OIA Football
Cougars rally past Bulldogs with strong second half to bounce back in OIA D2 race


Sat, Sep 24, 2022 @ Kaiser [ 6:00 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
Kaimuki (4-5-0) 7 19 0 632
Kaiser (6-5-0) 14 7 13 741
Easton Yoshino 331 yd 6 TD
Iosefa Letuli 265 yd 2 TD
Iosefa Letuli 108 yd 2 TD
Makana Naleieha 193 yd 3 TD
Dante Peltier 115 yd 1 TD

HAWAII KAI — Kaiser got the much-needed win it wanted Saturday night, but not after its share of first-half struggles. 

Easton Yoshino passed for 331 yards and a six touchdowns to help the Cougars claw back from a double-digit deficit to a 41-32 win over Kaimuki in an OIA Division II game at Kaiser Stadium. 

The home team withstood a 19-point second quarter by the Bulldogs with a string of 20 straight points of its own. Kaiser (3-3 overall, 3-2 league) outscored Kaimuki (3-3, 3-2) in the second half, 21-6. 

"This one was a really tough one; we just had to push," said sophomore linebacker Tea Nuuhiwa-Santos, who tallied five tackles for loss to lead the Cougars defensively. 

"The second half we started pushing. We thought, ‘Shoot, this is going be one game,' so second half we just had to grind and push. We couldn't give in; we just had to keep going," Nuuhiwa-Santos said. 

Kaimuki took its largest lead of the night at 26-14 after Iosefa Letuli and Dante Peltier hooked up for a 67-yard touchdown pass with two minutes and 30 seconds left in the second quarter. 

However, Yoshino and the Cougars had an answer — and a quick one, at that. 

Yoshino's 24-yard TD pass to Makana Naleieha on a stop-and-go route down the left sideline cut the Bulldogs' lead to 26-21 with 1:09 until the end of the first half. 

Out of the intermission, Kaiser needed just 53 seconds to pull ahead. One play after Yoshino and Rayne Sumida connected for a 43-yard pass, Yoshino hit Keagan Lime for a 17-yard scoring strike to put their team ahead for good, 28-26.

Kaimuki then put together a 12-play drive, but turned it over on downs after Ofa Vehikite was a yard shy of the end zone on fourth-and-goal. That gave the Cougars possession at their own 1-yard line, but a false start penalty inched them back another foot — give or take a few inches. 

On Kaiser's first play of the drive, Yoshino stood five yards deep in his own end zone, took the shotgun snap and fired a quick pass in the left seam for Naleieha, who did the rest. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Naleieha raced away from the Bulldogs' secondary and broke one tackle near the Kaimuki 10-yard line before he completed the 99-yard touchdown pass. 

"That was huge. The play design was just to try to get them offsides and then we went offsides and so then after that we just hit them with the ‘Zorro,' " said Naleieha, a senior wide receiver. 

"So we hit them with the ‘Zorro' — that slant — and I just broke free and I'm just glad my o-line for blocking and Easton for putting that ball in my hands. I'm proud, yeah; I'm proud of all the boys," Naleieha said. 

The Cougars went for two on the conversion, but Yoshino's pass fell incomplete and their lead remained 34-26 until the 9:58 mark of the fourth quarter, when Vehikite capped a 13-play, 66-yard drive with his 2-yard TD run to cut Kaiser's cushion to 34-32. 

Vehikite had run for more than 200 yards in each of Kaimuki's first four league games. He finished Saturday's game with 109 yards on 27 carries. 

"I really want to give a lot of credit to my coaches. My coaches showed me everything, they really pushed me and I couldn't do it without them. Even the boys, the boys all pushed me, too, but just like coach said, ‘Watch the ball, watch the person and then you make the tackle,' that's always what coach says," Nuuhiwa-Santos recited. 

The Bulldogs posted 497 yards of total offense, including 232 rushing, but it came on 54 carries. Letuli, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound junior quarterback, ran for 108 yards and two first-half touchdowns on 16 carries. He also threw for 265 yards and two TDs on 10-of-18 passing, but only 60 of those yards came in the second half. 

Letuli's two TDs through the air were also before halftime. He launched a deep pass that found the hands of Jeremiah White for a 72-yard score early in the second quarter and then he and Peltier paired up for their 67-yard TD pass later in the period. 

White caught four passes for 105 yards and Peltier had three receptions for 115 yards in the loss. 

"Well, our starting safety was out, so we had to put our starting corner at safety and that's why I was in there," said Lime, who played both ways with several starters out for the Cougars, including leading receiver Donovan Reis (injury). 

"I don't usually play (defensive back), but I think that I just had to step up and do what I could do to get the ball back in our playmakers' hands and do what we have to do to win," Lime added. 

Lime, a 5-foot-7, 150-pound slotback, closed out the scoring with his 1-yard TD pass from Yoshino with 7:58 left in the fourth quarter. In addition to his pair of second-half touchdown receptions, Lime also came up with the only interception by either team. His pick of Letuli represented the game's lone turnover and halted Kaimuki's penultimate possession with 5:02 remaining. 

"I knew we had to get the ball into our offense's hands and I knew they'd do what they had to do, so I just made sure I got that ball back for them," Lime said. 

He noted that in the aftermath of last week's heartbreaking 27-21 loss to Pearl City, the Cougars rallied around one another. 

"It was a lot to handle and a lot to take in, but I think that we just came together this week as a team and I think that we did what we had to do to get that win. Yeah, we were very eager to get that," Lime said. "I think that we played much better as a team this week. it was a really good team win."

Kaiser tallied 411 total yards in the win. Yoshino was 15-of-23 passing for 150 yards in the first half, but went 5 of 6 for 171 yards after the break. 

"It did take a while to adjust because how Kaimuki came out with a different play style than what we expected, but we got it done. We talked with our offensive coordinator, got coordinated on that and then we just executed our game plan from there on out," said Naleieha, who finished with eight catches for 193 yards and three touchdowns. 

Kaiser moved into third place in the OIA D2 standings by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker over Kaimuki, which saw its three-game win streak come to an end. 

The Bulldogs started the game with just 28 players suited, but saw a few have to leave the contest due to injury, including their star running back, Vehikite, who was helped off the field in the closing minutes. 

Both teams return to action Saturday. Kaimuki will host first-place Nanakuli (5-1, 5-0) at Roosevelt's Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium, while Kaiser will visit Alex Kane Stadium to take on Kalaheo (1-6, 1-4). 

The top four teams in the final standings will qualify for the league tournament. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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