Coach John Hao was frustrated by Castle’s winless start to the season entering Saturday night’s home matchup against Aiea. He believed the team hadn’t played anywhere near its potential.
After the Knights’ 26-16 win over Na Alii for win No. 1 of the young season, Hao still wasn’t satisfied.
“It’s not a weight off the shoulder but it feels good to head in the right direction,” he said. “We had an opportunity against Kapolei, and then when we played Waipahu there was a lot of miscommunication.
“We spent a lot of the last two weeks trying to clean things up. Our defense played well today and actually kept us in the game.”
The Knights opened the season with a 40-24 loss to current No. 8 Kapolei on Aug. 2 and then a 49-28 defeat to Waipahu on Aug. 9. During last week’s bye, the team practiced installing its elephant package with running back Chazz Tom in a similar position to when Senituli Punivai nearly led the Knights to an OIA title last season.
The difference this season, Hao says, is that the elephant package is used only to enhance the run game and not take over the team’s offensive identity. This year’s Knights still want to throw the ball, as evidenced by Kila Kaio’s 212 yards on 12-for-26 passing against Aiea.
“It was just about eating the clock. We just practiced it this week,” Hao said. “You could see a lot of miscommunication.
“Offensively, just moving the chains. Getting the receivers and the quarterbacks on the same page.”
Castle got on the board first when Cheydon Costa’s opening kickoff was recovered at the Aiea 14, which was followed by a touchdown pass from Kaio to AJ Igafo on the Knights’ first offensive play.
Aiea took a 10-6 led into the break after Tyla Mane’s 39-yard field goal late in the first quarter and Javon Miller’s 24-yard rushing touchdown with 5:08 left in the first half.
The second period was a back-and-fourth affair, started by Tom’s first rushing touchdown of the day from two yards out. Na Alii took the lead back when Miller, who finished with a game-high 132 yards on 20 carries, ran for a 36-yard touchdown.
Tom’s second rushing score of the day, this time from 3 yards out, came with 7:50 remaining in the fourth. He finished with a team-high 33 rushing yards on 15 carries.
“It felt really good. The team got hyped up to push forward and play,” he said. “It’s fun. I get to run the ball more and learn more as I run, and see more.”
Costa turned the tide again with another kickoff that had enough hangtime to get recovered by the Knights. Kaio hit Kala Matthews from 14 yards out for the game’s last score with 4:56 yards left.
“It’s always a big thing. Because Cheydon’s such a great kicker, it’s not like they can bring guys up and let it be,” Hao said. “Cheydon can get it to the 2- or 3-yard line and get it pretty close. Just gonna play to the return men and where they were at. It’s always a help when we get the ball back. We gotta capitalize on that.”
The game was progressing at a relatively smooth pace until Aiea linebacker Grant Suka went down after intercepting Kaio early in the fourth quarter. Igafo’s helmet collided with Suka’s knee, and Suka was down immediately. He was eventually taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Both teams had to collect themselves and warm up after a delay of approximately 20 minutes.
“They felt bad, you know? They really did,” Hao said. “AJ Igafo was the one who hit the guy and he went to apologize to him. (Igafo) was in tears. It was just a matter of getting our guys to keep focused.”
With a win under their belts, the slate doesn’t get any easier for the Knights, who still have Star-Advertiser Top 10 teams in Damien, Leilehua and Moanalua among their final six regular season games. The Monarchs are first on Sept 6.
“From here on out, it only gets tougher,” Hao said.