MAKIKI — It was better late than never for Makoa Cooper to make his mark.
Cooper rushed for a game-high 94 yards on 19 carries, including the game-winning touchdown in overtime, to lift Pearl City to a thrilling 22-16 win over Kalani in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division II opener for both teams Saturday night.
A crowd of about 800 at Roosevelt's Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium saw the Chargers (1-1 overall, 1-0 league) blow a 13-point fourth-quarter lead against the Falcons (0-1), only to win it in walk-off fashion.
"This football game was peaks and valleys. At one point we're up, the next thing you know it we're (tied)," Pearl City coach Robin Kami said. "Like I told the kids, ‘just keep playing' and lucky we have overtime now — that's a new rule — where you can at least have a chance to come back and win the game, so I'm thankful for that."
The Chargers' defense came up huge in the extra period to set-up the win.
Paulsson Solomon dropped Kalani quarterback Seth Tina-Soberano for a sack and 7-yard loss on the Falcons' first play of OT. Two plays later, on third-and-10, Solomon chased down the elusive Tina-Soberano for an 11-yard loss. Tina-Soberano's fourth-down pass was deflected by Pearl City's Kasey Kikuyama in the end zone and the result was a turnover on downs.
Pearl City picked up five yards on a rush by Andre Carter on its first offensive play, and on the very next play, Cooper powered his way through several defenders and into the end zone for the game-ending, 15-yard TD run.
"All I saw was a hole, I saw a defender and I just stiff-armed him. I don't really remember what I did, but it just happened and all Glory to God," Cooper said.
Cooper, a senior running back, did not play in the Chargers' 20-7 loss to Lahainaluna due to a minor injury, and was eager to hit the gridiron Saturday, to say the least.
"I was hungry for it. I really wanted to get my hands in the ball again," said Cooper, who had 12 carries for 65 yards by halftime Saturday.
Kami said Cooper's availability had a ripple effect on the rest of his team.
"It was big that I could get him a chance to run the ball because we were using our guys both ways and we tried to not do that, so with Makoa back we can play everybody back just one way," Kami said.
Pearl City opened the scoring with Zameer Khan's 33-yard field goal near the midpoint of the first quarter, but Kalani evened the score on a 25-yard Wayne McClellan field goal at the 8:27 mark of the second.
The Chargers answered with a heavy doze of Cooper on their ensuing possession, which covered 65 yards in nine plays — including five carries for 25 yards by Cooper — and culminated with a trick play. On the scoring play, quarterback Isaiah Asinsin threw a lateral to wideout Micah Quillopo-Jamile, who then fired a deep ball to a wide-open Dayton Hernandez in the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown.
A Kalani special teams' miscue set-up Pearl City's next score. Four plays after RJ Kami recovered a muffed punt return, Khan booted a 25-yard field goal to send the Chargers into the half with a 13-3 advantage.
Khan added a 29-yard field goal late in the third quarter to stretch it to a 16-3 lead.
However, Kalani inched closer with Tina-Soberano's 4-yard TD pass to Logan Matsuoka with 2:25 left in the game. The score capped a 16-play, 99-yard drive that included a 28-yard completion from Tina-Soberano to Ryu Yamane on third-and-13 and a 14-yard run by the former on fourth-and-3. McClellan's PAT cut the deficit to 16-10.
The Falcons immediately went back to work on offense after Matthew Wu recovered McClellan's onside kick attempt to give them possession at the Pearl City 44-yard line.
Tina-Soberano completed his first three pass attempts on the drive to help Kalani get inside the Chargers' 10.
Kalani was unable to gain any yardage on its first three goal-to-go downs, but struck gold on fourth down. On the play, Tina-Soberano scrambled to his right before finding Joshua Titialii near the back of the end zone for the 7-yard TD pass and game-tying score with just 47 seconds left to play.
"That quarterback is too good," Kami said of Tina-Soberano. "You have to tackle him, you cannot just wrap. You have to make sure you tackle him because he's slippery.
However, a delay-of-game penalty against the Falcons prior to the extra point proved to be critical, as McClellan's kick was wide left and no good.
Pearl City drove to the Kalani 31-yard line in the closing seconds, but could not score so the game was sent it into overtime.
"Pearl City is a great team; They're real classic," Kalani coach Scott Melemai said. "We played hard, they played hard and it came down to the end, exactly like how we always hope it comes down to."
Tina-Soberano finished 14-of-22 passing for 138 yards without an interception and added 22 carries for a hard-fought 26 yards despite being sacked six times.
"He had me on my heels the whole game. I give him all the credit," said Chargers' defensive end Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who registered 2 1/2 sacks. "He carried his team and I just hope that we get to play him again because he's just a tremendous athlete."
Tupuola-Fetui said the victory was indeed a character-building one.
"I'm proud of my team because we kept our heads up. There were times that we could have easily given up, but it's just a great team win all around, especially after that Lahainaluna game," he said. "We're never out of it, but we took ourselves out of it before the game was done, so for us to bounce back this way, I'm blessed to be a part of this team. I couldn't be happier."
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