With an elimination game ahead, Campbell coach Darren Johnson wouldn’t allow the Sabers to look back.
Campbell entered the final week of the regular season with a shot at the OIA Blue’s top seed only to have No. 2 Kahuku roll to a 45-6 win on homecoming night in Ewa Beach. While Kahuku secured a first-round bye in the OIA Division I playoffs, Campbell finished third in the division with a week to recover before facing Castle.
Missing from the Sabers preparation for the Knights was a review of the previous week’s footage and they survived an early miscue to advance with a 24-9 home win on Friday night.
“We tried to put (the Kahuku) game behind us real quick,” Johnson said. “As soon as we lost.
“Going back and pointing out all the mistakes on film wasn’t going to fix it for this week. We needed to just get ready for this week. We didn’t even go back and let the kids look at it, we just moved forward.”
With the win, the Sabers advanced to the quarterfinals to face No. 7 Leilehua next Saturday at Hugh Yoshida Stadium in Wahiawa. The Mules ended the regular-season on a five-game winning streak to finish second in the OIA Red and earn a first-round bye.
“You can see where they’re peaking at the right time,” Johnson said. “We just have to play good football against them and eliminate penalties.”
Campbell (6-3, 6-2 OIA) and Leilehua (6-2, 5-2) last met on Oct. 14, 2014, when the Sabers knocked off the Mules 20-14 in the OIA quarterfinals.
Before looking ahead to Leilehua, Campbell had to first get past Castle.
The Sabers drove deep into Castle territory on their second possession of the game, but Tyrese Tafai fumbled just before the goalline and Castle’s Ezekiel Rombawa ran it back 100 yards. But the return was called back due to a blindside block to keep the game scoreless.
After Pokii Adkins-Kupukaa’s 53-yard punt return, Tafai this time finished off a touchdown run to give Campbell the lead. But Castle answered with a field goal then took the lead when Elijah-Po’o Kekiwi jumped a rout and returned an interception 51 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
“Our worst enemy right now is us always scoring for the other team. Most of our picks have been going back the other way,” Johnson said a week after Kahuku’s defense scored on a fumble recovery and an interception return.
“We have to go back and work with our quarterback and makes sure he makes good solid throws and makes good reads.”
Campbell quarterback Krenston Kaipo recovered quickly with a 43-yard completion to Jalen Henderson to set up Ariel Villanueva’s 22-yard field goal to give Campbell a 10-9 lead.
The Sabers got the ball right back when Dylan Ursua recovered a loose ball on the ensuing kickoff. Two plays later, Kaipo connected with a Gabriel Colon-Valentin on a 10-yard quick slant and the Sabers took a 17-9 lead into halftime.
Kaipo finished with 246 yards and two touchdowns and Tafai ran for 108 yards on 15 carries in a solid two-way performance. The Campbell defense held Castle to 120 yards and seven first downs. Campbell senior Isaac Sevao caught Castle quarterback Jaylen Uyemura-Lee for two of the Sabers’ four sacks in the second half.
Castle’s defense turned in a spirited effort before wearing down with Kekiwi closing his senior season with a game-high 12 tackles, including a sack, and the pick-six.
“We’re trying to build the culture where the younger kids can understand what our beliefs are,” first-year Castle coach John Hao said.