The seventh-ranked ‘Iolani Raiders (8-2) are no strangers to state-tournament football.
Waipahu? The pendulum has swung back up in recent seasons. The two teams square off on Friday at Waipahu’s Masa Yonamine Athletic Complex in a rematch of a week-2 battle. That game was dominated at ‘Iolani, 55-14, but Raiders coach Wendell Look says the circumstances and environment are much different this time.
Winning a semifinal game on another team’s home turf in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships will be no simple task. Look chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Tuesday.
HPW: Your teams over the years have experienced breaks in season and before the state tournament, but this seems like an especially long one.
Look: I think this is going into the fourth week. Usually we play on the third week.
HPW: Has it been the usual routine or did you change things up?
Look: We took some time off. I think it was good. The seniors got to go to their camp on Kauai. The other guys got to do some class activities that we normally wouldn’t have got to do if we’d played. Here and there we took off some days to let the guys catch up on their school work.
HPW: Who do the players feel now after one month without a game?
Look: The kids are anxious to get back playing. They’re getting a little antsy. The first two weeks were tough because we didn’t know who we were going to play. We couldn’t prep or do anything, just worked on fundamentals and technique. Just stay as sharp as we could.
HPW: Then you learned you play Waipahu. Is it human nature to let up a tiny bit when you play a team that you beat soundly? Could there be a slight letdown?
Look: I don’t think so. I think our kids know the Waipahu team that we played early on is a very different and much improved and better team now. We played them early. They had some of their players out so they weren’t at full strength and they’ve watched them on TV and I think they know for themselves that Waipahu is so much better, so much improved. They’re at full strength now. They’re peaking at the right time. I don’t think our kids are coming into the game overconfident or looking ahead. They know they’re having a tough task ahead.
HPW: How different is Waipahu now?
Look: We’ve seen them play against Castle. They’re a very different team. They fly around all over the place, big and physical up front. They made some big plays for their team. You can’t forget about their running back (Alfred Failauga) and their offensive efficiency there. Both offensively and defensively, they’re going to bring a big challenge.
HPW: Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho describes your defense as something completely unique, whether it’s three down linemen or five, or something else. The results support this. Only seven points allowed by defending Oregon 6A state champion Clakamas, and since the loss at Leilehua, only Damien (19 points) and Castle (14) have scored in double digits in a five-game span.
Look: (Defensive coordinator) Delbert Tengan has done a tremendous job of putting this package together. It’s kind of a hybrid kind of package that hopefully plays to our strengths and hide our weaknesses. They’ve been playing well. And they’ve been playing together well, all 11 guys.
HPW: Who are the down linemen?
Look: Kala Chong and Lima Harbottle are our true nose guards, and everyone else just fits in place. They’re all hybrid kind of guys that have bought into Del’s system. They do their job and they do it well together.
HPW: Your linebackers, Kyler Mento and Lanakila Pei, have been active all season long.
Look: They complement each other so well. They’re kind of interchangeable in their positions. Kyler’s been kind of the vocal leader on defense, especially making sure everyone knows what they’re doing. Lanakila brings that positive energy to everybody and everybody feeds off that.
HPW: Who else has stood out?
Look: Kyler and Lanakila make a lot of plays, but everybody else, I don’t know if I can name just one guy. This defense works because all 11 guys are on the same page and fit in the right place. If one guy doesn’t do his job, the defense is fractured a little bit.
HPW: The offense has a solid QB in Jonah Chong, but the run-pass ratio has been a lot like Saint Louis. Two offenses that line up four wide, but will run and run if they have the chance. (Note: ‘Iolani has 303 pass attempts and 288 rush attempts.) Kaua Nishigaya (954 yards, 15 TDs) is probably ready to carry the ball 35 times if he has to.
Look: Our philosophy from day one all the way back is we’ll take what the defense gives us. This comes down to us being able to execute and make plays when we need to. There’s no set number of carries or passes.
HPW: What’s the x-factor for the Raiders?
Look: For us, it’s how we’re going to respond being out for four weeks and how quickly our kids can re-adapt to playing our game at game speed. And then the other thing is, which team is going to control the line of scrimmage.