The Leilehua Mules aren’t over last week’s close loss to Moanalua.
They might never get over it, but that might be just fine. The 10th-ranked Mules bounced back on a rainy homecoming night with an emphasis on defense and the ground attack, limiting Aiea to 126 total yards in a 41-0 runaway at Hugh Yoshida Stadium.
The emergence of sophomore Jemell Vereen adds a valuable facet to the Mules’ quick-paced, no-huddle offense. Vereen and senior Damarion Smith combined for 161 rushing yards on just 16 carries in the first half as the mighty Mules rolled to a 34-0 lead. Add Kawela Kaluhiokalani and it’s a deep, hard-nosed group of running backs.
“Damarion’s more see the hole, hit the hole. Jemell is see the hole, hit the hole, but if there isn’t a hole, he’ll wait for it. He’s a patient runner,” Leilehua coach Mark Kurisu said after the Mules improved to 3-1 in OIA Division I play (4-1 overall). “I know they definitely both have the ability to catch. Jemell can make people miss while Damarion will just play small and find the right side of the tackler and bounce off, slide off. Damarion puts in the effort, high IQ guy.”
Vereen was on the JV team until making his varsity debut recently. He finished with 90 yards on seven carries, all in the first half. That included a 45-yard burst that set up a 2-yard TD run by QB Kekoa Turnagan (208 passing yards, three total TDs). The decision to pull Vereen up to varsity wasn’t a hard one.
“We just knew he had breakaway material as a running back. He just has that ability to breakaway, that James McGary effect. He runs tight, holds on to the rock. It was very cool to see both of them do well,” Kurisu said.
The offense finished with 238 rushing yards on 30 attempts. Smith finished with 69 yards on 11 carries before Kaluhiokalani finished the game (six attempts, 34 yards).
“I was happy for the O-line,” Kurisu added. “Our left tackle, Ali‘i Aspera (6-2, 290), a two-year (starter). Trayjan Jumawon (5-11, 265) is our left guard. Jason Flores (5-8, 225) is our first-year starter (at center). Adrian Filoi is at right guard, a two-year starter, and our right tackle is Terrance Lokan (6-4, 330), our big recruit.”
Aiea’s four-wide offense never got deeper than the Leilehua 29-yard line, when the visitors missed a field-goal try. The Mules hurled their third shutout of the season, adding to a list that includes Farrington and Kailua.
“These guys are playing at a high level. We always stress IQ, playing smart, not always trying to overpower,” Kurisu said. “Everything starts with our line.”
Kiaka Pio (6-1, 235), Jashawn Wakefield (6-2, 230) and Kalani Atwood (6-3, 240) are just juniors. Jaku Hanohano-Baptista (5-9, 240) is a senior. Gabriel Araki (5-9, 210) and LB Laakea Umiamaka (6-1, 200) bring energy as sophomore contributors.
The strange circumstances of the Leilehua-Moanalua game — and the loss — haven’t been easy to forget for Kurisu. Though the game was moved to Leilehua’s home field when Moanalua’s lights malfunctioned, it put a crimp into the coach’s plan.
“Last week’s game was one of those games, Moanalua came in and played well. It seemed like we didn’t want to be there, rightfully so. We had plans for that bye week, but this is part of the game. The lights don’t go on, you reschedule.”
When the game was postponed, the Mules lost two players to injury during practice on the following Monday.
“I get upset about that kind of stuff, but again, cannot help. Both teams had to make up that game,” Kurisu said.
Now, he and his staff will see who heals up and who might need more time to rest as Damien visits the Mules next weekend. More so because games against ILH teams like Damien and ‘Iolani do not count in the OIA standings.
“It’s our last home game. It’ll be a fun game, but we always put things into perspective,” Kurisu said. “We’d like to take care of business, but we always have to take care of our conference, the OIA.”