Nu’usegi Afoa sparks Chargers’ defense

Pearl City's Nu‘usegi Afoa played on the back line against Kealakehe but moved up a level and flattened McKinley on Thursday. Jay Metzger/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Nu’usegi Afoa may have found himself a new home.

Up until two weeks ago, the Pearl City senior spent much of his time running backward as part of the Chargers’ secondary. But the coaches decided to give him a shot at charging into opposing backfields as a defensive end.

The switch paid off on Thursday with Afoa — listed at 5 foot 9 and 160 pounds — contributing two highlight stops in Pearl City’s 33-0 OIA Division II win over McKinley.

“I think we finally found a position for him. He’s like a hybrid defensive end,” Pearl City coach Robin Kami said. “He loves the contact.”

The Chargers (1-2, 1-1 OIA D-II) limited McKinley to 28 yards in total offense in the first half and took a 10-0 lead into the break. But Tigers quarterback Keanu Pimental connected on a deep pass to Aaron Velasco for a 65-yard completion to the Pearl City 10-yard line on the first play of the third quarter.

After two incomplete passes, Afoa chased down Pimental for a 6-yard loss for his first sack of the season and the Chargers held on fourth-and-goal from the 16 to keep the shutout intact.

“That was a big stop because if they score it’s 10-7, now the game changes,” Pearl City coach Robin Kami said. “It’s momentum. It’s the peaks and valleys of the game.”

After the stop, the Chargers kept climbing. A field goal extended Pearl City’s lead and Afoa got the back right back for the Chargers, tearing the ball away from running back Franklin Pham and pouncing on it at the McKinley 15. Three plays later, Pearl City quarterback Makana Canyon found Isaiah Cruz-Amerperosa for a 25-yard touchdown pass that opened up a 20-0 cushion.

“The D-line sets the tempo for the defense,” Afoa said of moving from the secondary to the front. “If we get the sack that’s how the defense starts playing.”

Pearl City’s defense turned away three McKinley drives inside its 10-yard line to preserve the Chargers’ fourth straight shutout against the Tigers.

McKinley reached the Pearl City 6 in the second quarter only to come up empty and Afoa’s sack stifled the Tigers’ threat early in the third quarter.

Kaena Leopoldo took over at quarterback for McKinley late in the third quarter and led the Tigers on a 13-play march deep into Pearl City territory. Leopoldo completed five of eight throws for 51 yards and the Tigers had a first down at the Chargers’ 11. After a loss of 1 and two incomplete passes, a pass interference call on fourth down gave McKinley another shot. But a throw into the flat also fell incomplete to keep the Tigers off the scoreboard.

The Pearl City offense was held to seven points in losses to Kealakehe and Kaiser in the first two weeks, but struck early against McKinley. Canyon, who sat out the opener, hit Joshua Gleason for a 34-yard completion on his second throw of the game to spark a 10-play opening drive that ended with Ali’i Gaspar’s 5-yard touchdown run.

In his second start of the season, Canyon finished with 219 yards and two touchdown passes, finishing with a short slant to Preston Hong that turned into a 57-yard score.

Canyon, who threw 10 touchdown passes against five interceptions last year, had four completions of 25 yards or longer. Gleason was his primary deep threat with receptions of 34 and 40 yards and Cruz-Amerperosa finished with a team-high 83 yards on five receptions.


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