After starting the season with three straight losses, Kaiser suddenly finds itself with a shot at a first-round OIA playoff bye.
The Cougars jumped out to a 28-point first-quarter lead against Castle before holding on for a 48-32 victory over the visitors from Kaneohe to win their third straight game Friday night.
Kaiser (3-3, 3-2) sits in third place in the OIA Red and has key games against Waianae and Leilehua left to try to vault into that No. 2 position and earn one of two byes, something Kaiser coach Cameron Higgins talked about before the season.
"I think we’re in a really good spot right now," Higgins said. "A lot of teams could have packed it in at 0-3, but these guys came out harder in practice. They’re showing on the field they really wanted it."
Running back Jensen McDaniel finished with 124 yards and two touchdowns and was helped out in the second half by Parker Higgins.
The Knights’ defense took away McDaniel in the second half and the Cougars turned to Higgins, who put the game away with a 31-yard touchdown run with 3:27 remaining.
He added a 65-yard run before the Cougars were able to take knees and finished with 161 total yards of offense and eight tackles and a sack on defense.
"Parker brought a different style of running that Castle had a hard time defending, so we kept with him," Cameron Higgins said.
Castle pulled to within single digits at 41-32 with 9:49 remaining when receiver Jeremy McGoldrick caught his third touchdown pass.
Castle’s final two drives stalled out when Kaiser senior Michael Eletise, regarded as the top offensive lineman in the state, recorded two sacks on defense on third and fourth downs.
"Mike is another guy that takes the defensive line to another level," Cameron Higgins said. "I think he’s one of the best defensive linemen in the state."
McGoldrick finished with nine catches for 117 yards and Castle quarterback Willie Ewaliko was 23-for-40 for 244 yards.
"We had hoped to give (Kaiser) a better game, but that (first-quarter) deficit put us in a bit of a bind," Castle coach Nelson Maeda said. "It would have been a heckuva game if it wasn’t for those three big special team blunders."
Nic Tom, who returns kicks, plays quarterback and defensive back and also punts for the Cougars, punted a ball that ended up traveling 83 yards to the Castle 10. Kaiser downed it there but was awarded the ball as the referee ruled the ball hit a Castle player, although nobody on the field seemed to know it.
McDaniel scored on a 10-yard run on the next play and the Cougars were off to the races.
McDaniel added a 2-yard touchdown run and Tom hit Jalen Pinks and Jonny Hanawahine with touchdown passes inside the 10 to build a 28-point lead after the first quarter.
The Knights had only one first down with a minute left in the opening quarter when McGoldrick made a diving catch for a 35-yard gain to get Castle’s offense going.
Ewaliko hit four of his next five passes and scored on a 2-yard scamper to put Castle on the board.
Tom built the lead back to 28 immediately, taking the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to the end zone for a 34-6 lead.