Konawaena makes a statement in win over Leilehua

Sep. 3—Leilehua kept Konawaena playmaker Zed Anahu-Ambrosio out of the end zone, but the dynamite junior still came through with big plays.

Leilehua kept Konawaena playmaker Zed Anahu-Ambrosio out of the end zone, but the dynamite junior still came through with big plays.

No. 8 Konawaena came up with seven sacks, overcoming six turnovers in a 28-19 win over Leilehua on Saturday night at Hugh Yoshida Stadium.

Anahu-Ambrosio, a Star-Advertiser All-State wide receiver as a sophomore, had key plays on defense and on special teams to spark the Wildcats, who improved to 3-1 overall (2-0 BIIF ). The game was a unique early-season exhibition matchup of two powerful programs in Division I.

"We didn't take care of the ball tonight. It is what it is. It's still early, but at the end of the day we can't make those turnovers in big games like this, " Konawaena coach Brad Uemoto said. "We've got to clean a lot of stuff up and our tempo is not where it should be."

Anahu-Ambrosio had nine receptions for 119 yards, but it was hard-earned with 16 targets and Leilehua defenders swarming the field in his area all night. Quarterback Keoki Alani passed for 217 yards but was picked off three times by the stubborn Mules.

"In the beginning of the game, they were calling the coverage and they were saying my name, 'Zed ! Zed ! Zed !' I just had to realize I had to count on my teammates to make plays, too, " Anahu-Ambrosio said. "We've been working hard every day. They can doubt us, but us coming from Kealakekua, we beat Aiea and Waipahu last year, so our returnees know. We work hard every day."

In addition to the seven sacks—3.5 by 5-foot-11, 220-pound linebacker Elias Malapit—the visitors limited Leilehua's workhorse running back, Cole Northington, to 74 yards on 24 attempts.

"We had to be quick because they're way bigger than us. We had to use our speed against them, " Malapit said.

Uemoto credited his defensive unit.

"Defensively, we give different looks and (defensive coordinator ) Kalae Lee mixes it up well. Elias had a hell of a game tonight. Proud of him, " he said.

While Konawaena's offense was in breakneck, hurry-up mode, the defense came through with sacks by Malapit and Wyatt Wehrsig to stifle the Mules' first two series.

Konawaena's first possession ended after one play on a deep interception of Alani, but he answered with an 8-yard touchdown strike to Armenio Blanco. A 53-yard punt return by Anahu-Ambrosio set up the Wildcats at the Leilehua 8-yard line. Keawe Navas Loa punched it in from a yard out for a 14-0 Konawaena lead.

Timothy Arnold's scintillating 49-yard gain on a screen pass fueled the Mules. Northington got untracked with runs of 17 and 11 yards before scoring on a 7-yard blast to get Leilehua on the scoreboard.

Leilehua's pass rush collapsed Konawaena's front wall in the second quarter. Alani was gang-tackled trying to escape the pocket and lost the ball. Defensive lineman Gabriel Liua returned the pigskin 30 yards to pay dirt. The PAT kick failed, but Leilehua was within 14-13 with 7 :54 to play in the first half.

Leilehua's momentum—and offensive balance—went astray on a bad punt snap that gave Konawaena first and goal at the Mules' 9-yard line. On the next snap, Alani rolled right, sidestepped a Mule and rumbled through two more defenders near the pylon for the TD. That opened the lead to 21-13 with 3 :09 until the half.

With Konawaena's defense crowding Arnold and Northington—who had two catches for 24 yards in the first half—Leilehua's offense stalled. When the Mules got the ball back with 51 seconds left in the half, Konawaena kicker /defensive lineman Nakoa Ige sacked Logan Peters for an 18-yard loss, the fifth by the Wildcats.

Punter Zaeven Newman made, perhaps, the most crucial play of the half for Leilehua, leaping sky high to snag what could've been another disastrous, misfired snap deep in Konawaena territory. He got the punt off on the final play of the first half, no damage done.

On the opening series of the second half, Navas Loa ran the ball three times in a row for gains of 11, 12 and 21 yards. Alani connected with Abraham Ogata on a tip-toe catch for a 1-yard TD for a 28-13 lead with 9 :53 to go in the third stanza.

Leilehua regained momentum on a 49-yard interception return by Chaystin Senas. That set up an 11-yard TD pass from Peters to Layton Domingo. The PAT kick missed, leaving the Mules down 28-19 with 7 :35 to go in the third.

Leilehua drove to the Konawaena 27-yard line early in the fourth quarter, but Peters' pass was picked off by Anahu-Ambrosio and returned 58 yards. Peters made the saving tackle but was called for a facemask. On first and goal from the Mules' 7-yard line, Alani fumbled and Leilehua's Ezekiel Anahu recovered.

Konawaena then turned over the next two possessions on an interception by Alani and a fumble by Navas Loa.

Despite Konawaena's string of turnovers, the Mules failed to get on the scoreboard again. Maci Garcia's 33-yard field goal try was wide right with 5 :07 remaining.

Anahu-Ambrosio lined up at QB and ran for 4 yards on fourth-and-1 inside the 10-yard line with 42 seconds to play. He suffered an apparent injury, but eventually walked off the field with a bruise to his ribcage.