One of the more memorable plays for No. 5 Campbell on Saturday night in Ewa Beach was the second-to-last snap for the Sabers in a 31-21 loss to No. 3 Punahou.
Let’s set the stage.
A mighty comeback and upset bid was all but over, but still Campbell persisted and did not throw in the towel. The Sabers had cut it to 24-21 with 4:09 left.
Had they then gotten a stop on the Buffanblu’s next possession, a comeback was well within reach. But Punahou (7-1, 5-1 ILH Open) spoiled that idea, using up most of the clock and getting in the end zone for a touchdown with 27 ticks to go.
So close. Time running out. Ten points is possible, but hardly likely.
And then, whoosh … that aforementioned second-to-last snap.
On second down from the 43, Campbell quarterback Blaine Hipa (301 yards passing) hit the athletic Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala with a short pass. With a few blockers in front of him, Mokiao-Atimalala put his head down and sprinted, like a soldier ordered to run straight ahead in a minefield. No Punahou tacklers were within 5 yards of him, but about three of them started to converge. He slipped through and got free of Punahou’s bodies and arms and legs. For a few steps, no one was ahead of him, but then Alaka’i Gilman — the highly regarded recruit headed to Washington State — caught him from behind and put him down at the 15.
There was one second remaining and Campbell’s last play — from the 45 after two 15-yard penalties — was an incomplete pass. But the Sabers learned a few things.
>> They can hang with the big boys in the ILH like Punahou, the very team that nearly knocked off No. 1 Saint Louis.
>> Things could have turned out quite differently had they not fumbled twice in the first half, leading to 10 Punahou points. Those 10 points were the eventual difference.
>> That never-say-die attitude, as exemplified by Mokiao-Atimalala, may make a real difference in the future.
“Bigger things can come,” rugged Campbell linebacker Tyrese Tafai said. “We’re about to practice really hard in this coming (bye) week. We’re about to shock the state when we come back hard. This (10-point loss) is something slight, but we’ll be back.”
Added Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, Tamatoa’s brother who caught eight passes for 142 yards but did not score: “We just gotta go back to the drawing board and just get better. I mean we had too many turnovers and that’s what cost us the game. We have so much faith in us. We’ve got this. We’re not worried. This (loss) doesn’t count toward the season. We’re looking forward to playing (Kamehameha and then) Kahuku or Mililani for the OIA championship and we’re just focusing on that.”
The Sabers (4-4, 3-2 OIA Open) have a bye week before facing the Warriors on Oct. 12 in the regular-season finale.
It will give them a chance to heal any nagging injuries and really get ready for what could be another intense battle against an ILH foe. That game should also help prepare them for the OIA playoffs, where a first-round game against Kahuku, Farrington or Mililani awaits.
Campbell is out to prove it’s a better team than it was in early-season losses to Mililani (30-26) and Kahuku (35-7).
“We’re coming to work and we’ll be prepared for Kamehameha,” Tafai said.
Expect the Sabers to play with the same heart Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala showed on that second-to-last play, minefield be damned.
“He was that close,” Campbell coach Darren Johnson said. “But Alakai (Gilman) is that kind of player.”
Johnson gave it the old college try to sway perception about those two penalties on that play.
“Their guy hit our guy and we got a penalty,” he said. “He laid the hat on our guy.”
That’s Johnson, though, not giving up until the final whistle — and beyond.
“We should have had the win,” he added. “We came here to win. We’re disappointed that we didn’t get the win. They (the Buffanblu) played good. We had some mistakes that we gotta fix. They’re a good team and it was a good game. We gave everybody something to watch tonight. We’ll take everything to heart and try to get better. It’s a tough schedule and we know what’s ahead. We’ve got to take care of business.”