Posted with permission, article and pictures, courtesy of Bedrock Sports Hawaii
Story by: Nick Abramo
A whole of 3 points were scored in the first half. Yup, it was just one of those games Saturday night at Bino Neves Stadium.
To some: boring. To others: a defensive gem with a pretty good chance of a fantastic ending.
Nanakuli — a team built on running, toughness and defense — wound up pulling away in the very late stages for a 21-3 win.
And no question about it, there were some big — let’s call them MAMMOTH — moments that allowed the Golden Hawks to not only end up on top of the OIA D-II first-place battle but also got them mathematically into the league’s four-team playoffs.
But, let’s first set the scene for the home team, the Chargers — a team built on passing, offensive finesse and defense. It was only one week earlier that quarterback Trey Dacoscos went down with an an ankle injury as his team held on for a 27-21 win over Kaiser.
For this huge showdown on Saturday, the backup running the show turns out to be a guy who is really a slotback, Bobby Best, so he was learning on the job after only four days of practice and one half of action against the Cougars last week. More on Best later, but let’s get that fact out here now that (although as Pearl City coach Robin Kami was quick to point out afterward, not having your starting QB is no excuse whatsoever) losing your starter on an offense predicated on quick routes and timing is not an easy thing.
But, ahhh, that’s the beauty of football, where nothing is easy.
“I’m super proud of our team,” Nanakuli coach Kili Watson told Bedrock Sports Hawaii. “We make sure that practice is way harder than the games. That’s what you gotta do if you want to succeed on Friday nights. Having grit and toughness, it’s an attitude and a mind-set.”
And now on to those game-changing plays by Nanakuli (5-1, 5-0).
Trailing at the half, the Golden Hawks didn’t put points on the board to go ahead until only 2:31 remained in the third quarter.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game — a major momentum shift — came on a third-down-and-9 situation from the Nanakuli 39, when senior running back/tight end Nathan Pele-Tukumoeatu caught a slant pass from Hansen Salausa-Kaawa for a 33-yard gain all the way to the Chargers’ 28.
Let’s just say that this was a really physical game, and Pele-Tukumoeatu — who is 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds — hadn’t played much in the first quarter and was fully rested. And so, the Chargers, who previously handled everything thrown at them, were not quite prepared for this type of bullfight.
Four plays later, the Golden Hawks were in the end zone. Guess how? Pele-Tukumoeatu was at it again with his rough-and-tumble demeanor and presence. He caught a 20-yard pass with tacklers desperately trying to get him down and then he carried a few defenders with him on a 5-yard touchdown run.
“We have three running backs that we like to rotate and keep ’em all healthy and effective,” Watson said. “(Pele-Tukumoeatu) is an awesome kid. Off the field, he’s respectful and very hard working, a natural leader. When he’s not on the field in his rotation, he’s talking to the team, telling them to stay in the game and stay focused. And this is his first year playing football for us.”
A successful 2-point conversion put Nanakuli up 8-3, but Pearl City (5-2, 4-1) was still very much in it.
The next gigantic play for Nanakuli came on the Chargers’ next possession when the home team drove all the way to the Golden Hawks’ 12. On third down, Kay knocked down a pass by Pearl City’s Koalii Torres (the wide receiver’s only attempt of the game) intended for Triton Tamanao that looked for a second like a sure touchdown that would have put the Chargers back on top.
And then another biggie. On the next play, Nanakuli’s Davin Bright-Lee made sure Pearl City didn’t inch closer by blocking Marcus Rodriguez’s 29-yard field goal attempt.
Before we go any further, it should be noted that earlier, near the end of the first half, Kay leaped to intercept a pass in the corner of the end zone to end a Chargers threat after they drove to the Golden Hawks’ 15.
“We have a target on our back (now) and we just gotta work harder to stay on the top and just finish through the playoffs,” Kay said. “We know it may have been a different, closer game if their quarterback wasn’t hurt. So, yeah, we would like to see them again (in the playoffs).”
And there were two more game-saving plays for Nanakuli, who were still clinging to a five-point lead.
On the first one, Pearl City was about to cross midfield with 1:35 left, when Rodriguez, after a reception, was looking for more yardage and fumbled on a hit by Cyrprus Rombawa-Kai-Rivera with the Golden Hawks’ Tamalii Namulauti-Auau recovering to pretty much seal the deal.
The second one was Kainalu Lewis’ interception leading to Salausa-Kaawa’s 26-yard touchdown pass to David Kalili with 58 seconds left.
And then, as time ran out with the outcome already settled, Harley Lee put the final points on the board by returning an interception 72 yards for a TD.
Pearl City’s Best, that slotback turned quarterback who rushed for 9o yards and threw for 169, clicked with his receivers more and more as the night went on and was in the midst of running tight 2-minute drills before those picks at the end when Pearl City was taking more chances than usual because of the deficit.
“I give Bobby a lot of credit for coming in and starting,” coach Kami said. “It’s mot easy to do that, especially since this game was so big. He did the best he could.”
Here’s Best’s take on how he ended up as QB1: “When Trey got injured, it kind of brought a thought into my head, just figuring out who’s the next player to step up. The coach selected me, so all this week, all I did was hone my skills and try to keep it going for the team. I was nervous at first, filling that big role. I felt like in the second half, I started getting stronger.”
Despite the loss, Best and the Chargers are far from throwing in the towel.
“Even though it was a tough loss and we made mental mistakes, I still think we have a major chance,” Best said. “If we can heal up and perfect our craft, I’d say that we’ll make it through.”
Defensively, Joseph Pomele had a standout night for the Chargers with three tackles for loss, including a sack, and a fumble recovery.
“(Joseph) was hurt last year, so he’s had a fire going, starting with a good offseason,” Kami said. “We were waiting for him to play to his potential and today we saw what he can do.”