One Team is one win, maybe less, from clinching a state playoff berth.
And ‘Iolani has its small assassin, senior running back Kaua Nishigaya, to thank in very large part.
Behind Nishigaya’s four touchdowns, the Raiders (7-2, 6-1 ILH Division I) moved to the cusp of clinching a state berth with a 41-14 win over Castle on Friday night. It was just the second time the teams played on the Knights’ field (third overall), and the Raiders emerged comfortably with their first win in Kaneohe.
The 5-foot-5 Nishigaya negotiated holes set up effectively by his offensive line and blocks from his receivers to go for 164 yards on 28 carries, including touchdown runs of 31, 2, 1 and 1 yards. When you’re as shifty as he is, you apparently don’t need a fullback to punch in those goal-line hard yards for you.
“He’s 5-5, but he’s full of heart and guts,” ‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said. “That’s 150 pounds of heart and guts.”
‘Iolani scored 41 straight points after Castle scored on a 40-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Jonah Figueroa on the Knights’ second possession, set up by a Raiders turnover on downs.
“It feels great. We played as a team today. Each and every game, we come out as One Team,” Nishigaya said. “Coach Look harps on that really well. He’s a great coach. My teammates did well today, offense and defense. The O-line blocked well, the receivers blocked well, opened up holes for me so we could get the yards and touchdowns today. So I thank them and all the coaches.”
It was far from the first time he went off this season; he entered the night with nine touchdowns and 681 yards in eight games. Last month, he cracked the Raiders’ top 10 individual rushing yardage games with 226 in a key 30-19 win over Damien. No small feat when you’ve got Joe Igber filling up six of the entries on that list.
Said Nishigaya of whether the holes for him have been there regularly, “Of course. They’re always pushing. I don’t have the biggest line, but they sell out for me every game. I owe them a lot. I owe my teammates a lot.”
Keep an eye on Saturday’s meeting between Damien and Leilehua in Wahiawa. If the Monarchs beat the Mules, ‘Iolani will need a win at Aiea next week, or a Damien loss vs. Castle, to clinch the ILH’s lone Division I state berth. But if the Monarchs lose in Wahiawa, ‘Iolani is locked in with a week to spare.
“Regardless, our thinking is always, we control ourselves,” Look said. “We always take care of what we need to get done, regardless of the situation, whether we’re playing Castle, whether we’re playing Waipahu, whoever. We take care of ourselves, and we try to do the best we can within ourselves and play up to our standards.”
Friday was pretty clean. Other than a first-half false start and a holding call against ‘Iolani’s backups in the final seconds, the Raiders were not penalized and committed no turnovers.
Conversely, the Raiders forced four turnovers on Castle quarterbacks Senituli Punivai and Samuel Judd — three interceptions and a strip sack and fumble recovery. One of the interceptions, by Kyler Mento in the second quarter, went 65 yards back for six. Punivai, who’s been prolific during Castle’s four-game winning streak to secure an OIA playoff berth, was bottled up much of the night. He finished with 133 yards passing and 103 rushing, thanks in large part to a 91-yard drive against the Raiders’ backups.
During ‘Iolani’s 24-point eruption in the second, Nishigaya seemed unstoppable. In fact, with the Raiders set up at the 5-yard line and about to score again, the Castle defense decided that bear-hugging Nishigaya, and lifting him off the ground until the play was blown dead, was the best course of action.
Nishigaya and his teammates didn’t like that. And he immediately scored on the next play.
He finished with all but six of his team’s handoffs of the night, with the last five going to backup back Jake Lee in the fourth quarter and the game well out of reach for Castle.
“Our line and our team has really grown and matured. Kaua has helped them along,” Look said. “I don’t know how many carries he had, but he’s carrying the ball. He wants it. It’s nice to see that we’re able to run the ball well.”
To top it off, ‘Iolani had an impressive Halloween-themed halftime show, capped with a tribute to “Thriller.”
— Brian McInnis (@Brian_McInnis) October 6, 2018