Posted: August 10, 2012 - 2:01pm
Mules open with 23-15 win over Service
WAHIAWA - Keoni Piceno didn't wait long to make his presence felt.
The senior receiver, who transferred from Campbell during the summer, caught touchdown passes of 28 and 16 yards in his Leilehua debut, to lift the Mules to a 23-15 non-league win over Robert Service (Alaska) in the Fire and Ice Bowl.
A crowd of about 1,300 at Hugh Yoshida Stadium saw the Mules (1-0) rally from an early deficit to up end the Cougars (0-1) in the season-opener for both teams Friday night.
"Our offense looked good today. We started clicking," said Piceno, who finished with game-highs of eight receptions and 78 yards. "We had a rough spring ball, so we had to bring everything together as far as timing and getting used to each other, but it finally showed that we got it down tonight."
Leilehua junior Justin Jenks fared well in his bid to replace his prolific predecessor, Kenan Sadanaga. Jenks completed 17 of his 27 pass attempts for 175 yards, with two touchdowns - both to Piceno - and one interception.
"The quarterbacks looked good; They made their reads and did a good job," Piceno said. "Our depth is really good on offense and the defense really pulled through for us."
Service outgained Leilehua 229 to 207 yards of total offense, but the Mules got four turnovers (three interceptions and one fumble recovery) from its defense, which held the Cougars to just 2-of-10 on third-down conversions. Shaldan Kalaau, Shai Pulawa and Brennon Jacinto each picked off a pass and Andrew Sesepasara recovered a fumble that led to a second-quarter touchdown for Leilehua. However, it was Service that opened the scoring.
The visitors from Anchorage received the opening kickoff and quickly marched downfield, capping a seven-play, 55-yard drive with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Viliamu Aukusitino to Thavun Srisaneha. On the scoring play, Aukusitino bought time scrambling in the backfield before he found Srisaneha wide open in the right side of the end zone. Ihro Raquindin added the extra point to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead with nine minutes and 15 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Mules answered with an 11-play, 71-yard drive that ended with Jenks' 28-yard touchdown pass to Piceno with 5:18 left. Piceno, who was lined up wide right of the formation, got behind the defense and twisted in mid-air to pull in Jenks' pass. However, the ensuing two-point conversion was no good and Leilehua trailed 7-6.
Jacinto put the Mules ahead for good with a 37-yard field goal late in the first quarter and Piceno extended their lead with his second touchdown grab on their next drive with a 16-yard reception from Levi Castanares. After the quick pass from Castanares, Piceno juked the defender and raced into the end zone. The two-point conversion run by Jacinto was good with 9:32 until halftime to make it 17-7.
"I was feeling a little pressure when I was at home, but when I step on this field, I never bring any of that out there," said Piceno. "We know our job, we know our task at hand. Every practice we always come out here to work to get better."
After Service turned it over on downs, Leilehua scored four plays later on a 29-yard pass from Jenks to Kahi Kilaulani with 5:31 left in the second quarter. Jenks, a 5-foot-6, 155-pound junior, connected with Kilaulani, who was left wide open in the middle of the field. The conversion attempt was no good and the Mules took a 23-7 lead into the half.
The Cougars pulled to within a score in the fourth quarter when Aukusitino - who moved to running back in the second half - found the end zone on a toss left from backup signal caller C.J. Toomer. With an unbalanced line in front of him, Aukusitino followed the block of his fullback and tight end, cut upfield and scored with 7:43 remaining. Service ran what looked like the same play on the ensuing two-point conversion and Aukusitino again made good on the carry to cut the Leilehua lead to 23-15.
Jenks was intercepted by Toomer - who also played defensive back - a few minutes later, but he returned the favor and was picked off by Jacinto. The turnover gave the ball back to the Mules with 3:55 to play, but Service got another shot as it forced a punt and took possession with 48 seconds left at its own 31.
Toomer moved the Cougars down to the Leilehua 28-yard line following a 17-yard scramble and a 22-yard pass to Nahshon Fromm. However, in a desperation move - on the game's final play - Toomer fumbled the ball on an attempted pass play and the clock ran out.
Piceno said while the coaching staff was mostly pleased with the result, he knows it wasn't the Mules' best performance.
"There's always room for improvement," he said. "There were little mistakes we made, but they're fixable."
It was the first game back as head coach for Leilehua's Nolan Tokuda, who took a leave of absence last season after the birth of his child. Defensive coordinator Mark Kurisu served s interim head coach last season.
Service, which won the Alaska large school state title last year, suited up 35 players.
"It didn't quite go the way we wanted. Unfortunately for us, we had a couple key injuries that hurt us a little bit and we had some number two guys in and we had to shuffle some things around," Cougars' head coach Numi Ilalio said.
"That's no excuse, because Leilehua is a pretty damn good team."
It was the second time in as many years that the two schools met to open their seasons. They played to a 34-all tie almost a year ago to the day.
August 10, 2012
Leilehua QB Justin Jenks makes a throw under pressure against Service (AK). Greg Yamamoto | SL