Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?
The words of Maximus Decimus Meridius, of Gladiator fame, came to mind as Leilehua and Kailua played to an at-times ugly, at-times brutal, at-times action packed duel at the Surfriders’ Alex Kane Stadium on Friday night.
The Mules’ 9-yard touchdown connection between quarterback Max Nichols and receiver Jayzon Ramos was the difference in the 20-14 Leilehua win in overtime, but only after Kailua made a thrilling comeback to tie it up late in regulation. Raynen Ho-Mook had a clutch over-the-shoulder connection with Kamryn Kahoonei from 36 yards out, followed by Ho-Mook connecting with tight end John Sniffen on the essential 2-point conversion to make it 14-all with 1:51 remaining.
Kailua (0-2, 0-1 D-I) even came close to winning on the final play of regulation, when Raine Kupahu came down with Nichols’ deep heave and returned it about 40 yards before getting knocked out at the 25 of Leilehua (1-1, 1-0).
“It wasn’t high scoring, but I think everyone had a great time tonight,” Leilehua coach Mark Kurisu said as his team boarded their buses for the long drive back to Wahiawa. “It was entertaining, right?
“We just went back and forth, throwing haymakers at each other.”
Said Kailua coach Joseph Wong, “In the end, it’s one of those things, somebody has to lose. Nobody wants the game to end but it has to. It’s just unfortunate we couldn’t convert in the end.”
Kailua had designs on coming back one more time, especially when the Mules failed on their extra-point try in OT. Alas, Brian Allen Kamanu was stopped for no gain on first down from the Mules’ 20, then quarterback Ho-Mook went incomplete three straight downs, including the final ball being batted down in the end zone.
“The entire time we believed in our defense,” Nichols said. “Our defense is our heart and soul of our team.”
Kurisu raved about Kailua’s last points, when Ho-Mook faked a handoff, rolled out to the left and tossed it to a wide open Sniffen.
“You talk about great coaching, that last play, the 2-point conversion, that was a great play,” he said. “We’d never seen that before. So for them to execute it — it was just a tight end delay. We’d never seen them run a … matter of fact, we’d never seen them run a tight end. So for them, that was a defensive guy who caught the ball, great execution by the quarterback. We were fortunate we blocked a kick (earlier).
That would be lineman Jaeden Chow, who denied Kailua’s extra-point try following fullback Lahaina Kane’s 1-yard plunge in the third quarter for the hosts. It was a double whammy for the Mules, as Cody Akagi took the next play from scrimmage and went up the middle 74 yards for a touchdown and 14-6 lead.
In the second quarter, receiver Jeremy Evans wowed on a 22-yard touchdown haul, as the 6-foot-4 senior dragged a pair of Surfrider defenders the final 10 yards.
Before Friday, both quarterbacks were largely untested in close situations. Nichols (12-35-2-115), a senior, started one game before this season, while Ho-Mook (10-23-2-61), a junior, gave way to Cole Weber in last week’s 44-6 rout at Mililani.
Wong was optimistic outside the Kailua locker room afterward, and pleased about Ho-Mook’s progress.
Kailua had only 33 yards of offense before halftime; its running game with senior Samson Rasay gained traction after the break.
“We started a little slow. We picked it up in the second half. Football is four quarters,” Wong said. “So, they, I felt momentum swung for us, our favor in the second half, but my guys never quit. They never stopped, our game plan, they stayed the course, trusted the process. I told them basically after the game, we keep playing like this for the remainder of the season, we’ll meet them (Leilehua) at another time.”
There were several drive-killing penalties early, but the Surfriders had a crucial call go against them in overtime, too, when Leilehua faced a fourth and 6 and was lining up a 33-yard field goal. A Kailua player was called for encroachment in the neutral zone. Leilehua converted the ensuing fourth and 1 from the 11 on a quarterback sneak and scored the deciding points on the very next play.
“It wasn’t as if he jumped offsides, but I think he was just lined up in the neutral zone,” Wong said of the player. “Trying to get his push, to, we say, bleed blue and block the kick. I can’t fault him for that. Maybe we should have pulled the dogs back and played it safe, but you know, if you block the kick, all we have to do is score one way or the other. … I didn’t second-guess myself on that.”
Kailua hosts ‘Iolani next weekend in a to-this-point rare OIA-ILH crossover, while Leilehua hosts Castle.