Before the game, almost everyone talking about the Kamehameha at Campbell football contest Friday night was expecting an entertaining showdown.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10 voters, by virtue of their positioning skills, had it just right: No. 4 Campbell and No. 6 Kamehameha.
And it went right down to the nitty-gritty wire, with the Sabers holding on for a 26-22 victory in Ewa Beach.
It truly could have gone either way. The Sabers (4-0, 1-0 OIA Open) led 7-0 early, but the Warriors (2-2, 1-2 ILH Open) perked up for a 15-7 halftime edge.
Everything that happened from there was absolutely critical to the outcome.
This is the part where Kamehameha’s mistakes added up to the loss. The Sabers also made some mistakes in crunch time, but it ultimately didn’t cost them.
Here we go with the lowdown on the crucial moments:
>> Kamehameha’s high punt snap results in a loss and gives Campbell good field position in Warriors’ territory. Sky Lactaoen brings Campbell closer at 15-13 with a 4-yard TD run. There are six full minutes left in the third quarter.
>> Another Warriors bad punt snap results in the punter, Preston Rezentes, throwing a pass that is intercepted by Campbell. This leads to Campbell retaking the lead, 16-15, on Jadon Arola‘s 23-yard field goal.
>> Kamehameha gets a 49-yard run from Alec Serrao, but the drive stalls and Rezentes misses a 35-yard field goal.
>> A huge sideline infraction penalty on Campbell after a punt gives Kamehameha the ball on the Sabers’ 20, but the Warriors can’t put it the end zone. Rezentes comes on, and again misses a 35-yard field goal. Rezentes gets plenty of leg on both of his attempts, but the referees called them wide. Both were close calls. There is 8:37 left in this one-point game.
>> Campbell’s Lactaoen breaks loose for a 72-yard run to the Warriors’ 18. This is perhaps the play of the game. It leads to Arola’s 37-yard field goal and a 19-15 lead.
>> Campbell comes up with another big play that leads to fireworks, literally, set off by someone on campus. It’s kind of a Sabers thing when things are going good. It’s backup QB Kaniala Kalaola‘s 38-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Titus Mokiao-Atimalala. Boom. Campbell leads 26-15 with 2:59 to go.
>> And then comes a big Sabers mistake. They’re in victory formation. The ball hits the ground instead of Kalaola’s hands. Kamehameha’s Blake Kupono picks it up and laterals to Tiger Peterson, who runs 24 yards for a touchdown. A parting boom of their own, but it’s not enough. The Warriors are going home, 26-22 losers.
Warriors coach Abu Maafala knows he and his team let it get away. Sabers coach Darren Johnson knows his team is fortunate to get the win.
“(In the end), they just outplayed us a little bit,” Ma’afala said. “We didn’t have the same fight in this one that we had in our first three games. It’s humbling. They’re (the Sabers) a great football team. Hat’s off to coach DJ and the Campbell staff. They did what they needed to do to win.
“For us, the biggest thing is we’ve got to stay humble and hungry. We weren’t as focused as we should have been, and it was noticeable during the week in game preparation. I’m disappointed that we weren’t prepared to win this football game and it showed tonight.”
Johnson’s Sabers are still undefeated.
“We overcame some mistakes,” he said. “We made some mistakes that were costly and we also capitalized on their mistakes. They are a good football team by all means. We had some luck on our side and the ball bounced our way. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”
But Johnson knows it wasn’t all luck. These Sabers were defending their turf and came up with the biggest plays in crunch time.
“When we needed someone to make a play, guys went out and made a play,” he added, pointing to Pokii Adkins-Kupukaa (big first-half interception), Tyrese Tafai (numerous big tackles), Titus Mokiao-Atimalala (eventual winning touchdown catch, seven receptions for 130 yards), two other defensive standouts — JL Lavea and Taelase Gaoteote along with running backs Lactaoen and Peter Manuma.
“It’s good to win football games, but it gets bigger every week,” he continued. “We’ve got Mililani next and its a league game. We gotta get ready and we’ve got to eliminate penalties.”
Johnson wasn’t kidding about that. The Sabers were whistled a bunch.
“We’re gonna get them eliminated or we’re gonna eliminate the players if they don’t eliminate the penalties,” he said.
Kamehameha plays at No. 2 Kahuku (3-1, 1-0 OIA Open) on Friday. Campbell is at No. 3 Mililani (3-1, 1-0 OIA Open) on Saturday.
One last stat shows just how close the game was: Campbell outgained Kamehameha in scrimmage yards, 390 (216 passing, 174 rushing) to 300 (201 rushing, 99 passing).