Hāna Posts Historic Football First
By Rodney S. Yap
Hāna High School decided to hānai the sport of 8-man football and three months ago the coaches pumped air into the school’s first footballs.
According to Hāna head coach Kenneth McNickle, the balls were unfamiliar objects to the Hāna players and the game’s terminology sounded like a foreign-language class — not the game of X’s and O’s.
“I’m so proud of these boys. We have two players out of 18 who have ever played football, any kind of football, at any level before this season,” McNickle said. “So in two-and-half months we’ve taken kids who didn’t even know what the ‘line of scrimmage’ was at our first practice.”
The adopted sport looked more like family Thursday night, before a crowd of about 600, and the Dragons played like the War Memorial Stadium end zone was their backyard, posting a 42-26 triumph over St. Anthony in Maui interscholastic League 8-man football action.
The win was Hāna’s first ever in football, a monumental feat when you consider McNickle’s remarks and the fact that only 15 players suited up.
“Now look, we’re playing football,” said McNickle after the game, while his players and coaches accepted congratulations from family and friends around the tunnel near midfield.
The Hāna faithful were loud and supportive throughout the game, collectively counting down the seconds on the game clock when it ended 2 hours and 45 minutes later.
“It’s historic. First-ever win in Hana’s football program and we (the school) just celebrated our Centennial this year,” said the 29-year-old coach and a former college player at Nebraska-Omaha. “The whole community is behind us. I have never seen a football in the four years that I have lived in Hāna, and now every time you go by the community center or a youth group, there are footballs everywhere — all over town.”
The Dragons are making progress by leaps and bounds, scoring as many points in one game as it did in their previous three games combined. The win improved Hāna’s record to 1-3 and softens the 48-14 loss to the Trojans in the league opener at Hāna Ball Park in early September.
Hāna put the ball in the end zone six times Thursday with the Kanakaole brother tandem — of freshman quarterback Chasen and sophomore fullback Kauhi — accounting for four touchdowns. The 5-foot-7, 130-pound Chasen Kanakaole scored twice in the first half on runs of 56 and 15 yards, helping Hāna build a 14-6 halftime lead.
“These kids are amazing. I have never seen so much natural athleticism and they are very quick learners. A lot of these kids, we tell them once and they got it. They are feeling the energy of playing football. It happened in the second half of the Seabury game last week. You could see it in there eyes and hear it in their voices, you could feel the energy that comes with playing football and can not be matched by anything else.”
“When something happens in Hāna everybody supports it. We’ve got dinners for the kids every night before the games, we’ve got people coming out, the whole town has embraced it. And a lot of the older brothers and uncles have been waiting for this for years, and now that we’ve got it, we’ve got their full support, not a negative word.”
In the second half, McNickle called on Kauhi Kanakaole, and the 5-foot-10, 270-pound fullback responded with power running up the middle, dragging Trojan tacklers past the first-down markers on nearly every carry. After Isaiah Pu-Akima returned the second-half kickoff 35 yards to the 44-yard line. The bigger Kanakaole went to work, picking up 22 yards on the first play from scrimmage and another 14 yards on his next carry. Pu-Akima took a pitch wide right for another 14-yard gain, setting the table for Kanakaole’s 11-yard touchdown run two plays later. Pu-Akima ran in the extra point to put Hana ahead 22-6 with 9 minutes, 58 seconds to play in the third period.
On the change of possession, St. Anthony quarterback Preston Masanda hit his go-to receiver Keeston Sutherland for a 21-yard strike on first down, moving the ball to the 42. But the drive would stall as Hāna tighten its defensive belt and sophomore linebacker Brandon Naihe sacked Masanda for a 4-yard loss on third-and-10. It was Naihe’s third sack of the game.
St. Anthony’s punted on fourth down, but the kick was partially blocked and Hāna regained possession with 8:36 to play and the ball near midfield. Hāna moved the first-down chains on three consecutive runs before St. Anthony held on 4th-and-eight from the 10-yard line. After a timeout, Hāna lined up in its power formation and went wide, but St. Anthony’s Nick Asuncion and Colby Tam forced Chasen Kanakaole out of bounds at the five.
The Trojans’ offense took over, but quarterback Masanda got hit in the backfield on second down by Hana senior Bryan Carvalho and the ball came loose. That’s when Christine Naihe, Hāna’s lone female player, recovered the fumble at the Trojans’ 3-yard line. Kauhi Kanakaole got a strong push from his teammates into the end zone on the next play to pad Hana’s lead, 28-6.
Naihe made an open-field tackle later in the game that nearly drew a standing ovation from the Hāna crowd.
St. Anthony resorted to its passing game to move the ball for the remainder of the half as Masanda kept finding teammates open, particularly Sutherland and Luke Gage. And when the Trojans did run, Masanda’s keepers and draw plays picked up big yards. The junior signal-caller would eventually score on a 33-yard scramble with 37 seconds left in the third quarter. The two-point pass attempt failed, leaving the Trojans trailing, 28-12.
Masanda, who finished with four rushing touchdowns, added his third score from 1-yard out at the 8:17 mark. Again the two-point pass failed, cutting the Dragons’ lead to 28-18.
Hāna was not satisfied on offense as Chasen Kanakaole hit Pu-Akima in stride on a slant pattern and the junior took it to the house from 45 yards out with 5:45 to play in the game. The Dragons got the ball back after their defense forced a four-and-out. Chasen Kanakaole broke loose for 27 yards and two plays later Kobe-John Kahalehoe took a counter handoff and raced 29 yards upfield, untouched, to seal the deal with 2:30 remaining in the game.
“We ran a lot of everything and we went with whatever was working for the game,” McNickle said.
The victory will make the long bus ride back to Hāna seem a lot faster. “Two hours on a winding road is nothing after a game like this,” the coach concluded.
Thursday’s Scoring Summary
Hāna 8 6 14 14—42
St. Anthony 0 6 6 14—26
H—Chasen Kanekaole 56 run (Kauhi Kanekaole run), 4:14; 8-0
S—Preston Masanda 3 run (pass failed), 6:27; 8-6.
H—C. Kanekaole 15 run (run failed), 2:23; 14-6.
H—K. Kanekaole 11 run (Isaiah Pu-Akima run), 9:58; 22-6.
H—K. Kanekaole 3 run (run failed), 6:01; 28-6.
S—Masanda 33 run (pass failed), :37; 28-12.
S—Masanda 1 run ( pass failed), 8:17; 28-18.
H—Pu-Akima 45 pass from C. Kanekaole (run failed), 5:45; 34-18.
H—Kobe-John Kahalehoe 29 run (Victor Lopez pass from C. Kanekaole), 2:30; 42-18.
S—Masanda 31 run (Sutherland pass from Masanda), 1:23; 42-26.