Waianae quarterback Kekoa Kaluhiokalani ran the option offense smoothly all season long.
He ran into a major problem, however, in the Seariders’ 45-20 season-ending loss to Kahuku on Friday night, facing pressure from everywhere along the Red Raiders’ defensive front. Kaluhiokalani was tackled behind the line of scrimmage 11 times and finished with minus-63 yards rushing on 14 attempts.
Compare that to Kaluhiokalani’s output of 423 yards on 104 carries in nine previous games and the picture of a stout Kahuku front wall comes sharply into focus. Not all 11 tackles for loss on the Waianae QB were sacks because he hadn’t dropped back to pass. But some of them were indeed legitimate sacks, including two by Taliauli Vaifoou and one each by Lamone Williams, Pene Kaonohi, Sioeli Naupoto and Roman Salanoa.
Salanoa also came up big with a fumble recovery in the Waianae end zone for the Red Raiders’ first touchdown.
Kaluhiokalani was forced to drop back and, more aptly, scramble. He finished with a respectable 240 yards passing, especially under the tense circumstances, including six completions to Pookela Noa-Nakamoto for 71 yards. He just missed connecting with Noa-Nakamoto a handful of times for long gains.
“Phew,” was the utterance of Waianae coach Daniel Matsumoto after the game, about Kahuku’s relentless pressure.
Red Raiders coach Reggie Torres credited the play of Henry Tonga, an offensive lineman who was inserted as a tackle on defense and closed off precious Waianae running room up the middle. A year ago, Tonga played defense a little bit on short-yardage situations, but this was the first time this season he played on that side of the ball. And he was in there extensively.
How did he get the job done so well? One reason is his size. On the official Kahuku roster, he’s listed as a junior, but there is no height or weight given. A quick glance at the Red Raiders’ team page at MaxPreps.com shows he is 6-foot-2, 455 pounds.
What? That weight may or may not be accurate. But the boy’s girth is not in question. He is noticeable as the biggest kid on the field when you watch the team going through its pregame paces. For those who don’t know who Henry Tonga is when you arrive at next week’s OIA semifinal game against Mililani, you’ll see him right away doing his pregame work. If you still can’t tell, here’s a hint: jersey No. 71.
“He made the work of the ends a lot easier,” Torres said.
If the math is right, all Tonga needs to do is gain 45 more pounds to hit FIVE bills.
Torres said there is no scale at Kahuku that goes up high enough to get an accurate reading for Tonga.
Waianae running backs who galloped over opponents all season had these kind of lines against the Red Raiders: Jemery Willes (nine carries, 32 yards), Mahvan Tau (three carries, 16 yards), Ronald Matautia (four carries, 10 yards).
That was the biggest question of all going into the must-win game for both teams — can Waianae run on Kahuku? If so, the Seariders had a chance. It was answered categorically — 31 carries for minus-21 yards.
Matautia, a defensive stalwart for the Seariders from his outside linebacker post all season, scored two of his team’s three touchdowns in his role as the goal-line go-to guy.
Unlike Kaluhiokalani and Noa-Nakamoto, who are seniors, Matautia will be back for one more year to try to bring that elusive OIA title to the Seariders and maybe take another crack at Kahuku, which has beaten Waianae three straight years in the quarterfinals. In the two previous years, Kahuku’s margin of victory was four points.
The Red Raiders’ streak over Waianae is 12 straight. The Seariders’ last win in the series, 12-7, came on Sept. 22, 2000. Waianae’s last OIA title was in 1997. The storied Seariders’ program (Prep Bowl championships in 1973, ’77 and ’78, and a co-title with ‘Iolani in 1980) appears to be sustaining its upward swing despite the disheartening loss.