With his star running back, senior Jensen McDaniel, getting swallowed up in the second half by the Castle defensive line, Kaiser coach Cameron Higgins changed things up.
Or as he put it, “you just try to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.”
Cameron put his younger brother, Parker Higgins, a senior at Kaiser, at running back alongside McDaniel and Parker came up big, sealing the game with a 31-yard touchdown run and then adding a 65-yard run before the Cougars took knees to close out a 48-32 win over Castle on Friday night at Kaiser Stadium.
Higgins finished with 140 rushing yards on eight carries with the touchdown to supplement McDaniel, who tallied 124 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. He had only 34 yards on nine carries in the second half as the Knights focused in on slowing him down, so Cameron went with the bigger back in Parker to notch a third straight win for the Cougars.
“Parker brought a different style of running that Castle had a hard time defending,” Cameron Higgins said.
Higgins had eight tackles and a sack on defense and then took over on offense when Kaiser needed it. The Cougars have a lot of players going both ways and with Higgins playing more offense late in the game, they decided to make another change.
Senior Michael Eletise, regarded as the top offensive line prospect in Hawaii this year, played a few snaps on defense in the second half. With Kaiser ahead 41-32 and Castle driving, Eletise entered the game and sacked Knights QB Willie Ewaliko on a critical second-down play. He then blew up a draw play with a tackle to force a punt with 5:30 remaining.
The Knights got the ball back one more time after Higgins’ touchdown run but had that drive end when Eletise recorded his second sack of Ewaliko on fourth down.
“Mike is another guy that takes the defensive line to another level,” Cameron Higgins said. “I think he’s one of the best defensive linemen in the state. He plays sparingly, but if we really need him in there we’ll use him. We kind of want to save our offensive line’s legs because we’re thin on the offensive line but if we need a big play we have to go to our playmakers.”
After starting the season with three losses, the Cougars have won three straight to take over third place in the OIA Red. With so many guys playing both ways and seeing how his team faded down the stretch last season, Cameron Higgins talked about the importance of getting a first-round bye in the OIA playoffs before the season began.
Kaiser can still do that but needs to win its final two games and hope Waianae loses to Kahuku to end the regular season.
Whether that happens or not, Cameron said he’s most impressed with how his team has bounced back from its early-season struggles.
“I think we’re in a really good spot right now,” Higgins said. “A lot of teams could have packed it in at 0-3 but these guys came out harder in practice. They’re showing on the field they really wanted it.”
The Cougars end with games at Waianae next Friday and at home against Leilehua the following week.