PAHALA – The 11-man evolution is on.
The run-heavy mantra was grounded, and the air was open for business Saturday in Pahala for Kohala and Ka’u.
Yet, when the rubber met the road, the Trojans turned to an old eight-man reliable, hit the ground and plowed their way to 28-22 Division II victory that doubled as the BIIF game of the year so far.
“When the run fails we pass, when the pass fails we run,” senior Luke Watson said.
It’s nice to do both for once.
Sophomore Keliikoa Reyes-Nalu gave Ka’u (1-2) a spark with his arm and threw a touchdown pass, but he punched in the go-ahead score on a 5-yard run with 5:21 remaining after ripping of gains of 12 and 17.
“It was better than I thought it would be,” Reyes-Nalu said of his first game as a passing quarterback. “Just staying calm, trusting my lineman and trust you receivers.”
Damien Padilla’s diving touchdown catch for the Cowboys (1-2, 1-3 overall) in the third quarter on third-and-goal from the 13 and Legend Libron’s two-point run tied the game 22-22. That set the stage for a BIIF game to be decided in the fourth quarter for the first time this season.
“We’re way ahead for where we’ve been,” said Kohala coach Chad Atkins, whose team was winless last season. “We had Ka’u pegged today, we just shot ourself in the foot,” eluding to a fumble inside the Ka’u 5 early in the third.
Here’s how uneven BIIF football has been this season: The matchup of former eight-man rivals also was the first BIIF game this season to end with a point differential of fewer than two scores.
Ka’u’s Izaiah Pilanca-Emmsley, the national eight-man rushing leader last season known as Bobby to his teammates, caught two touchdown passes, the first coming off the arm of Loea Kaupu.
“Bobby is Bobby,” Trojans coach DuWayne Ke said.
But Ka’u wasn’t always Ka’u.
The Trojans, who claimed four eight-man crowns in five seasons by running teams over, threw just six combined passes in losses to Kamehameha and Hawaii Prep.
On Saturday, they debuted the five-receiver spread.
“Every week we’re bringing something different to the game,” Ke said, “so no one knows what we’re doing.”
Kohala scored on its opening two possessions, the first after recovering a fumble, getting touchdown runs from Zhane Ellazar-Ching and freshman quarterback Easton Hoshida.
On the Trojans’ second drive, Kaupu found Pilanca-Emmsley for a 27-yard gain, setting up Kaupu’s 3-yard touchdown run, then Pilanca-Emmsley returned the favor with a 23-yard pass to Kaupu, and Pilanca-Emmsley first score tied the game.
Reyes-Nalu then took the helm, hitting Kainalu Satkofsky for a 36-yard gain, and his scoring toss to Pilanca-Emmsley gave Ka’u a 22-14 lead at halftime. Reyes-Nalu completed four passes for 66 yards and ran for 88 yards.
“He wasn’t ready against Kamehameha, but today’s game he felt a little bit different,” Ke said. “He had a different confidence in himself, and we have to work on that confidence a little bit more.”
Pilanca-Emmsley picked up 5 on a crucial fourth-and-4 on the Trojans’ go-ahead march in the fourth and gained 64 yards on 16 carries.
“We adjusted our defense to shut down Bobby’s run and I think we did a good job at that, but we forgot about him in the pass,” Atkins said.
Kohala ran for 115 yards in the first half but was stuffed for minus-5 in the second half, when the Cowboys relied more on Hoshida, who completed five passes for 59 yards.
Trailing by six points, Kohala recovered a fumble at its 43 with 2:47 remaining, but any attempt at a game-winning drive was thwarted when Watson and Jonah Beck charged into the backfield for sacks.
“I told these boys, “We’re not letting them (in), we’re stopping them,” Watson said, “and we did.”
Kohala 14 0 8 0– 22
Ka’u 6 16 0 6–28
Kohala – Zhane Ellazar-Ching 11 run (run failed)
Ka’u – Loea Kaupu 3 run (run failed)
Kohala – Easton Hoshida 12 run (Legend Libron run)
Ka’u – Izaiah Pilanca-Emmsley 14 pass from Kaupu (Luke Watson run)
Ka’u – Pilanca-Emmsley 10 pass from Keliikoa Reyes-Nalu (Pilanca-Emmsley run)
Kohala –Damien Padilla 13 pass from Easton Hoshida (Libron run)
Ka’u – Reyes-Nalu 5 run (run failed)