"If we don't pass, we can't win. A lot of these teams are bigger than us."
So Sato did what he does best last night for the underdog Blue Conference champion Cougars (7-0).
Before a crowd of 3,336 fans in the first round of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Playoffs at Aloha Stadium, he passed for 153 yards and two touchdowns to lead Kaiser to a 21-7 victory over Aiea of the White Conference.
It was the first upset victory by a lower conference team in the expanded playoff system.
Kaiser's reward is the ultimate challenge. A quarterfinal-round game against top-seeded Red Conference champion Waianae (6-0) on Thursday.
Leilehua (6-1), the White Conference champion, defeated Mililani, 28-7, in yesterday's earlier game and will meet fourth-place Red finisher Waipahu (3-3), also on Thursday.
Roosevelt (2-4), the fifth-place Red team, will face McKinley (4-2), the fourth-place White team, today at 5:35 p.m. In the second game tonight, Blue runner-up Radford (5-1) will meet White runner-up Castle (4-1-1).
The Cougars took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Sato passed eight yards to Brett Kakuda under double coverage in the end zone to finish off a 76-yard drive, and later plunged in from the one yardline to cap a 50-yard drive.
Kaiser was poised to put Aiea away before the half. But Na Alii lineman Ing Aleaga had other ideas. First, the
6-foot-2, 270-pound junior stopped Sato for a loss on fourth-and-one at the Aiea 10 with 1:28 left in the half.
After Gino Gavaieres intercepted a Mark Okano pass and returned it 30 yards to the Na Alii 18 with three seconds left in the half, Aleaga helped foil Donald McAngus' 35-yard field goal attempt.
Aleaga applied even more pressure to start the second half as Kaiser became mired inside its own 20.
After tossing Jason Castro for a one-yard loss, he dove into the end zone on the next play to recover a high snap that sailed over Sato's head.
Aleaga's defensive touchdown and Ryan Enriques' kick suddenly cut Kaiser's lead to 14-7.
On Kaiser's next possession, Vernon Johnson's 53-yard touchdown run was called back because of a clipping penalty.
But a 21-yard burst by Castro from his own 46 refueled the Kaiser drive. It culminated in a 13-yard Sato pass to Shaun Reyes in the corner of the end zone with 5:37 left in the third quarter.
Kaiser coach Tony Gayer said Randy Ling's recovery of a Pagopago Neemia fumble at the Cougar 25 just 31 seconds into the game was the play of the game.
"Aiea was setting the tone with the dive and then fumbled," said Gayer. "Even though we didn't drive down the field after that one, it kind of took away the momentum from their offense."
"They controlled the tempo on the ground," said Aiea head coach Wendell Say. "They pounded out the yardage and kept control of the ball."
But senior Josiah Tomas made two big special teams plays that led to scoring drives he finished off by himself.
With the Mules leading, 7-0, on a 5-yard West rush, Tomas leveled Mililani's return man at his own 15 late in the second quarter. Two plays later, Lauvale Sape recovered a fumble for Leilehua at the Trojan 16. To end that possession, Tomas followed a Jimmy Liu block to score from one yard out with 21 seconds left in the half.
He opened the second half with a 44-yard kickoff return to the Mililani 48. On the very first play from scrimmage, Tomas was on the receiving end of a Joey Raquino touchdown pass that he caught on the run at the 20.
Leilehua 28, Mililani 7Mililani 0 0 0 7-- 7 Leilehua 0 12 16 0--28Scoring summary
Lei-West 5 run (Alameda kick)
Lei-Tomas 1 run (run failed)
Lei-Tomas 48 pass from Raquino (Sanborn pass from Raquino)
Lei-Waters 1 run (Tomas run)
Mili-Buckley 17 pass from Randall (Deocares kick)
Rushing-Mililani: Quisano 5-11, Takamoto 4-5, Deveraturdo 3-1, Randall 9-(-19). Leilehua: West 21-132, Raquino 9-34, Simpson 7-20, Paulding 4-27, Phillips 1-14, Wilcox 2-9, Sanborn 2-12, Waters 2-2, Tomas 1-1.
Passing-Mililani: Randall 8-20-2 for 89 yards. Leilehua: Raquino 1-4-0 for 48 yards.
Receiving-Mililani: Serate 4-53, Correa 2-17, Buckley 1-17, Takamoto 1-2. Leilehua: Tomas 1-48.
Kaiser 21, Aiea 7Kaiser 14 0 7 0--21 Aiea 0 0 7 0-- 7Scoring summary
Kais-Kakuda 8 pass from Sato (McAngus kick)
Kais-Sato 1 run (McAngus kick)
Aiea-Aleaga recovered fumble in end zone (Enriques kick)
Kais-Reyes 13 pass from Sato (McAngus kick)
Rushing-Aiea: Kim 14-90, Neemia 7-49, Offerman 2-16, Davis 2-4, Okano 11-(-40). Kaiser: Castro 9-69, Johnson 5-47, Sato 10-24, Tokunaga 6-19, Kakuda 1-7.
Passing-Aiea: Okano 4-14-2 for 31 yards. Kaiser: Sato 12-20-0 for 152 yards.
Receiving-Aiea: Kim 2-20, Neemia 1-10, Tibayan 1-1. Kaiser: Kakuda 6-100, McAngus 2-17, Yoshino 2-14, Reyes 2-21.