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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, December 7, 2003

'The Return' came at 'right moment, right time'

 •  Kahuku win sparks early-morning party
 •  Photo gallery: Kahuku's punt return

By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

Special teams coach Byron Beatty runs down the sideline as Toriano Taulogo races 62 yards on a punt return that set up the winning touchdown.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Dwight Clark's leaping game-winning touchdown reception for the San Francisco 49ers' NFC championship win against Dallas in 1981 is forever known as "The Catch."

Only time will tell whether Toriano Taulogo's 62-yard punt return that set up Kahuku's game-winning touchdown in Friday's 27-26 win against Saint Louis for the Division I state title at Aloha Stadium will live on as "The Return."

Essentially, the return was the only way Kahuku could win. With 41 seconds left in the game, Saint Louis punted on fourth-and-10 from its 32. For Kahuku, with no timeouts left and an ineffective passing game (quarterback Waika Carvalho was 3 of 14 for 96 yards and two interceptions), a drive of more than 50 yards would require a prayer. And it was answered.

Taulogo's return to the Saint Louis 3 allowed running back Darren Magalogo's TD run on first down with 19 seconds left that gave the Red Raiders the 27-26 lead. Kahuku (14-0) did not have to resort to passing, nor need a timeout. The two-point conversion pass failed.

The Crusaders should have been aware of Taulogo's ability. He had a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 41-3 win against Kaua'i in the quarterfinals. He had a 48-yarder for a TD in a 35-7 win against Farrington.

"Toriano in the last two games returned some touchdowns and we knew it was going to come up again but we didn't know when," Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai said. "I'm glad he didn't wait until tomorrow to do it."

But how did this all come about?

C.J. Santiago, named to the Interscholastic League of Honolulu all-star first team as a punter and kicker, is known for his booming NCAA Division I-type punts. The University of Hawai'i and Oregon have inquired, he said. But Saint Louis elected to pooch the punt "to get it short and hope that our guys could get down in time (to cover)," Santiago explained.

Crusaders coach Darnell Arceneaux said "I have no comment on that," when asked if the shorter punt was intentional.

The low liner took a one-hopper off the FieldTurf to Taulogo. Once the returner has the ball, the punt coverage players break down, or slow their strides to determine their angles of pursuit toward the returner. The space between the breakdown and Taulogo gave him time to run to his wall of blockers, which was set up on the right side.

"I thought he was going to kick it away," said Kahuku assistant Byron Beatty, who coaches special teams. "I know C.J. has a strong leg. I thought he was going to put it up in the air, give them time to get their coverage down. But I think it kind of backfired on them because they weren't able to get their coverage down as quick. When he put the ball on the line, I think he probably out-kicked his coverage and Tori was able to scoop it up early and take to the wall. Right moment, right time."

A key was blocking the gunner, or outside coverage player, to the inside, Beatty said.

"Watching the film and stuff and how they cover their punts, we felt we had a chance, as long as we pin that outside guy inside," Beatty said. "The boys did that at the right moment. From there, it was all Tori. We got the blocks, we got the wall set and we got them pinned inside, Tori was able to get the ball to the wall. We thought he was taking it to the house. But, hey, we take it anyway we can."

The first two blockers of the punt return wall were crucial to springing Taulogo. The Red Raiders use agile players to block, which is why linebacker Kimball Niumatalolo and defensive end B.J. Beatty are the first two blockers on the wall. Their blocks are what allowed Taulogo to reach the sideline to turn up field.

Niumatalolo said the return team's objective is simple: "Let no one touch the returner."

B.J. Beatty said it's read and react.

"I just key on one guy, look if I have the angle and go," he said. "It was clear. It was that one guy. That's all I had to do."

Ironically, special teams almost won it for Saint Louis (9-2). Santiago accounted for more than half of the Crusaders' scoring, setting state tournament records with four field goals and 14 kicking points.

After Kahuku scored the go-ahead touchdown, its ensuing kickoff of 30 yards went to linebacker Dylan Moss, who pitched the ball to B.J. Batts, who raced out of bounds at the Saint Louis 47. A personal foul penalty moved the ball to the Kahuku 38 with 7 seconds left in the game. Saint Louis lined up for a 55-yard field goal attempt, but Santiago's try was short as time expired and Kahuku players spilled onto the field.

But a roughing-the-kicker penalty moved the ball to the Kahuku 23, setting up a re-kick, this time from the 40. Santiago's previous field goals were from 26, 36 (twice) and 37, and made convincingly. His final try had the distance, but was about two yards wide to the right.

"It's not C.J.'s fault," Arceneaux said. "It's no one's fault. It's a team effort. It's a team loss. We had our opportunities to win this game."

Santiago was obviously disappointed, but gracious.

"(The loss is) something that you can't prepare for, but we came a long way and lost to a great team," he said.

Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at skaneshiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8042.