Leilehua has emphasized special teams the past few weeks and Akoni Tom-Makue is leading the way.
The Mules kicker made three first-quarter field goals and had a key punt late in the game as host Leilehua beat Damien 23-17 on Saturday in an OIA-ILH Division I game.
“I have a lot of confidence in my O-line — they block for me and I just get the points done with my leg,” Tom-Makue said.
Leilehua quarterback Max Nichols threw two touchdown passes in the second half and the Mules defense allowed 194 total yards.
Damien had three possessions while down by six points, but threw an interception, punted and turned the ball over on downs.
“We just made too many mistakes and we couldn’t put it together at the end there,” said Damien coach Eddie Klaneski. “We had a few stops there at the end. We tried our best, but sometimes you have to get credit to those guys. They’re a great defensive team, a great program, well-coached and they did a helluva job.”
The Monarchs (4-4, 4-3) will finish behind ‘Iolani in the ILH. The Raiders clinched a berth in the Division I state tournament with the Damien loss.
The Mules (7-2, 5-1) were already assured of being the OIA’s No. 2 seed in the state tournament.
Leilehua coach Mark Kurisu said special teams have been emphasized after the Mules allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown and muffed two punts in a loss to Moanalua two weeks ago.
“We don’t do conditioning anymore. At the beginning of practice, we start off with special teams,” said Kurisu, who added his team has spent about one-third of practice working on special teams.
Against Damien, Tom-Makue nailed a 22-yarder to cap the first possession of the game, a 40-yarder with 3:44 left before halftime and another 40-yarder on the final play of the first half.
“We’re very confident we can go with him,” Kurisu said of his kicker. “Every offense will attest, when you get in the red zone, it’s tough to score (touchdowns).”
Tom-Makue’s 40-yard punt pinned the Monarchs at the 1 with 1:58 left. Damien converted a fourth down out to the 13, but a sack and three incompletions ended any chances of a comeback victory.
“It’s great coverage by my players getting down there,” Tom-Makue said. “I can’t do it without all of them on the field.”
Nichols’ scoring passes were a 28-yarder to Jeremy Evans and a 48-yarder to Kalei Akagi. They were the only catches in the game for the receivers.
“We talked about it during halftime. We knew that was going to be there because the O-line blocked a helluva game the whole way,” Nichols said. “We knew if we got the ball to the wide receivers’ hands on the field, it would be wide open.”
Nichols finished 16-for-39 for 231 yards and an interception. Six of the completions went for at least 20 yards. Dorian Furtado caught five passes for 101 yards.
“Everyone wants Max to be like an Andrew Manley or a Bryant Moniz (both former Leilehua standouts), but he’s Max,” Kurisu said. “This is his first year starting and there is a lot of pressure on him and some of it is self-imposed because the standards are high for him.”
Damien scored on Logan Lauti’s 3-yard run, a field goal by Christian Souza and a 10-yard pass from Jake Holtz, who split time at quarterback with Duke Hoohuli.
Holtz was 11 of 33 for 118 yards and Hoohuli was 2 of 7 for 19 yards.
“We kind of had a quarterback battle going the last few weeks and we just kind of see who has the hot hand,” Klaneski said. “Both of them can do certain things and at the end we needed Jake’s arm to throw the ball. We weren’t helping him by not protecting him that much.”
Despite the Monarchs being out of state tournament contention, Klaneski expects his team to come out ready to go in next week’s season finale against Castle.
“We have a lot to play for,” he said. “It’s the last game for the seniors. It’s going to be tough to get the younger guys up. For us, it’s going to be a winning season (with a victory).”