KEAAU — The Keaau High alma mater has been sung before, but never like this.
Cougars pride is expanding, in scope and nature.
After its preseason football opener Saturday at home, a 33-14 loss to St. Francis, Keaau added an alternate ending to its school song, chanting: Puna.
“We definitely chant Puna for our families that are suffering,” coach Kalei Young said. “I’m so proud of our boys as family men. They’re not only kids in their family, but they’re also part father, taking care of mom and baby sister and baby brother.
“Even more so now.”
Quarterback Richard Kanakaole stayed up all night as Hurricane Iselle ravaged Puna. He heard sounds he will likely not soon forget.
“Constant wind, bushes blowing, rain, wind just going one way, branches breaking,” he said.
And when it was over?
“I went out to help the community, cut trees and stuff,” he said.
The Cougars are still not at full strength. A few players haven’t been able to join their teammates as they attend to pressing family matters.
“Some people in Puna still don’t have anything,” senior Koapaka Vierra said. “We’re just trying our best to help our teammates, like taking home their clothes to wash it.
“But we came together as a team and a community, and this will help us in the long run.”
Vierra said the electricity at his house was out for a week, and he’s been relatively lucky.
Justin Quesada can see the light at night, but it’s at his next-door neighbor’s house. He and Kanakaole were hopeful electricity would return to their homes in the next week.
“A hot shower, you take it for granted,” Quesada said. “It really affected our team. When we came back to practice after the hurricane and we had a hard time getting back to it and getting focused.
“There have been some nice people who have come down and offered ice, offered water. We really respect that.”
Keaau missed four days of practice because of the hurricane. Young said the Cougars’ problems were exacerbated because some of his players live far away from the high school and couldn’t come out for the team until classes started Aug. 4, instead of July 21, when conditioning started.
That meant Young had to sit out approximately 15 players Saturday night because they haven’t practiced enough to be eligible.
All things considered, the Cougars took solace in the fact they outscored St. Francis 14-0 in the second half.
Quesada returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter 37 yards, and three plays later Kanakaole threw an 11-yard scoring pass to Maurice Smith that deflected off his intended receiver.
Keaau’s best drive of the game came in the fourth quarter. Kanakaole hooked up with Smith on a 23-yard pass and then hit Byron Cachola on a 35-yard strike to set up Quesada’s 6-yard run.
“They turned it around in the second half and bounced back,” Young said. “We look at our victories that we can take home.”
The first half was a different story, and it belonged to St. Francis quarterback Kawika Ulufale, who accounted for three touchdowns and drove the Saints into the end zone on all five of their first-half possessions.
Early in the game, the Cougars had three high snaps go into their backfield and they were outgained 271 yards to minus-24 in the first half.
“We definitely had a lot of nervousness in the first quarter,” Young said.
Ulufale connected on his first seven passes and hit on 11 of his 14 attempts. He threw touchdown passes of 26 yards and 5 yards to Janzen Kupau to stake the Saints of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu to a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Ulufale finished 17 of 24 for 194 yards, and added a 1-yard scoring run to cap an 88-yard drive, St. Francis’ longest of the game.
“They were a disciplined offense, and we expect that coming out of the ILH,” Young said. “At the same time, we had some breakdowns on defense, but all in the first half from being too excited.”
Leighton Rosa led St. Francis on the ground, rushing 15 times for 75 yards. On the opening drive of the game, the Saints converted on two fourth downs and marched 63 yard on 13 plays, with Rosa covering the final 9 yards on a scamper into the end zone.
Taking advantage of good field position, the Saints’ Maika Teal ran in from 8 yards out just before halftime.
Cachola picked off Ulufale in the second half as St. Francis began to play more conservatively.
Kanakaole went 4 of 11 for 71 yards, but the Cougars allowed seven sacks and were held to minus-4 yards rushing.
“They’re a strong team,” said Quesada, who toughed out 34 yards on 14 carries. “We know what we were up against. They made us better.”