The trial run of the HHSAA’s new three-tier format for the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships begins Friday with six games. The creation of a six-team Open Division has created quite a stir among fans, players and coaches alike. The release of the brackets in the three divisions has created plenty of controversy surrounding the seeding of certain teams. Yet here we are, ready to play the games as scheduled.
Here are 10 storylines to watch over the next three weekends.
The Bulldogs are one of the great stories of 2016. Waialua ended a 61-year title drought that went back to the Rural OIA days with a heart-stopping 36-35 win over Waipahu last Friday at Aloha Stadium to win the OIA Division II title. It was the first game Waialua played at the stadium since 2010 and came down to the very end, when the Bulldogs recovered a fumble in their own territory with less than a minute remaining. It touched off a wild celebration all the way back to the North Shore as Lincon Barit finally got it done in his 14th year as head coach.
Now comes the tough part. The Bulldogs have to move on this week and prepare for their first ever state tournament game when they play ILH champion Damien at Campbell on Friday at 4:30 p.m. A victory would give Waialua its first eight-win season in the Prep Bowl and state championship eras. QB Tevesi Toia threw for a career-high 256 yards and accounted for five touchdowns against a Waipahu defense that hadn’t given up more than 28 points all season and held Division I Nanakuli to 12. Waialua hasn’t won a game against an ILH team since 1974 and is coming off the biggest win in school history. How will the Bulldogs handle their newfound success?
Of the seeding complaints that came out after the release of the three state tournament brackets, the loudest gripe came from the island of Maui. Undefeated MIL champion Baldwin was seeded fourth in the eight-team Division I field because the committee doesn’t consider the Bears a champion in their two-team Division I league. Forgetting that ‘Iolani didn’t win a single game in the league it plays in, yet was seeded above a Bears team that defeated every team on Maui, Baldwin also has to play a Mililani team that is ranked by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser as the best team not playing in the Open Division.
Those same rankings have the Bears No. 9 in the state, making this the only first-round Division I game between ranked teams (unranked ‘Iolani plays unranked Moanalua). The Trojans have to travel to War Memorial Stadium, which should be a packed house with both Baldwin and Lahainaluna involved in a doubleheader. At least one prominent media member has already commented that this could have been the championship game in Division I. Instead it will have to settle as the toughest first-round pairing on paper. Will it turn out that way on the field?
Another surprise of the seedings was in Division II, where reigning Division II state runner-up Kapaa earned the No. 1 seed over BIIF champion Konawaena. Both teams finished the season with one loss. Konawaena lost to Division I BIIF champion Hilo by two (23-21) in August while Kapaa lost 20-17 to Kauai on Oct. 8 and then squeaked past Waimea 15-12 a week later and hasn’t played since.
The Warriors have an impressive shutout win over Lahainaluna, 21-0, back in August on the resume but their offense has struggled a bit down the stretch. When they finally host the winner between Damien and Waialua, it will have been 28 days between games. Offensive lineman Morris Unutoa is a monster up front who has 11 Division I offers, but whoever Kapaa plays will be its toughest challenge in more than two months.
For the second consecutive season. Damien will represent the three teams out of the ILH in the Division II state tournament. The Monarchs withstood a late-season charge from St. Francis, which lost by a point, 23-22, to Konawaena back in August. The Monarchs lost to Konawaena, 42-33, in the first round last season and now get to face OIA champion Waialua first.
QB Marcus Faufata-Pedrina has accounted for 27 touchdowns (21 passing, six rushing) in eight games this season. Damien shut out Maui, 33-0, something Baldwin couldn’t do this year, and held its own in a 46-24 loss to Division I state tournament team Moanalua. Holding off the Saints in the ILH was no easy task. The road to the state final would have to include wins over the OIA champs and KIF champs in consecutive weeks.
The three ILH Division II teams went 5-2 in nonleague games, but have combined to only win two games in the history of the state tournament. Without ‘Iolani in Division II, is the league good enough to compete against the other top Division II teams in the state?
When the Open Division was created after the season had already began, it was clear at least two really good OIA teams would be left out.
The Trojans, who won the state title in 2014 and advanced to the Division I semifinals in 2015, and the Sabers, who like Mililani finished in the top two of its division in the OIA regular season, both find themselves in the Division I tournament after losing OIA quarterfinal games. A second-half surge wasn’t enough for Mililani in a 36-33 loss to Waianae while Campbell was overpowered by Farrington, 25-7.
Both teams lost on their home fields to drop to the Division I state tournament. Campbell hasn’t played a game since, earning a forfeit win over Moanalua, while Mililani put up 63 points in a victory over Leilehua.
Back when ‘Iolani was in the middle of its run as Division II state champions, you never heard rumblings of being upset at being in D-II, even in 2009, when the Raiders beat both Kamehameha and Punahou in the same season. The goal for both Mililani and Campbell this season was to make the Open Division, but to no avail. Now they get a chance to compete for a Division I state championship. Is it good enough for them to put in everything they’ve got? Only time will tell.
Saint Louis and Punahou flip-flopped at different times during the season, but their status as teams ranked in the top three in the state never changed. Kapolei advanced to the OIA Division I semifinals for the second time in school history and its third-place finish was its best ever. A No. 4 ranking heading into the OIA playoffs was the highest the Hurricanes had ever been ranked in the Star-Advertiser poll.
