It’s the worst time of year for Nolan Tokuda.
Football season is over.
The Leilehua coach surely thought his team could make it farther than the OIA quarterfinals, but that is not the main reason why he is dismayed.
“All that time we spent together, the players and the coaches … we won’t be seeing them again, and I’ll especially miss the seniors,” he said moments after Campbell came to Wahiawa and knocked the Mules out of the OIA D-I playoffs with a defensive, 20-14 victory at Hugh Yoshida Stadium on Friday. “We needed to get third place to keep it going, but our kids showed how to play with class, how to play fast and how to play passionately. Those are some of the values we teach.”
Even though their season is done, the Mules (6-2) are still ranked No. 9 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Top 10.
Without a doubt, Leilehua was an entertaining team, led by some tough customers on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Kalanimoku Pauole escaped many sack attempts with his grittiness, maneuverability and strength, and he kept the smooth offense going.
Pauole finished the season with 25 touchdown passes and 1,857 yards through the air in eight games.
Running back Ikaika Piceno was a mini-bull and fast, too, and there were a ton of receivers on the other end of strikes from Pauole, including Tyreek Keough and Toma Savea, to name a few.
Running back Randy Neverson, who showed a lot of flash early in the season, went down with a knee injury early and his absence was a big loss for Leilehua.
Defensively, Anterrio Gainwell was a monster at linebacker, and Soga Eli, Paul Ke-a, Devin Grey and Noah Jaeger were constantly in the thick of the battle making plays.
Tokuda takes the blame for the loss.
“It’s the coaches’ job to prepare the players,” he said. “It’s our fault.”
On the field, Leilehua’s normally sharp offense was a little bit off against Campbell, and part of that was the Sabers’ rock solid defense.
After five straight wins to start the season, Leilehua suffered its first defeat in Kahuku, 21-14, despite not allowing an offensive touchdown by the Red Raiders.
The Mules’ offensive miscues hurt against Campbell, which controlled the ball with its running game in the second half.
“We had our opportunities, but didn’t take advantage of them,” Tokuda said.
One play really took a bite out of the Mules’ hopes.
With a 14-7 lead early in the second half, Pauole scrambled for a 23-yard gain, but he fumbled and Campbell took over at its own 35. Four plays later, the Sabers tied it up and later took advantage of Leilehua’s poor field position, leading to the game-winning score.
It wasn’t the way Tokuda and his staff planned it, but that’s the way the ball bounces. Campbell took it from them.
But, as defensive coordinator Mark Kurisu told the Leilehua boys after the game, losing is a lesson and the ability to “get back up after being knocked down” is one of the most important things the players can learn about the game and about life.
Even though Tokuda is going to miss his seniors, he and his staff have done as much as they can to send them out into the world as positive role models.
There are a bunch of kids waiting in the wings to pick up where this team left off next year.
And then Tokuda will be back in his element: football season.