Kawe Johnson has always had a knack for excellence.
He also had the clutch gene as a two-way standout at Kahuku, becoming the Star-Advertiser defensive player of the year as a senior.
On Saturday night, it was Johnson’s ability to analyze, and then communicate with his offensive unit at Campbell that showed that he hasn’t lost that gift. Now offensive coordinator at Campbell, Johnson called a timeout in the final minute and made a key adjustment. Because of Campbell’s clutch execution down the stretch, the No. 6 Sabers rallied past No. 4 Kahuku — Johnson’s alma mater — in a 28-27 thriller.
Instead of Johnson making brilliant plays on the field — or on the basketball court — it was sophomore wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala who was Mr. Clutch with his hands and feet. The transfer from Kapolei, along with teammates like Poki‘i Adkins-Kupukaa (four catches, 84 yards, TD), pulled ironman double duty for this pivotal game. He finished with game-highs of nine receptions for 147 yards.
Mokiao-Atimalala, a 6-foot-1 speedster, was also on the field playing defensive back as Kahuku went on an astounding 18-play drive to score a go-ahead touchdown with 50 seconds left. It was textbook, classic Kahuku ground-and-pound. It was an epic series that took 8 minutes off the clock. It should’ve been more than enough to tire out Campbell’s ironmen.
There was one glitch in Kahuku’s dramatic drive. An injury to its regular holder on the PAT meant that a backup was in place. The ball was mishandled on the snap, no kick, no point. It was, seemingly, a forgone conclusion with so little time left, and a normally stingy — and well-rested — Kahuku defensive unit taking the field.
So how on earth did Campbell, with platooning quarterback Krenston Kaipo at the controls, cover 80 yards in four snaps? The Sabers used their one remaining timeout along the way. But… how?
“When we got off the field for the kickoff, Coach Kawe told us to work the shorts,” Mokiao-Atimalala said. “Get as much yards as you can and get out of bounds, save the clock.”
Kahuku lined up three deep.
“Every day at practice, we’ve been working through this. Kaipo gave me confidence, and I have confidence in him, too. He told me to make the play, and I told him, I told my boys, I got you guys,” Mokiao-Atimalala said. “This win is for them.”
>> With little more than 40 seconds on the clock, Kaipo connected with Mokiao-Atimalala along the left sideline, and he fell out of bounds for a 21-yard gain to the Campbell 41.
>> Next snap, Kaipo went to Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala, Titus’ older brother, for a magnificent, diving 30-yard reception. Again, it was down the left sideline, perfect for the southpaw, Kaipo.
>> Kaipo’s next pass, intended for Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, fell incomplete. Timeout, Campbell.
That’s when Johnson made a crucial adjustment. But would his receivers be able to execute? Would Kaipo be able to sell it with his eyes?
“My brother and Poki‘i and Christian (Quiambao), I mean all of us are just threats, you know?” Titus Mokiao-Atimalala said. “We saw that they had a corner down on top of me and a safety over. Kawe just told my brother (Tamatoa) run a post so he could pull down the safety, just so I could go one on one. We tweaked it in the huddle. Kawe just made it up right there on the spot.”
It’s not a surprise that the foursome Campbell field in its four-wide shotgun attack is nearly unstoppable. But since roughly the midway point last season, coach Darren Johnson opted to utilize Adkins-Kupukaa on defense. That changed on Saturday as he he used his best athletes the same way Kahuku used his son, Kawe, on both sides of the ball en route to a state title.
So Kaipo set up, took a blast from the blitzing Red Raiders, and fired a strike down the left side. His spiral hit Titus Mokiao-Atimalala in stride at the pylon. A 29-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left.
All that was left — the PAT attempt by Jadon Arola. His kick was perfect, the Sabers took the lead for good, and Kahuku’s final two plays from scrimmage didn’t get past midfield.
It began up front with an O-line that permitted just two sacks against a fierce Kahuku front seven. It also began in the pocket, where Kaipo and Kaniela Kalaola bravely took massive hits as they delivered passes. The two combined to complete 17 passes in 26 attempts for 279 yards with no turnovers. Each QB threw a TD pass.
“I’m just proud of them. I believe that they did well. I’m just thankful for them,” Titus Mokiao-Atimalala said.
The win was crucial in the OIA Open Division standings. Kahuku dropped to 1-2 with its first back-to-back losses in the regular season since 1996. Campbell moved ahead into second place at 2-1.
With four teams qualifying for the playoffs, the top two will host semifinal games. Titus Mokiao-Atimalala doesn’t care where the Sabers play.
Campbell might end up hosting Kahuku in the playoffs.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I feel like we will come back and work harder. We going to have a bye week and watch film, study their plays more. Make our corrections on this game.”
Playing defense was, perhaps, not as fun as offense. For Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, it was rewarding in victory.
“Me, my brother, Poki‘i and Peter (Manuma), we all talked about it before the game. We told each other that we’re going to have to hydrate. We’re going to have to stretch extra,” he said.
Titus Mokiao-Atimalala got a lot of instruction from his linebackers. With Tyrese Tafai (shoulder) out for the season, Campbell took another blow when Jeremiah Tauai suffered an injury. Kahuku’s elephant attack took a toll. If Titus Mokiao-Atimalala or any of his teammates in the secondary find themselves with linebacking duties soon, it wouldn’t be a shock. But that would another story for another day.