Kapolei’s reward for beating Waianae in the OIA third-place game was a date with Punahou instead of a rematch with Farrington. Quarterbacks Taulia Tagovailoa of Kapolei and Punahou’s Nick Kapule have combined to throw for more than 5,900 yards this season and could possibly be the first quarterbacks on different teams to throw for more than 3,000 yards in the same season.
The one common opponent shared by both teams is Leilehua. Kapolei beat the Mules 44-13 while Punahou put up 70 on Leilehua in a season-opening 61-point win. The Buffanblu allowed nine touchdowns to Tua Tagovailoa in a game earlier this year but also held Tua without a TD in a game for the first time. Now Taulia gets his turn. Can the Hurricanes keep it close or are the top three teams in the state on another level from everybody else?
Maybe no team in the entire state has caused more outcry for a three-tiered system than ‘Iolani, which has won eight Division II state titles but hasn’t won a league game in the ILH since jumping up at the start of last season.
‘Iolani won games against McKinley and Waimea to start the season and then beat a La Jolla Country Day team with a star quarterback that has won seven of eight games in California since losing to ‘Iolani. The Raiders then lost all seven games against ILH foes but seemed to improve as the season wore on. In the first meetings, ‘Iolani lost 49-7 to Saint Louis, 50-20 to Kamehameha and 49-24 to Punahou. The Raiders were within striking distance in the fourth quarter of a 42-24 loss to the Crusaders in the rematch and narrowly lost to Kamehameha, 21-16, after giving up 50 in the first meeting. QB Tai-John Mizutani got banged up during the season and missed the last game of the season, but is ready to roll for the playoffs.
Clearly, ‘Iolani is a program stuck right in the middle between the ILH’s top tier (Saint Louis, Kamehameha, Punahou) and second tier (Damien, St. Francis, Pac-Five). This Division I tournament is the perfect opportunity for the Raiders to show exactly where they stand with a solid group of teams that sit ranked between seven and 14 in the state.
Hilo is the No. 1 seed in the Division I tournament while Konawaena is seeded second in Division II. Big Island teams are 4-29 all time in the state tournament and 0-17 in Division I and have never played in a state title game.
The Vikings have a much tougher time in Division I as getting seeded first doesn’t mean a whole lot. They still need to win twice in order to make a final. Konawaena just has to beat the winner between Waipahu and Lahainaluna in order to play for the title at Aloha Stadium.
Some are critical of the Open Division not crowning a true state champion because only OIA and ILH teams are participating. The BIIF has had 17 years to get a win in the Division I state tournament and hasn’t done it, although Hilo gave Kahuku quite the scare two years ago. Instead of possibly playing Farrington or Kapolei, which combined to both beat Leilehua by a score of 63-20, the Vikings get the Mules instead.
Konawaena was already poised to potentially be the first Big Island team to reach a final, but with the new three-tier format, the Vikings can also feel like they have a real shot to play at Aloha Stadium in two weeks.
He’s the most highly-rated quarterback ever to come out of Hawaii. He’s committed to play for Alabama. There’s a good chance in his next game that he will become the state’s all-time career passing leader, breaking the mark set by Timmy Chang that has lasted 17 years.
Yet for the most dynamic dual-threat quarterback the state has ever seen, Tagovailoa needs a championship to really be considered one of the all-time greats. At times he has looked unstoppable this year (Nine TDs vs. Punahou, 494 passing yards vs. ‘Iolani), but his second half of the season has included four games under 200 yards passing, at least one interception thrown in five consecutive games and a full game against Punahou without accounting for a TD.
Tagovailoa and the Crusaders fell short in last year’s title game and you can bet they most definitely want another shot at Kahuku. Because of how the brackets worked out, Saint Louis won’t have to play both Punahou and Kahuku to win it all, but will likely have to face one.
He’s amazed us with his breathtaking talent and will always be remembered as one of the greatest players at any position this state has ever produced. As is the case in every sport and with all great players, it’s the championship that sets you apart from others. This is Tua’s last chance to bring one home for the Brotherhood at Saint Louis. Will he get to experience the perfect ending to a storied high school career?
They’ve dominated every Hawaii team that’ve played since the start of the 2015 season. Their numbers on defense have been well documented and yet still remain almost impossible to believe.
Kahuku entered last year’s state title game against Saint Louis picked by more people to lose than win. It won’t be the case this time. The Red Raiders are the unanimous No. 1 team in the state based on the most recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser rankings and have given no indication at all that they are capable of losing to a team from Hawaii this year.
Somehow the defense hasn’t lost a step from last year despite losing some key contributors. Senior Kesi Ah-Hoy has moved full time to defense after having to play quarterback last season. Freshman Sol-Jay Maiava has taken over at QB and has gotten better and better throughout the season. His full set of skills were on display in the OIA title game when he ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more in the first half against Farrington.
This could be the first time the Red Raiders would have to beat ILH teams in back-to-back games to win a state championship. The creation of the Open Division did not make Kahuku’s road to the title easier. The thing is, it might not even matter. A Kahuku loss to either Punahou or Saint Louis, or especially Kapolei, Farrington or Waianae, would be an upset no doubt, but will those games even be close? Can anybody score on Kahuku? Judging by last year’s state final, it might be more likely than not that they can’t. If so, the Red Raiders will head back to the North Shore with state championship No. 9.