Kahuku falls in 'Rumble in the Rockies'
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Kahuku Red Raider made the long transoceanic trip to play an interstate prep football game last night against Utah's dominant program, then lost by inches in the final seconds.
In front of one of the largest crowds in Utah high school football history at Skyline Stadium, an estimated 8,000 strong, Skyline quarterback Steve Tate lunged over the goal line with 18 seconds left to lift Utah's No. 1-ranked Eagles to a 24-21 win over the Red Raiders.
As lightning crackled in every direction overhead and ear-splitting roars of thunder bounced off Mount Olympus amidst a steady drizzle, Utah's top team and the defending Oahu Interscholastic Association champions battled to a near-draw in the first half, the difference being a 22-yard Skyline field goal.
"We just beat a tremendous football team," said Skyline assistant coach Larry Eldracher. "If we played eight quarters, it would probably be a three-point game, one way or another. They had tremendous athletes on both sides of the ball. Big kids who could run like the wind. We were evenly matched. ... If we don't have to send all our kids to the emergency ward, we'll be all right. They banged us up pretty good."
Dancers from the Polynesian Cultural Center performed before the game and at halftime, and Kahuku supporters almost outnumbered Skyline patrons.
Skyline, ranked No. 48 nationally, brought a 21-game winning streak into the contest. They've also won five consecutive Utah large-school state championships.
But Kahuku, much larger at nearly every position, almost ended it.
The Red Raiders overcame an early 14-0 deficit and took the lead, 21-17, when A.J. Smith scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 10:24 remaining in the game. Moments later, Skyline had a 60-yard touchdown pass nullified by an illegal procedure penalty, and Kahuku appeared to be in control when Bryson Au intercepted a pass with 3:11 left.
However, Smith was stripped and fumbled on Kahuku's next play, with Tate recovering, and Tate drove the Eagles 63 yards in 10 plays for the winning score. Tate ran for 161 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries out of Skyline's wishbone attack, while Kahuku went to the air for most of its yards.
Junior quarterback Inoke Funaki, in a brilliant debut, threw for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Smith picked up 55 yards on 13 carries, and Marcus Salanoa had 45 yards on six attempts.
"That was the most physical football team I have ever played against," Tate said. "Those guys could hit. Boy, could they hit."
With offensive linemen averaging 280 pounds and a pair of 250-pound running backs (Smith and Earvin Atuaia), Kahuku pounded the ball at the smaller Eagles the entire game.
Skyline's wishbone baffled Kahuku early, and the Eagles scored on their first two possessions. They went 53 and 70 yards to take a 14-0 lead in an emotional first half that produced a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties from both teams.
The momentum turned in Kahuku's direction when Funaki and Muliwai Pula hooked up on a 74-yard catch-and-run on 2nd-and-28 midway through the second quarter.
On its next possession, Kahuku went 73 yards and scored when Ferron Fonoimoana caught an 11-yard pass from Funaki.
"It was definitely the 'Rumble in the Rockies,' just liked they called it," Tate said.
"We knew we could do it. Hawaii football vs. Utah football. It was just a thrill."
Kahuku 0 14 0 7- 21
Skyline (Utah) 7 10 0 7- 24
Sky -- Matt Cannon 5 run (Aaron Mangone kick). Second quarter Sky -- Cannon 10 run (Mangone kick). Kah -- Muliwai Pula 74 pass from Inoke Funaki (Solomon Lee kick). Kah -- Ferron Fonoimoana 11 pass from Funaki (Lee kick). Sky -- Mangone 22 FG. Kah -- A.J. Smith 1 run (Lee kick). Sky -- Steve Tate 1 run (Mangone kick).
Rushing -- Kahuku: Inoke Funaki 7-23; Muliwai Pula 8-31; Marcus Salanoa 6-45; A.J. Smith 13-55; Earvin Autuaia 9-39. Skyline: Steve Tate 20-161; Matt Cannon 10-25; Darren Duckworth 7-19; Adam Breen 3-19; Jeff Baird 2-10. Passing--Kahuku: Inoke Funaki 10-20-1--204. Skyline: Steve Tate 6-9-1--63. Receiving--Kahuku: Muliwai Pula 4-120; James Kammererl 1-3; Saia Hafoka 1-12; Ferron Fonoimoana 2-24; Marcus Salanoa 1-18; Vai Napaa 2-33. Skyline: Matt Cannon 1-7; Adam Breen 3-56.