailua. It’s just an all-out team effort.”
Both sides scored touchdowns on their opening drives. Koali’i Kohatsu hauled in a 16-yard TD pass from quarterback Cameron Friel with 10:04 remaining in the first quarter, while Castle responded with Kala Matthews’ 1-yard rush with 6:23 to go in the opening period.
Castle then extended its lead after two costly Kailua mistakes. A loss of 28 yards on a high snap killed Kailua’s next drive. The Surfriders had to punt from their own end zone. The Knights took advantage of the field position with Matthews’ second 1-yard rushing touchdown of the night.
Then after a muffed punt return, Matthews took in his third score from 14 yards out with 7:31 left in the second quarter.
The quick exchange of scores in the first quarter initially gave the game a shootout feel, but the half would prove to be all about Matthews. The wide receiver- turned-wildcat quarterback rushed for 127 yards in the first half, with all 17 attempts coming via direct snap.
Kailua rolled the dice and went for it on fourth-and-goal with 21 seconds left in the half, and the Surfriders were rewarded for their boldness when Friel hit Samson Rasay for a 5-yard score to cut the deficit to 21-12 heading into the break.
“All over the place (emotionally). Just thankful that we came out on top,” Rasay said. “Just playing Kailua football. Just playing for this team. We’ve been working hard all week. Glad it all paid off in the end.”
Kailua quickly made it their game in the second half. The Surfriders cut the lead to 21-19 after Raynen Ho-Mook reeled in an 18-yard touchdown from Friel. On Castle’s next possession, linebacker Hastings Yee Hoy picked off Matthews to set up another Rasay touchdown, this time a 5-yard rush. It proved to be the game’s final score with 59 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Everybody was a part of the touchdowns. That touchdown was not all me. It was the team. Team effort,” Rasay said.
Castle came away empty in the fourth quarter, but the Knights had their chances. Friel threw his lone interception of the night to Justice Ching with 9:08 left in the fourth quarter, giving Castle the ball at midfield. The Knights turned the ball over on downs in the red zone.
“We were down 21-6 and they just clawed, stayed the course the whole way,” Wong said. “We made some adjustments after halftime. It wasn’t in our scheme, it was the technique we were using. They trusted it, we came back in the second half.”
Castle’s final opportunity was a golden one, as Kailua fumbled a punt on its own 23 with 1:33 left, but four consecutive incompletions sealed its fate. All the Surfriders had to do was take consecutive knees to run out the clock since the Knights were out of timeouts.
With the loss, the Knights are eliminated from OIA playoff contention, one year after appearing in the OIA Division I championship game at Aloha Stadium — a 32-3 loss to eventual 2018 HHSAA Division I champion Waipahu.
Kailua will be either the three or four seed in the four-team playoff depending on next week’s result. It will be its first appearance in the OIA playoffs under the new format instituted before the 2018 season.
“It’s good. We expect to be there every year. For these guys, it’s a credit to them for working hard in the offseason and throughout the season and just plugging away, and fighting through adversity like they did tonight,” Wong said.
“It feels amazing. The last time we played in the playoffs was during my sophomore year,” Rasay added. “Being able to be there again, I’m just out of words.”
Playoff ticket in hand, Wong refused to look ahead. The Surfriders close out the regular season Saturday at Waipahu. Wong also says one of the mantras of the team is to play each game like it’s their last, even if Saturday’s win proved that won’t be the case for now.
“Our motto is it doesn’t matter who we play, it matters how we play. We say that every day. It’s a constant echo for them and they did the ‘how,’” Wong said of his team’s effort on Friday night. “It’s exactly how we want them to play. Fight through adversity, come back, and that was awesome.”