Rules are rules, and because James McGary missed practices this week the Leilehua junior sat out the first quarter of the Mules’ game at Castle on Friday.
But in this case, the absences were not only excused, they were ordered.
As the Mules rode the momentum of an overtime win over Kapolei, McGary was going through an emotional week with his mother scheduled to deploy to the Middle East in the coming days.
“I said, ‘you miss practice, you stay with your mom and you celebrate that time with her,’” Leilehua coach Mark Kurisu said. “We’ve got to just make sure we do our part and carry the load for him.
“Our prayers go out to her and the McGary family.”
McGary channeled the emotion into a breakout performance in the Mules’ 43-6 OIA Red victory in Kaneohe. McGary entered the game with 43 yards in four games and nearly doubled that total with 84 rushing yards in just eight carries on Friday.
With Leilehua up 7-3 early in the second quarter, Masen Reis sparked the Mules with an 88-yard kickoff return to the Castle 7. McGary made his first appearance of the night and took a toss around the left side, cut back inside and darted into the end zone.
The Leilehua defense recovered a fumble just over a minute later and McGary found room up the middle for a 25-yard score on his second touch of the game.
McGary picked up gains of 23 and 11 yards on receptions from senior quarterback Kona Andres later in the second quarter and ignited Leilehua’s first scoring drive of the third period with a 30-yard burst up the middle.
Andres went on to finish the six-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run and finished with 185 passing yards and two touchdowns, both going to 6-foot-4 Jeremy Evans.
Evans caught a 17-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to open the scoring. In the third quarter, he worked free for a scrambling Andres, who found him open downfield for a 67-yard touchdown.
Leilehua’s balance led to 356 yards in total offense (171 rushing, 185 passing) and the defense came up with four turnovers, including Kalaika Sinclair’s fumble return for a touchdown in Leilehua’s 19-point third quarter.
“We wanted to establish our run again,” Kurisu said. “I thought that took the stress off our quarterback and receivers and once we started running we were able to pass the ball a little bit better.”
The defensive performance helped the Mules overcome four Castle takeaways, including two interceptions by Knights senior Ezekiel Rombawa.
Both kickers were also impressive. Castle’s Cheyden Costa connected on field goals from 39 and 45 yards. Leilehua’s Akoni Tom-Makue closed the scoring with a 40-yard kick.
After dropping its first two OIA games to Kahuku and Mililani by a combined score of 71-0, Leilehua (3-2, 2-2 OIA Red) bounced back with back-to-back wins to get back above .500 overall with games against Nanakuli, Kailua and Farrington coming up.
Castle (3-3, 3-2) has just two games left in the regular season, at home against Kailua next week and at Farrington on Sept. 23.