The first sentence in this story could have been about a talented, versatile player with a golden kicking foot blasting a field goal through the uprights with one minute left to win the game.
The second sentence could’ve been about Hilo breaking the BIIF’s long string of defeats in Division I football at the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships.
Instead, it took the homecoming dream, realized in full, of Damion Scandrick to save Leilehua. Scandrick’s block of a 39-yard field-goal attempt by Hilo’s Kaleihalia Tolentino-Perry could not have been more timely for a Mules team that had trailed for more than three quarters.
It was timing, and just a little bit of luck. Tolentino-Perry had drilled two 3-pointers earlier with perfect blocking and a pinpoint snap. But this time, as the teams lined up with 1:28 to play and the Mules clinging to a 26-25 lead, the Vikings had a miscue as Leilehua linebacker Po‘okela Banis Chun, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior, drew two blockers. That opened a clear lane for Scandrick.
“I had to dig deep. Po‘okela drew two blockers,” Scandrick said.
The 6-foot, 235-pound senior knows about opportunities. His family moved from Keaau — the site of this Leilehua-Hilo game — to Wahiawa after his junior year. The homecoming circle was nearly complete, and as he zoomed onto the field-goal try, he got both hands on the pigskin to thwart what could have been a perfect, happy ending for the Hilo Vikings.
The frenzy that ensued caused a bit of confusion. Both teams tried to corral the bouncing ball, and one of the Vikings finally did, more than 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He got nowhere, Leilehua got the ball back and ran out the rest of the clock to advance to the semifinal round.
The confusion was about whether Leilehua had possession of the football after the block. A Mule player may have secured possession before fumbling. Should Hilo have started with a new possession after recovering Leilehua’s fumble after the block?
Mules coach Nolan Tokuda explained the rule: A blocked field goal that advances past the line of scrimmage now becomes a new possession for either team. But in this case, the ball landed and remained behind the line of scrimmage, and Hilo was still responsible for getting the ball past the first-down chain or lose possession.
It turned out to be a wild finish to the closest game of the night in any of the HHSAA’s tournaments. Scandrick was the calming presence, the eye of the storm, even in post-game with a dozen friends and relatives gathered around him for photos and congratulations.
“I had to do it for my team. I came in from the left side. My linebacker picked up two blocks which allowed me to get through,” Scandrick said. “I didn’t expect us to play Hilo. I thought we were going to play Baldwin.”
It took a wide range of changes for Leilehua to rally from a 15-0 rally.
>> Kalika Anderson Seumanutafa Bryant’s physical, north-south running between the tackles changed the tone. With Hilo in cover 3 deep, Vikings coach Kaeo Drummondo practically dared the Mules to run the ball.
That’s where KASB became a difference maker, gashing his way to solid gains and first downs during the second quarter. He had a modest 41 yards on nine carries, with no gain of more than 9. However, that was what Leilehua needed to keep the chains moving for once — and give its defense some much needed rest.
“I had to come out and spark my team up, bring the energy that I had to bring, run the ball as hard as I could,” Anderson Seumanutafa Bryant said. “Just do what I could do for my team, my brothers. Hilo’s a very good team. They’re well-coached. They have good attitudes.”
After struggling for much of the season to run the ball, Leilehua rushed for 158 yards before taking two kneel-downs to end the game. It was only fitting, on a night when another Leilehua standout, Gwen Maeha, won an individual state bowling championship, that a north-south 5-9, 250-pound lawn mower had some of the game’s most crucial plays.
The comparison to a bowling ball?
“It’s OK, that’s what other people said, too,” he said.
Between him and Leilehua’s smaller, darting ballcarriers, it was less “Thunder and Lightning” and more “Boulder and Lightning”. The trenches were never the same.
>> QB Kona Andres and QB/RB/WR Kaleo Aloha Piceno were at their 1-2 combo finest at times. It was Leilehua taking it to a Hilo defense that seemed to tire in the late going, running the ball 41 times. Piceno was a clear bull’s eye target for Hilo, which limited him to 43 combined rushing and receiving yards. That allowed his teammates to get favorable coverage, though, and by the time Hilo moved out of its cover-3 scheme back to normal cover 2, the Mules had momentum for the first time.
Andres, in particular, gutted it out down the stretch, scoring on the fourth-quarter, go-ahead 7-yard TD run that included broken tackles and an unforgettable reach over the goal line with both hands on the ball. It capped a remarkable drive that featured, for the first time all night, speed option action left and right that caught the Vikings off guard.
“We worked so hard right. I told myself even if I’m injured, I’m going back in for my brothers,” Andres said.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a serious injury, just a painful bruise to a shin. He found inspiration from his teammates.
“When we needed (Anderson Seumanutafa Bryant) to rush the ball, he ran his heart out,” Andres said.
“It starts with the O-line, he makes a move, it as a little harder with the uneven footing. He kind of loosened up Hilo. When they had to bring up that one extra guy into the box, that opened it up for us,” Tokuda said.
>> Iron Men
Senior receiver Kendrick Beitzel was all smiles.
“Our guys never quit fighting even though we got down by 15. We miss Moku (Watson), he’s one of our Ironman. Jerome came in,” Beitzel said.
Holiday, a full-time defensive back, caught another TD pass. He still considers himself a defensive back, though.
“My team helps me out to be successful. They put me (on offense) in the later part of the year. I used to play receiver,” he said. “This is huge, to come back like this is big.”
In the end, it was Hilo and the Vikings’ hearty crowd at Keaau feeling bluer than ever. It easily could’ve gone the other way. Tolentino-Perry had made 10 of his 13 FG attempts this season.
“I feel proud of the guys. Excited. Ulcers, probably,” Tokuda said. “Who do we play next?”
That, coach, would be the Mililani Trojans, who pulled away for a 49-28 win over Baldwin. For now, though, the last sentence on Leilehua should include the one word not used all season about the mighty Mules: smashmouth.