Three teams ranked in the top five in 15 days to start the season? Even ‘Iolani looks at Leilehua’s schedule and says, ‘dang, that’s tough.’
The Mules took one on the chin in their season opener last week against Punahou, losing 70-9. Their reward? An OIA cross-division opener against the defending state champion Kahuku Red Raiders on Friday night at Hugh Yoshida Stadium.
Kahuku jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead scoring touchdowns on offense and defense to start the game. It was headed toward a similar result as the game eight days earlier against the Buffanblu, but these Mules showed some fight.
Defensive lineman Braxton Victor came up with a big stop to help force Kahuku’s first punt and Kendrick Beitzel, who also caught three passes for 40 yards on offense, forced a Harmon Brown fumble to set up Leilehua’s first touchdown of the game.
Quarterback Kona Andres, who finished 26-for-38 for 208 yards and two touchdowns (one rush), scored on a 5-yard TD run and just like that, Leilehua, which had been outscored 84-9 in less than 60 minutes of game time this season, was within a touchdown less than six minutes before halftime.
“The kids were fired up and they just came out to play for one another,” Leilehua coach Nolan Tokuda said. “They put their fears and doubts aside and said we’re going to play all the way through and play for our fans. I know they were disappointed in us last week but with all of our guys coming back from probation and injuries, we’ll be loaded and ready to go next week.”
Ultimately, the defending champs wore down Leilehua to win 49-15, but the 15 points scored by Leilehua were more than any team put up against Kahuku last season.
Defensive back Charles Watson, a Washington State commit, played more on offense in the second half and came up with three catches for 48 yards on one drive, including a 19-yard touchdown catch to make it 42-15. He won a couple of head-to-head battles against talented Kahuku defensive back Kekaula Kaniho and gave Andres a reliable target on Leilehua’s second scoring drive of the night.
“We kind of eased him in (to the offense),” Tokuda said.
Kahuku came right back after Leilehua made it a one-score game, taking advantage of a 72-yard kick return by Stokes Nihipali-Botelho to go up 21-7. Nihipali-Botelho also had a 94-yard kick return for a TD and Kesi Ah-Hoy, who played QB last season but moved to safety, picked up a fumble and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown.
“We definitely have got to address special teams, especially kickoff and punt return,” Tokuda said.
Leilehua has played two of the top three teams in the state and could potentially play a team ranked in the top four. Next week’s game is against No. 5 Kapolei, which hosts No. 4 Waianae in a big showdown on Saturday night.
“It’s a real test early on,” Tokuda said. “It’s a measuring stick that we always wanted. These guys got a whole lot better (against Kahuku). They decided to trust each other, trust the scheme and started to play for one another and it was nice to see them fight all the way through and play physical with the defending state champion in Kahuku.”