Playmakers Shine for Nanakuli, Kalaheo

Every game is a big game for Keala Watson's Nanakuli squad this year. Krystle Marcellus / Star-Advertiser
Every game is a big game for Keala Watson’s Nanakuli squad this year. Krystle Marcellus / Star-Advertiser

While both Nanakuli and Kalaheo suffered lackluster non-conference losses to open the 2015 campaign, the Golden Hawks and Mustangs proved Saturday night that watching their playmakers in action are worth the price of admission.

The Golden Hawks relied on a fluid offense and tenacious “D” en route to a 28-14 victory over Kalaheo in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division II season opener for both squads at Kailua High School.

Nanakuli’s studs stepped up first, including junior quarterback Nainoa Banks, who threw for 80 yards and two scores while also posting a 43-yard touchdown run. Running back Sunshine Anuenue was Nanakuli’s workhorse on the ground as the senior amassed 84 yards on 13 carries, the majority of which came in the second half as coach Keala Watson attempted to hold the lead against the scrappy opposition.

Golden Hawks slotback Clifford Cunningham channeled his inner Devin Hester as the jack-of-all-trades posted a 90-yard kickoff return for touchdown to open the second half. The junior also caught a touchdown, had an eight-yard run, converted two extra-point kicks and ran for a two-point conversion.

The Nanakuli defense, which notched five sacks on the evening, also impressed and held the Mustangs to 225 yards of offense, including minus 15 yards on the ground (Kalaheo was held to minus 11 yards rushing in the first half).

“We have a long ways to go, and our guys know it, and everyone wants to take us down; we have a big target on our backs,” said Nanakuli coach Keala Watson of his defending OIA D-II regular-season and playoff champion squad. “Guys stepped up big time, including Sunshine Anuenue with some huge conversions on third down. We need to continue to be diverse wit playmakers all over the field.”

Nanakuli (1-0 OIA, 1-1) surged ahead 13-0 after Banks connected with Isain Wong-Lonzanida on a 14-yard touchdown pass to complete a 76-yard drive. The scoring stanza was bolstered by a 16-yard run on fourth down by Randy Manewa, who lined up in the backfield to punt but executed the fake perfectly and ran for the first down and more.

Banks used his legs to put his squad up 20-0 midway through the second quarter as the shifty quarterback scampered 43 yards up the middle on an option keeper that fooled the defensive backfield, which committed to the running back’s fake.

Kalaheo (0-1, 0-2) quarterback Mark Lehrner started under center for the second consecutive game and completed 20 of 38 passes for 231 yards and two third-quarter touchdowns. Lehrner, a junior, earned the starting nod after senior gunslinger Tommy Capllonch was ruled academically ineligible to begin the season.

Lehrner’s found a rhythm with receiver Jaden Richardson, who hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass and finished the night with a game-high 79 yards on six catches.

According to Kalaheo coach Darrell Poole, Capllonch was deemed eligible to play prior to Saturday’s contest. The gunslinger was inserted to start the second half, but after completing one of two pass attempts for nine yards, the senior headed back to the bench after appearing to re-aggravate the injury after being sacked.

Mustangs defensive end John Tuitupou, a 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound prospect who according to coaches is drawing interest from colleges including UNLV, picked up a sack within the 3-4 defensive scheme. Teammate Leo Garza-Tafua racked up a game-high three sacks in defeat.

Tempers flared early as, on the opening kickoff, Tuitupou’s helmet was pulled off by an opposing player. Tuitupou did not take kindly to being manhandled and appeared poised to take on the entire Nanakuli squad–but cooler heads prevailed.

Early in the second quarter, Kalaheo’s Caden Smith was ejected for an illegal “targeting” hit to the head of an opponent. From the press box, the play appeared to be a solid “old-school football” hit, but with today’s rules emphasis on protecting players’ heads, the referee made the call.

According to Poole, Kalaheo’s Nathaniel Goob is also getting looks to play at the collegiate level as a 6-foot-two-inch, 285-pound offensive lineman.


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