KAHUKU — Leilehua's defense did just about everything it could against the top-ranked team in the state Friday night.
The Mules hung tough with perennial powerhouse Kahuku for more than three quarters, but like so many other teams, succumbed to the juggernaut down the stretch in a 24-0 loss at Carleton E. Weimer Field in the Oahu Interscholastic Association opener for both teams.
The Red Raiders clung to a 10-0 lead until the 7:49 mark of the third quarter before scoring two touchdowns in a span of just over six minutes to seal the victory.
Kahuku's defense put the clamps on Leilehua's passing attack, allowing a meager 15 yards through the air and just 37 overall, but it wasn't the only defense working hard Friday night.
The Mules stood their ground for most of the contest. They forced a punt after an eight-play drive by Kahuku to open the game. Kahuku drove to the Leilehua 25-yard line on its next possession, but Sol-Jay Maiava was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-12 to result in a turnover on downs.
Leilehua forced a Kahuku three-and-out just as a scoreless first quarter came to a close. Even after its offense turned it over on one of four interceptions on the night five plays into the second stanza, Leilehua limited Kahuku to a field goal for the game's first points with 7:50 left in the first half.
The Red Raiders benefitted from a short field after another Mules' interception and recycled the turnover into a 7-yard Maiava touchdown run. However, their ensuing drive resulted in another three-and-out.
Leilehua's defense made a huge goal line stand near the end of the first half. After Kahuku's third interception before halftime gave it the ball back at the Mules' 14, it had first-and-goal from the 3 two plays later.
The Mules held running back Enoch Nawahine to one-yard gains on first and second downs, and kept Maiava to no gain on a third-down bootleg. On fourth-and-goal, linebacker Donavon Ugalino made a leaping deflection of a Maiava pass to deny the Red Raiders.
Kahuku's first three second-half possessions resulted in two turnover on downs and one punt.
Although the Red Raiders finished with 313 yards of total offense, they held possession for more than 33 minutes and ran 28 more plays from scrimmage than the Mules.
Sunny Kanamu, Jr. finished with a game-high 11 tackles, including nine solo stops, and broke up a pass. Ugalino posted six tackles with a sack and Richard Shimasaki added three tackles, two for losses, including one sack.
"We did our job," said longtime defensive coordinator and first-year coach Mark Kurisu. "Kahuku did well. They're number 25 in the nation and if we can roll with them to whatever score we played to and even up to the fourth quarter, I mean, I can't ask for anything more from our kids."
The Mules (1-1 overall, 0-1 league), who visit fifth-ranked Mililani next Saturday, were coming off a solid defensive performance in a 13-9 win over Saint Francis to open the season last week.
"Granted we would have wanted to win, but we just have to care care of our division," Kurisu said. "This was a great learning experience. We played two great teams in Saint Francis and Kahuku back to back."
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