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Mercado giving Kahuku a leg up on competition


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POSTED: Sunday, October 04, 2009

For decades, it was the banana split minus the cherry, the martini without the olive (or, these days, the li hing mui powder).

Kahuku football, in all its glorious excellence, never had a real kicking specialist it could depend upon. It even cost it a Prep Bowl once. Now, the Raiders finally have a leg up on their opponents.

And while it might not have as much impact as, say, Happy Gilmore learning how to putt, the addition of Cameron Mercado gives the No. 1 high school football team in the state another big weapon.

Even if he never kicks another field goal or extra point (the Red Raiders can still run it in with ease for 2 against most of their foes), Mercado's mammoth kickoffs give Kahuku a field-position advantage nearly every time.

Coach Reggie Torres has so much faith in Mercado that instead of going for it on fourth and 1, he had the transfer from Boca Raton, Fla., try a 48-yard field goal. It was no good (as was an earlier PAT kick that would've tied it), but Mercado came back a few minutes later to boot the decisive points in a 16-14 win over homecoming-celebrating Farrington at standing-sideways-room-only Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium.

On another occasion, Torres took points off the board when Mercado was run into on a successful field goal. The gamble worked: With 5 yards and a fresh set of downs, Kahuku scored its first touchdown—and as the score indicates, the additional points were needed.

ALL OF that happened in the second half. Before the break, Farrington had its way, building a 14-0 lead, and it wouldn't have mattered if Kahuku had Jason Elam as its kicker.

The Red Raiders were on the verge of being marooned—the huge Farrington crowd dominated the chant wars, and the Govs consistently won most of the big boy matchups in the trenches. Their tough runners, Harry Tuimaseve and Siaosi Feleunga, steadily ate up the yards and moved the chains behind the famed Farrington line. Meanwhile, Kahuku's offense did not exist.

It all changed right after halftime, with a Farrington fumble as the big turning point. The Govs went on to hurt themselves with penalties, too. Sammy Park gave them some late life with a punt to the Kahuku 1 as time ran down. But Kahuku churned out first downs before kicking it away, Farrington had too much green to cover and not enough time, and that was that.

It ended with Kahuku quarterback Evan Moe taking a knee and exhausted and frustrated Farrington players flat on their backs, hoping for another shot at their nemesis in the playoffs.

THE REAL governor, Linda Lingle, was present for some of the second half. If she sent in any plays to her namesakes, they didn't work.

The Govs are the snake-bitten, oh-so-close perennial bridesmaids of Hawaii football. They had The Day The Govs Won It All in 1965. Other than that, they're the Red Sox, pre-2004.

It only seems like Farrington hasn't beaten Kahuku since Govs coach Randall Okimoto was a star running back for the Kalihi boys in the 1990 Prep Bowl. In 2002, the Govs edged the Red Raiders 21-20. It's been 10 Kahuku wins since. But many of the games have been like this one: hard-hitting and close.

From the pregame Farrington alma mater and the Kahuku haka, we knew this one would be special. The usual when Red and Maroon clash, but special nonetheless.

And look out, world. Kahuku has a kicker.