It’s quite a luxury for a high school football coach to have an experienced returning starting quarterback.
Kalani’s Scott Melemai has that in senior Nicholas Sakamoto, who took every snap behind center for the Falcons last season. After an 0-5 start, Kalani won three of its final five games with Sakamoto accounting for all but one of the Falcons’ touchdowns the entire season. He was also the team’s leading rusher with nearly more than 100 yards more than Kalani’s top running back, Nathaniel Balangitao.
With 22 returning seniors this year, a playoff berth isn’t out of the question. However, Melemai has decided to roll the dice a little bit. In Saturday’s season-opening 35-0 win over Kohala at Kaiser Stadium, Sakamoto indeed took the field as a starter, but it was on the defensive side of the ball at outside linebacker.
Melemai will use sophomore Logan Lim at quarterback and give Sakamoto an opportunity to lead a defense that pitched its second shutout in the last four games dating back to last year (not including a forfeit win over St. Francis).
Both players did well in their respective positions. Lim threw for 177 yards and a touchdown without a turnover and Sakamoto returned an interception for a TD.
“Right now Logan is our starting quarterback and Nicholas moved to outside linebacker and he had a good game out there,” Melemai said. “I think it’s in (Sakamoto’s) nature he wanted to play defense more.”
Sakamoto also had a strip-sack for the Falcons while Lim didn’t make any critical mistakes in his first-ever start at the varsity level.
Lim led Kalani on scoring drives on two of its first three possessions and tossed his first career TD pass to Jake Lee late in the first quarter for a 21-0 lead.
As the game wore on, Lim got more comfortable in the backfield and started adding some zip to his passes.
“It was a good win,” said Lim, who completed 14 of his 26 pass attempts. “We have a lot to work on but we did execute and that was pretty good.”
Kalani slowed down on offense in a scoreless second quarter but came out of the halftime break with its best drive of the game.
Lim engineered a 14-play, 76-yard drive which ended when Kalani showed a new wrinkle on offense. Lim took the snap and ran an option play, pitching the ball perfectly to Lee after sucking in the edge defender to allow Lee to walk in untouched for a 6-yard touchdown run.
“One of the things we wanted to practice to try to work on was sustaining drives and higher completion ratings,” Melemai said.
Balangitao and junior Connor Mararagan provided a nice balance running the ball combining for 154 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Junior Dillon Cortez led the receiving corps with 77 yards on three catches and junior Jaymn Mohika-Poche and senior Jonathan Cai also had three catches apiece.
Kalani will play Kalaheo at Kaiser Stadium on Saturday in the OIA D-II opener for both teams. It’s an important first game as the Falcons and Mustangs were the top two teams in the division to miss the playoffs last season. A win for either squad could mean a lot come October.