Every game, every practice is a learning process, and not just for players. Coaches are taking mental notes about everything they see between the lines.
As the rain began to pelt Carleton E. Weimer Field on Friday night, No. 4 Leilehua football coach Nolan Tokuda watched No. 8 Kahuku run out the clock to seal a 21-14 win that put the two teams in a tie for first in the OIA Red at 5-1.
It wasn’t hard to tell that Tokuda’s mind was at work, wondering what might have been along with what could happen if the Mules play with the same kind of gumption for the rest of the season.
“We learned a lot,” he said a few seconds after the game ended. “In football, you have to play well in all three phases to win.”
He was referring to special teams, where the game was certainly lost. Kahuku scored on a kickoff return and a punt return.
Asked to expound on Monday what he learned, Tokuda answered, “I learned a lot about our team and what we need to do from this point to advance in the playoffs. … We knew we would hang our hat on defense.”
One thing Leilehua rarely has a problem with is offense. It’s the defense that was a question mark when the season began.
Holding Kahuku to less than 100 yards of offense is an accomplishment, even if the Red Raiders lacked offensive sophistication and imagination Friday night. The North Shore boys still have some beastly backs that need to be contained, and Leilehua did just that.
Three players among the many defensive standouts in the game for the Mules come to mind — defensive end Soga Eli and linebackers Anterrio Gainwell and Noah Jaeger. Their white jerseys’ gold numbers kept popping into view nearly every time Leilehua made a big stop.
Others also stepped up, including Allan Lagaaia (sack) and Devin Gray (fumble recovery).
With the finely tuned Leilehua offense harmonizing as usual and a defense that just passed a major test by stopping Kahuku cold, it’s no wonder that Tokuda sees the possibilities ahead.
And that’s just what they are, possibilities. Special teams, obviously, is something they’ll be working on.
Another big game is on the horizon for the Mules — Friday night at home against No. 10 Kaiser (4-2), last season’s Division II champion, in the regular-season finale. The Cougars, who moved up to Division I this year, upset Kahuku 13-12 two weekends ago in Hawaii Kai.
Against Kahuku, Leilehua quarterback Kalanimoku Pauole showed his slipperiness and escapability and especially his toughness. Running back Ikaika Piceno, more of a bull than a mule, knifed through pockets of defenders to pick up key first downs against Kahuku. He catches passes out of the backfield, too, as another of Pauole’s many skillful receivers.
Pauole threw for 201 yards and a TD against the Red Raiders, shaking off seven sacks at the hands Kahuku’s ominous front seven.
The winning touchdown, an interception return by Kahuku’s Alohi Gilman, occurred when one of Pauole’s receivers slipped and the ball went straight into Gilman’s hands.
Kahuku’s slippery field also had an effect on Leilehua’s offense. Another slip caused Pauole to underthrow an open receiver on a fourth-and-less-than-an-inch play from the Kahuku 6.
Randy Neverson, a speedy running back, hurt his knee against Kahuku and his return is not known. When healthy, he has game-breaking ability and puts a lot of pressure on opponents’ defenses, who can’t afford to take their attention away from the Mules’ passing game.
And after keeping Kahuku from scoring an offensive touchdown, opposing coaches might be making a serious mistake if they take the Leilehua defense lightly.