Some quick notes and a scoring recap on last night’s thrilling 34-all tie between Alaska powerhouse Service and fourth-ranked Leilehua.
• Eighteen Mules did not suit up for the game due to academic probation.
• Service left eight players back home, which meant that eight starters saw action on both offense and defense.
• Leilehua slotback Jeremiah Andrade suffered a concussion in the first quarter, and safety Russell had one in the third. Both sat out the remainder of the game.
• Reserve Larry Paas had his only two catches during the two clutch drives late in the game, including a game-tying touchdown catch from Kenan Sadanaga.
“He was open. The safety was off, he just has to throttle and slow down,” Sadanaga said. “He came through.”
• Back-to-back encroachment calls against Service kept one of Leilehua’s late scoring drives alive. The first came on normal motion by a receiver that drew a Cougar over the line. The second came on that old-school Dallas Cowboys shift out of the two-point stance by the entire offensive line.
“We did it a lot in practice,” Sadanaga said. “At least five times a day, during different parts of practice.”
• One of Service’s most effective offensive stretches came out of a Power I formation with offensive lineman Jaryn Villegas, a 6-3, 275-pound junior, lined up at fullback. He rambled for 32 yards, dragging Mule defenders across the synthetic turf, on a key short-yardage first-down conversion.
• About going for the tie … Sadanaga and just about everyone on both teams was able to swallow playing for a tie.
“I feel great. I actually didn’t know if we had overtime,” said Sadanaga, who learned later that there is no overtime for most leagues in Hawaii unless it’s a playoff or state-tourney game.
“We were down all game, at home, so the rule is to go for the tie. I’d rather take the tie than a loss.”
Going for the tie was not exactly automatic. The Mules missed a PAT earlier after a high snap. Then, down 34-27, the snap was high and there was no way to kick. The play ended up as an interception. Still, the Mules elected to give their long snapper, Tevin Miyahara, one more chance. The snap was a perfect spiral to holder Albert Talaroc, and Tim Momiyama drilled the kick.
• From the start, the visiting Cougars opted to play ball control and keep the Mules off-stride.
“They have such a dangerous offense,” Service coach Jason Caldarera said.
The Cougars ate nearly 6 minutes off the clock with a touchdown drive to start the game, then went 80 yards in six plays for a 14-0 lead. Daniel Murakami broke three tackles on a quick pass to the left side, then crossed back to the right on his way to a 63-yard touchdown.
Leilehua answered with a 56-yard kick return by Andrade, setting up his 19-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter.
Service’s spread offense, basically a flex option without a fly motion, worked efficiently. Viliamu Aukusitino was fearless and fluid at the controls, directing an 11-play, 80-yard march. Matthew Ilalio’s 1-yard run gave Service a 21-7 lead with 6:40 to go in the first half.
Leilehua’s offense was warmed up by then. Cole DeCorte’s 6-yard run and Penitito Melei’s 2-point conversion catch brought the Mules within 21-15 with 5:15 remaining in the half.
Service deflated Leilehua’s home crowd with another 80-yard drive. Aukusitino’s 7-yard bootleg to paydirt gave the Cougars a 27-15 lead with 1:06 to go before intermission.
The only problem was that they left too much time on the clock. On the next play from scrimmage, Allen Racette turned a screen pass into a 78-yard touchdown jaunt, juking past a defender down the sideline, and the lead was cut to six points with 44 ticks until the half.
The third quarter was a demonstration of deliberate offensive strategy by Service, chewing up large amounts of time. Leilehua’s offense went four-and-out twice before Sadanaga engineered a long drive to the Service 2-yard line.
However, that Dallas Cowboys shift move backfired, tagging the Mules with an illegal procedure flag. Then Sadanaga rolled left, fired under pressure and was picked off by Aukusitino, who came back to the ball quicker than Sadanaga’s target. Aukusitino went 102 yards untouched to the end zone to give Service a 34-21 lead with 9:19 remaining.
Leilehua’s hopes looked grim when it got the ball back with 3:05 left on its 21-yard line, but Sadanaga made ample use of Nick Rodriguez, Dalten Diggs, Josh Jenks and Paas. The Mules drove 79 yards in just 2 minutes and 2 seconds; Sadanaga’s toss to Paas for a 3-yard touchdown pulled Leilehua within 34-27 with 1:03 to go.
Then came junior Roger Luafalemana’s recovery of the on-side kick, and the ensuing clutch drive to tie the game. DeCorte’s 3-yard touchdown catch with 2 seconds left capped a gritty effort by the first-year starter at running back.
• After post-game handshakes, the teams gathered together at midfield as coaches offered their praise for a well-played game. Then there was spaghetti dinner for all.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser