Sometimes, the biggest lessons in football come with a loss.
If you can say, “Yes,” when someone asks if you went down fighting, then you’ve upheld your end of the bargain.
It’s a rare sight, if it ever happened at all, to see the home team quit in Nanakuli Valley. And any home fan who bought a ticket to see the Golden Hawks take on Castle on Friday night got their money’s worth despite a 49-35 loss.
Nanakuli went down fighting, for sure.
Down 49-14, Nanakuli scored 21 unanswered points while keeping Castle at bay over the last quarter and a half.
“Castle played an awesome game,” Golden Hawks first-year head coach Kili Watson said. “Unfortunately, we were on the short end of the stick. What I did admire was the resiliency of our team coming out in the second half. We continued to fight all the way until the end. It was just too late is all.
“I told my team that we need that from the beginning. Start fast and finish strong.”
The Golden Hawks (1-4, 1-3 Oahu Interscholastic Association Red) didn’t know quite what hit them and trailed 14-0 after Castle’s first two offensive plays. Jaylen Uyemura-Lee, back at quarterback after recovering from an injury, found Makana Smith and Kawai Naki with touchdown bombs.
“I’ve seen him play and we have some film on him,” Watson said about Uyemura-Lee. “We heard around midweek that he was going to be back. We tried our best on defense. Sometimes you can’t defend a good arm like that. He has a nice arm on him.”
Uyemura-Lee threw for 332 yards, including 137 yards to Naki and 112 yards to Smith. Castle’s Chasen Palaylay-Shuford was also a major weapon on the night, with 137 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards.
On one play, Palaylay-Shuford got to the outside on the right and used blazing speed to go for an 84-yard touchdown. That made it 42-14, and on Nanakuli’s next offensive play, Damien Fauolo recovered a fumble in the Golden Hawks’ end zone for 49-14 lead.
“Those two (early) TDs were like a punch in the mouth for us,” Watson said. “And it took some time to get the boys back up to speed after that. I thought we made the correct adjustments.”
Kaleo Banks‘ 34-yard TD reception from Nahum Kipi early in the fourth quarter started the Nanakuli comeback. Then Chayce Morgan recovered a Knights fumble and sprinted 40 yards for a score to make it 49-27.
Nanakuli’s Noa Kaaihue-Lincoln recovered an onside kick, but it did not lead to points.
“That’s one of the things we’re trying to get across,” Watson said. “When the other team makes mistakes, we need to capitalize.”
But the Knights went three and out, giving Nanakuli another chance. This time, the valley boys delivered with a 30-yard Kipi to Aalona Aleka TD pass, and that was followed by Pookela Piilani‘s two-point conversion catch for the 14-point, 49-35 deficit with 6:25 left in the game.
Nanakuli’s tenacity continued on defense. With tackles for loss by Sean Souza, Vaavaai Niumata and Morgan, the Knights punted.
But Nanakuli went nowhere on its last possession and time ran out.
“Moving forward from this game, we have to fix our mistakes,” Watson said. “We have a bye week and we’ll regroup and make sure we’re ready to come back for Leilehua (in Wahiawa on Sept. 15).
“The beautiful thing about this team, though, is the resilience. We cannot wait until the middle of the fourth quarter. But I love the fight.”
Castle’s Chaz Ciacci turned in a solid defensive game, with two tackles for loss, including a sack, and a fumble recovery. Senituli Punivai and Justin Lopes added a tackle for loss apiece for Castle.
The Knights (3-2, 3-1) are in the thick of the OIA Red race. They host Leilehua (1-2, 0-2) next Friday.