Every once in a while, a coach will speak volumes of truth in one sentence.
Reggie Torres did that Friday night at about 10:15. A little less than three hours earlier, there was an invader in town, ready to take away the pride of Kahuku.
But Torres’ Red Raiders — if they had anything to say about it — were not about to let the Seariders take the 52-mile bus ride home to Waianae with anything but a season-ending loss.
And it turns out they had plenty to say with a 45-20 Oahu Interscholastic Association Red Conference quarterfinal win at Carleton Weimer Field. They commanded all aspects of the game, from beginning to end.
Did anyone doubt that Kahuku would hold court on the North Shore in front of its faithful fans, the people who make football a tangible part of the country community as much as world-class surfing, shrimp trucks and agriculture? The sport is part of the fabric of the little hamlet that has pretty much successfully kept out encroaching suburban development. Driving through, it’s not hard to notice the sign in front of a home on Kamehameha Highway that reads something like, “Nuff hotels already.”
Not to be disprespectful to Waianae’s fine football program and prideful community out West, but after a whipping like Friday night’s, it would not be a stretch for the Kahuku backers to say, with no malice at all, “Nuff pretenders already.”
Actually that may be a bit harsh, since the Seariders came within four points of knocking the Red Raiders out in the quarterfinals at the very same field, not once, but the last two years in a row. Hardly pretenders.
But there was a sense that this might be the year. The Waianae option attack had bowled over most opponents and the team as a whole improved every week. Kahuku, on the other hand, had struggled, losing two weeks earlier to Farrington and giving up the top seed in the East to the Governors.
Many keen observers of the Hawaii football scene believed Kahuku was ripe for the picking. Sure, the Red Raiders had a stable of hard-charging running backs, but was merely moving the chains going to be enough against the Seariders?
Even though Kahuku lost out on the top seed, it still had a bye, and that turned out to be big. It gave one more week for junior running back Soli Afalava to prepare for his return from a shoulder injury. There were reports that he might be lost for the season after suffering the injury against Moanalua on Sept. 7. Torres, at the time, thought Nov. 4 would be the soonest Afalava could make it back.
Afalava had his arm in a sling on the sideline of the Sept. 14 win over Castle, and was charged up enough to say he wanted to be back on the field the next week against McKinley. Torres hinted that Afalava might return sooner than the Nov. 4 target date with rehab, but knew Afalava was dreaming if he thought he would play seven days later.
So, was it surprising that Afalava — the player who makes the offense hum — suddenly shows up and lugs the ball for a four-yard gain on Kahuku’s first play from scrimmage against Waianae? With the season on the line?
No. Six weeks to rehab a severe shoulder injury? A tough task, for sure, but there’s got to be a masterful physical therapist somewhere in the Kahuku area. The season depended on it, perhaps.
Kahuku typically doesn’t lose these types of big games and history bears that out: 11 of the past 15 and 14 of the past 20 OIA titles, not to mention half (seven of 14) of the Division I state championships since the inception of the tournament in 1999.
So, it’s worth asking one more time. Kahuku lose with the season on the line at home, without even a sniff at an OIA crown? Waianae was facing an uphill battle before it boarded the bus.
And that’s where Torres’ truthful prose comes in.
The question came Friday after the game: “How much of a factor do you think it was for your boys that their season would be over with a loss?”
“I think it was a major factor,” Torres said, emphatically, with conviction and without any doubt showing in his facial expression.
Torres, a former wrestler and a Kahuku grappling coach, knows the feeling of being backed into a corner and how to quickly calculate and act on getting out of a jam. He knows how to push away invaders and how to teach that to his athletes, in wresting and football.
His son, Richard, is a prime example of that ethic. Undersized, but with oversized desire and a wealth of tactical knowledge — the kind of a player who typically gets overlooked (at first) — he walked on to the University of Hawaii football team and not only became a starter against the odds, but became a standout and a fan favorite.
Are the Red Raiders football boys not his sons? Does he not teach the same thing to them?
And, more importantly, are the players going to plow through for their fans, their coach, their culture, their way of life, their outpost called Kahuku?
With Afalava leading the way, they did. He ripped off big gains up the middle, off tackle and around end for 157 rushing yards and a touchdown. Breaking tackles in the secondary, he saw a lot more daylight than he had in the past six weeks.
It wasn’t that long ago that a similar situation arose and there was doubt about the Kahuku camp from the outside world. There were those who thought Mililani had the passing attack to poke holes in the Kahuku defense in the OIA championship game a year ago, but it turned out to be a 50-13 slaughter by the Red Raiders at Aloha Stadium.
Mililani, it appears, is a more complete team than last year, when the Trojans did not appear at all ready to play in that title-game beating. Mililani faces Leilehua tonight for the right to advance to the semifinals against the Red Raiders. There are others lurking. Farrington and Campbell play in a semifinal next week.
Sure, it was a big game against Waianae. Huge. But the stakes get bigger.
“They (the Red Raiders players) know that every game could be our last,” Torres said. “They were really focused (Friday). But it’s just one step.”