Maybe this was a turning point for the St. Francis Saints.
The immense challenge by Pac-Five. The injuries at running back. The Saints had to extend beyond their comfort zone on Friday night, relying on the aerial acumen of Bubba Akana, who was 22-for-31 for 196 yards, four touchdowns — and no interceptions — in a come-from-behind 35-21 win at Aloha Stadium.
It was just one chapter in the evolution of the Saints, who struggled to run the ball consistently. Promising sophomore Bubba Aina-Chaves tweaked an already injured ankle in the first quarter, and though Tyson Shimabukuro had some good pickups (36 yards on 10 carries), he is also getting back to form following off-season knee surgery. The ground-and-pound Saints finished with a modest 111 rushing yards on 28 carries.
It was the air corps, along with standout defensive adjustments at halftime, that turned the momentum for St. Francis (1-0 ILH D-II). Scott McLeod had just five receptions for 37 yards, but two of them were for touchdowns.
Defensively, the Saints were picked apart by Pac-Five’s Tyler Fukuroda (9-for-11, 168 yards, two TDs) in the first half. After intermission, Fukuroda was 4-for-22 with three interceptions and just 33 passing yards.
“They’re a seasoned bunch of coaches there. Although they have low numbers, they always get their guys ready to play. We have a lot of respect for those guys. They played a tough game,” coach Kip Akana said. “We gave up some big plays early, had them score on special teams. They had us on our heels, basically. But football is a game of adjustments. Defensively, we made good adjustments. We did enough to come away with a victory. A lot of room for improvement.”
Pac-Five had 15 yards of total offense in the second half.
“We made some coverage adjustments. We knew that our defensive line would eventually get there. It was a combination of them wearing down and our halftime adjustments. We had to sit down and digest it. In-game adjustments are kind of tough. We’re lucky halftime came when it did,” Akana said.
That’s all a part of ILH D-II football, where there are very few secrets and never an easy battle.
“I don’t know why the sentiment is that Pac-Five isn’t tough. Whenever we play them, they give us a hard time. That’s just a testament to Kip (Botelho), (assistant coach) Chris Bisho and the staff. They’ve been there a long, long time.”
The Saints, who came close to winning the ILH D-II title last year — Shimabukuro and the QB, Akana, suffered season-ending injuries on the same first-quarter play in the league title game — are holding each other to an ultimate bar of excellence.
They lost 157 yards on 15 penalties. That’s just about two long drives worth of work, vaporized.
“There’s so much room for improvement. We certainly didn’t meet our expectations,” Kip Akana said.
The Saints are gritty, top to bottom, and that overcomes a lot of mental errors.
“Bubba (Aina-Chaves) is a tough kid,” Akana said of the running back/punter. “He came back and gave us what he could. We’ve got some tough kids.”
Next up for St. Francis is former D-II powerhouse ‘Iolani, which hosts the Saints on Friday at 3:15 p.m. ‘Iolani is now back after two seasons in D-I. The Raiders beat Kaimuki 57-34 last week in a preseason matchup, the same Bulldogs team that was very tough in a scrimmage with St. Francis.
‘Iolani, you know, we know what we’re up against. Kaimuki is good, and we saw what happened last week,” Akana said.