Before every game, Joseph Kekahuna has simple, but pertinent advice for grandson Shepherd Kekahuna.
“Take no prisoners.”
Kekahuna did exactly that, clutching up in a scoreless battle with a determined Pac-Five squad on Saturday afternoon at Aloha Stadium. The versatile, two-way Saint returned an interception 92 yards for a touchdown, and moments later, he broke off a 98-yard TD run. He finished with 110 rushing yards on five carries, and also caught three passes from Bubba Akana for 59 yards.
Kekahuna and his teammates went on to post a 26-6 win over the Wolfpack, improving to 4-0 in ILH Division II play (5-0 overall).
Behind the scenes, Coach Kip Akana had raved about the junior playmaker for weeks. With starting running back Jonan Aina-Chaves sidelined by an ankle injury, the Saints have been forced to evolve — not an automatic process with a small roster this season.
“I was not surprised at all to see him ‘go off’ like that because it’s something we see from him almost every game,” Coach Akana said. “The big hits, the circus catches, electrifying runs. He was just being himself. The only difference is that most of the state got to see it (on TV), too, yesterday, many for the first time.”
Pac-Five was threatening to score first as the teams played into the third quarter tied at 0. Kekahuna, sometimes at defensive back, other times at linebacker, was responsible for his man lined up on the offense’s right side.
“I think we were playing man. I just read the quarterback. They ran that play a lot, but it wasn’t to my side. I watched film, too, so I watched the inside slot. I saw (quarterback Rocket Uechi) look this way so I knew he was going to throw the ball,” Kekahuna said.
He snagged the pass on an out pattern and turned upfield instantly.
“I thought I was going to get caught. I had to turn on the after-jets,” Kekahuna said.
Moments later, a superb punt by Pac-Five pinned St. Francis near its goal line. The Saints’ offensive unit lined up in a jumbo package with Kekahuna at quarterback. On the left side, as always, were tackle Faaope Laloulu (6-7, 350) and guard Siotame Haunga (6-2, 306).
“It’s a blessing. I wasn’t even supposed to go in on that play. That was for the running back, but he was playing both ways. I think it was supposed to be Jonah (Aina-Chaves). He was playing linebacker, too, so my coach told me to go in,” Kekahuna said.
When record-breaking running back Jonan Aina-Chaves, brother of Jonah, is healthy — the Saints expect him back this week — he lines up as the wildcat/jumbo QB. Kekahuna normally lines up at wide receiver.
“This week was the first time I practiced it every day. Jonan told me, ‘Run the ball and don’t be scared.’ Our linemen were doing good, too,” he said. “I tried to be like Le’Veon Bell, be patient, see the hole and hit the hole.”
He had two Wolfpack defenders at the edge as he ran left. A juke had both leaning outside while Kekahuna darted to the middle. After another juke, he blew past the next level and raced to the left pylon untouched for his second 90-plus yard TD of the day — of the third quarter to be exact.
“I didn’t play running back for three years,” he recalled. The last time was in the Big Boyz League in eighth grade. I played for Metro Tigers,” he said.
Next up is a battle with the other unbeaten in OIA-ILH D-II: Kaimuki. The Bulldogs routed Waialua over the weekend and are 4-0 in OIA D-II (4-1 overall). The last time the ‘Dogs and Saints met was in a scrimmage at Kaimuki in preseason in 2017. It was a physical, spirited battle — each team loaded with talented linemen and skill-position players, yet lacking in depth — more so than most preseason tiffs.
“We’re not going to give up. We have to be humble first,” Kekahuna said. “Put God first. Trust in God and everything will fall into place. We put in our work at practice and the game should be easy. Trust our coaches and our teammates. When we have that bond on the field, nothing can beat us.”
Kekahuna doesn’t have any social media in his life. He likes it that way. At home, after the game, his grandfather was there waiting. When Shepherd was a young boy, Joseph Kekahuna used to take him to practice every day. Lately, though, Joseph doesn’t get around quite as well. He watched Saturday’s game on TV.
“When I came home, I talked to him,” the grandson said. “He said, ‘Good job, boy.’ “