Here’s hoping the eventual sequel to St. Francis-Leilehua will come close to being as good as the original.
That is a tough ask. Saturday night’s game was starved of offense for long stretches and play was downright sloppy at times, but in terms of a heart-pounding finish, you couldn’t have asked for more. Division II St. Francis, still a newcomer to the Oahu football scene, clawed into position for an improbable road upset of an OIA Division I mainstay, marching down the field for the would-be winning score thanks to some ill-timed Mules penalties in the final minutes.
In the final seconds, Saints quarterback Jonah Aina-Chaves completed an eight-yard pass to Scott McLeod, in space, down to about the Leilehua 2. It really looked, for a split second, like the game was over. All McLeod had to do was cross the plane.
But Leilehua had other ideas. They knocked the ball free and recovered it — it looked like linebacker Donavon Ugalino came out with it — in the end zone with five seconds left as the Mules’ fans went crazy at Hugh Yoshida Stadium over the 13-9 win.
It was a close play in real time. Coaches of both teams thought they had a case for it going in their favor, with St. Francis’ Kip Akana musing that McLeod may have crossed the plane before he lost the ball.
He took the result in stride as his team left the field.
“It was a very competitive game,” Akana said. “Both sides showed a lot of heart. Proud of kids on both sides. They battled.”
New Mules head coach Mark Kurisu and his assistants spoke to their players at length after the game. He acknowledged afterward his team may have taken the Saints lightly. He wants his team to treat each opponent like they can win the state championship, which in turn will elevate his players’ play.
“We have to respect everybody we play,” Kurisu said. “I didn’t say we disrespect St. Francis in any way, but the level of respect you hold for opponent will dictate how well you play today. For us, we had issues in practice trying to keep a high level of intensity, because of their own swag, I guess.”
As for the night’s copious penalties? “Most people are going to say there were a lot of flags. Yes, there were a lot of flags. But you know what? They were good flags. We were holding. We did have pass interference. Would we have liked it to go both ways? Sure. But we’ll take our flags against us.”
There were also a few unsportsmanlike calls that you can bet will be an emphasis. A fourth-quarter extra-point attempt by St. Francis was good, plus penalties which allowed the Saints to kick off, amazingly, from the 30. That allowed them to pin the Mules back for an ensuing safety, which in turn led to the white-knuckle drive that nearly allowed St. Francis to steal the game.
Due to space reasons, not all of the writeup of the game made it into the paper. Here was the rest for the print edition:
Jonah Aina-Chaves, St. Francis’ backup QB, got the start when Bubba Akana was absent from practices this week while on a baseball trip to the mainland. Akana was available on as as-needed basis Saturday, and he was needed when Aina-Chaves took a hard hit and got sidelined in the third quarter.
Leilehua had a bad snap on a 48-yard field goal attempt, allowing St. Francis to take over at the Mules’ 41. Akana guided the Saints in and ran to the far pylon on to get his team on the board with 3:57 left in the game.
Multiple penalties on the extra-point attempt meant St. Francis kicked off, amazingly, from the Leilehua 30. The Saints pooch kicked it, pinning the Mules at the 5, and Kona Andres was brought down for a safety by Fia Mafua Jr. on the ensuing snap with 3:42 remaining.
The Saints’ full-field final drive was extended by critical penalties on the Mules on two different fourth downs when it initially appeared Leilehua had made the requisite stop to secure the game.
There was also a clutch 28-yard throw from Aina-Chaves — back in the game — to Samson Kaleikau, who made a difficult twisting grab at midfield.
“I was telling Coach Kip when we were shaking hands, ‘Hey Coach, I know you heard me (yelling at the refs during the game) but I could hear you too, you know,’ ” Kurisu said. “He had a good laugh about it and we talked about it, we gotta do this again.”