Vavae Tata herded his Kahuku boys into the locker room after the Red Raiders’ 13-0 victory over Waianae on Friday at Aloha Stadium.
Some of the players were greeting fans near the mauka sideline and did not get to the locker fast enough.
Whatever he was about to tell them was serious. Celebrating the Division I state semifinal win could wait.
After emerging from the lockers afterward, Tata didn’t say exactly what he told the team, but he did tell Hawaii Prep World about what was on his mind. He was jocular enough to show that he was glad to be going to the state final, but he revealed some of his concerns.
“We’re looking to see a complete game,” Tata said. “It hasn’t happened yet.”
That right there is enough of a worry. The Red Raiders are 12-0, but all of those wins won’t mean as much if they don’t put it all together next week in the final against Saint Louis (9-1). Tata hasn’t seen what he knows his boys are capable of doing.
“We’re starting too slow,” he added. “We’ve got to start faster. Right off the bat, once that ball is kicked, we’ve got to be (in top gear).”
Told that his defense — which is now allowing an average of 3.2 points per contest — played another masterful game, Tata downgraded it to, “It was good. Not great.”
When Tata’s attention turned to some of the individuals who helped get the Red Raiders get this far, it was evident just how much he cares for his kids:
On quarterback Kesi Ah Hoy: “He’s our workhorse and makes many big plays. He’s the driver of our offense.
Workhorse? Little bit of an understatement there. Ah Hoy had 40 carries for 142 yards.
On Keala Santiago: “Keala Boy is a dynamic and explosive playmaker.”
Santiago, by the by, made a game-changing play when he intercepted a Jaren Ulu pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead early in the second half.
On backup quarterback Cameron Renaud: He’s like a pinch hitter for us. He comes through when we need him. The game is not too big for him. He’s calm and collected. It’s nice to have options.”
Tata pointed out that both Ah Hoy and Renaud will be back next year.
Options? Kahuku’s plow-forward, wildcat offense, which Tata confirmed is Stanford’s goal-line package, usually doesn’t call for options. It’s hike the ball to Ah Hoy or backup Harmon Brown and let them run behind a wall of blockers. Simple. Little option.
But when Renaud comes into the game, things all of a sudden open up. He completed two passes — one to Kekaula Kaniho and one to Royce Pao — to bring the Red Raiders into range for Kekoa Sasaoka‘s 22-yard field goal for the night’s first scoring five seconds before halftime.
Renaud, a lefty, did a similarly stellar job in the Red Raiders’ 20-7 victory over Mililani in the Oahu Interscholastic Association championship game two weeks ago. With the score tied 7-7, Renaud came in for one series and brought Kahuku down the field with pocket passing and it led to Sasaoka’s go-ahead field goal.
It appears that Tata won’t be changing the team’s offensive game plan much against Saint Louis, but he is fully cognizant of the fact that he may need his pinch hitter against a Crusaders defense that had eight takeaways in Friday night’s 56-30 win over Mililani in the other semifinal.
“Our DNA is the run,” he said firmly. “The run opens up the pass.”
Tata didn’t forget to talk about the Seariders’ effort.
“They really gave us a challenge, and they were phenomenal on defense,” he said.
Yes, Waianae’s defense did not allow the Kahuku offense to score a touchdown.
Red Raiders offensive coordinator John Hao took responsibility for what was not the greatest of Kahuku’s offensive efforts.
“I failed to move the chains,” he said. “We want to eat up the clock and keep the defense off the field.”
But Hao isn’t about to make too drastic of a change, either.
“We were one block away (from taking it into the end zone),” he said, and he meant one block away multiple times.
Hao, the former star quarterback at Saint Louis and one in a long line of prolific Crusaders passers, said the Red Raiders work hard at practice on the traditional offense with Ah Hoy and Renaud.
He said Renaud throws 50 to 60 passes a day at practice. So, it is possible that Kahuku has some trump cards in the deck that opponents haven’t seen much of yet. He might be waiting for the right time, and the right time — the only time left in the season — is next week.
Hao added that Renaud played a “helluva game” against Waianae.
Renaud was just 2-for-6 for 49 yards, with a long of 34. But he was poised and offered that different look of a dropback passer.
Piles of blockers leading Ah Hoy and Brown down the field worked in the Red Raiders’ two biggest games of the season — against Mililani and Waianae. Will it work against Saint Louis? We shall see.
But, if not, there is that pinch hitter they’ve got who has been practicing against arguably the best defense in the state all season. He might be needed … in a pinch.
And Tata himself said it (see above), knowingly or not: “The run opens up the pass.”