The 2015 Hawaii high school football season was quite a ride.
When the final Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10 rankings come out on Monday, Kahuku will surely end the season No. 1, meaning four different teams at some point held the top spot this season. That’s never happened in the history of the HSA poll.
The season marked the end of the road for Mililani’s threesome of McKenzie Milton, Vavae Malepeai and Kalakaua Timoteo, who will all finish in the top five all-time at their respective positions in career yardage.
The Trojans opened defense of their 2014 state title scoring at a record clip, averaging 59.0 points per game through the regular season, easily outpacing the record 52.7 points per game scored by the 1998 Prep Bowl champion Saint Louis Crusaders.
Milton went down with a shoulder injury in late September against Kailua and missed the Trojans’ next four games. Mililani kept on without him until failing to score a point on offense in the OIA title game against Kahuku. Two weeks later, the season ended for all three in a 56-30 loss to Saint Louis.
The Trojans defense played well against Kahuku, but surrendered a school-record 76 points in an early-season loss at Liberty (High.) and 56 more to the Crusaders.
Milton finished his career third on the all-time passing list with 7,303 yards and joined Timmy Chang as the only QBs to throw 81 touchdown passes or more in a career. Mililani went 28-3 in games he started.
Timoteo saved his best season for last, catching 70 passes for 1,345 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior. The University of Hawaii commit, for now, had the most receiving yards in a season since Pac-Five’s London Amorin in 2009 and was one short of Gerald Welch‘s TD record for a season.
Timoteo ends his career fourth on both the single-season and career yardage lists.
Last, but certainly not least, was Malepeai, the University of Oregon-bound running back who broke Joe Igber‘s all-time rushing yardage and rushing TD records. Malepeai smashed the TD record by 15, tallying 71 rushing touchdowns in 37 games. In the final game of his career, Malepeai broke Igber’s record of 4,428 yards that lasted for 17 years, finishing with 4,549 yards on 685 carries to sit all alone at the top.
The Trojans’ loss to Liberty in Nevada came one week after Saint Louis throttled the Patriots 43-16 at Aloha Stadium. The Crusaders took over the No. 1 spot in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10 for the first time since early in 2013 and held it until playing Punahou in the first of three games played against each other in the span of 30 days.
It turned out to be the game of the year as the Buffanblu, who had won four straight ILH titles heading into this season, came back from a 31-17 deficit with 8:13 remaining to eventually win 51-45 in double overtime on a Wayne Taulapapa TD run.
Punahou was next in line to hold the No. 1 spot and made it three weeks before losing to the Crusaders in the rematch, forcing a winner-take-all game for the ILH championship. It came down to the final minutes and ended after Saitaua Lefau, one of five different starting running backs used by the Crusaders, scored on a 4-yard TD run to deliver a 27-23 victory for the Crusaders, who were back in the state tournament for the first time since 2010.
While all of this was going on, the OIA sorted itself out with Kahuku, Mililani and Waianae earning the three bids to states. The Blue division turned out to be much stronger than the Red, winning all four first-round matchups against the other division, but the Red finished with two of three state representatives after Waianae’s 20-19 win over Farrington in the third-place game.
First-year coach Walter Young did an amazing job getting the Seariders all the way to the semifinals of the state tournament. Waianae hadn’t made states in five years and gave Kahuku everything it could handle in the semis, losing 13-0, which turned out to be the lowest margin of victory for Kahuku all season.
Young was one of many coaches that really did outstanding jobs with their programs this season. At Kailua, the Surfriders under second-year coach Hau’oli Wong, bounced back from a winless season to finish 7-3 before losing to Waianae in the OIA quarterfinals. The Surfriders are one of only five teams since 1973 to finish with a record above .500 after going winless the previous season.
Kaimuki first-year coach David Tautofi lost his first three games by a combined score of 102-6 before rattling off six straight wins to get to the OIA D-II title game and clinch a berth in the state tournament. The Bulldogs’ turnaround coincided with Billy Masima moving to running back and finished with 1,079 yards and seven touchdowns in nine games played on offense. The play of the year came in the OIA semifinals when Andrew Neves returned a kickoff with no time on the clock to shock Nanakuli.
A total of 22 single-game school records were tied or broken in various games this season. ‘Iolani went 0-6 in the ILH after moving up to Division I this season, but had sophomore quarterback Tai-John Mizutani set an ILH Division I record with 485 passing yards in a 39-24 loss to Kamehameha in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Caleb Spencer entered the season as the only Kamehameha quarterback to throw for 300 yards in a game and watched two different Warriors surpass him in one season. First, sophomore Thomas Yam accomplished the feat, throwing for 323 yards against Baldwin to break Spencer’s mark that lasted for 13 years. Yam, who had his season cut short with a broken collarbone suffered against Saint Louis, saw his record last for six weeks before third-stringer Justice Young surpassed it in back-to-back weeks, throwing for 374 yards against ‘Iolani and then 381 against Saint Louis.
Punahou’s Ephraim Tuliloa, who struggled with a shoulder injury all season, returned to throw for a Buffanblu-record 442 yards against Kamehameha, beating his own mark by a single yard set as a junior. Damien’s Marcus Faufata-Pedrina did everything he could in a loss to Konawaena in the first round of the D-II state tournament, totaling a Monarchs record 296 yards and three touchdowns.
Milton surpassed 500 yards for the first time in his career twice, doing it in back-to-back weeks against Kapolei and Liberty. Kapolei had never had a QB throw for more than 300 yards in a game until this season when freshman Taulia Tagovailoa did it four times. Tagovailoa’s best performance was in the first round of the OIA playoffs, when he threw for 534 yards in a 41-0 win over Castle. In that same game, senior receiver Ty-Noah Williams had seven catches for 313 yards and four touchdowns to rank second all-time in a single game, trailing only Kailua’s David Kaihenui, who had 319 in 2002 against Campbell.
Other individual records tied or set:
>> Waipahu’s Andrew Simanu had 249 receiving yards in a 60-34 loss to Kaiser, tying Neal Gossett‘s mark.
>> Aiea’s Kame Kim Choy-Keb-Ah Lo recorded Na Alii’s first 200-yard receiving game, finishing with 202 in a 46-30 loss to Campbell.
>> Malepeai finished with 282 yards in a 60-36 win over Moanalua to close out Mililani’s regular season and Timoteo had 199 yards in a 45-20 win over Waianae in the OIA semifinals.
>> Nanakuli’s Nainoa Banks had 396 passing yards and Clifford Cunningham had 216 receiving yards in a 52-15 win over Waialua.
>> Pearl City’s Joe Maneafaiga rushed for 217 yards in a 14-7 win over Roosevelt.
Of course, there was also the 90-0 Waianae debacle over McKinley.
Yet, with all of those offensive totals throughout the season, the most basic football principle of all remained true.
Defense wins championships.
Radford proved it in Division II, winning the state championship with a 30-16 victory over Kapaa. The Rams allowed 52 points in their first 10 games. Kapaa, the team Radford beat for the title, had not given up a touchdown to an offense all season before the Rams did it three times.
But it was the Red Raiders who stole the show like they always do in the state tournament, claiming their eighth state title in 17 years with another incredible defensive performance.
Kahuku finished the year averaging 4.1 points allowed per game the entire season. That is the fifth-best mark all time in the modern era and the fewest points allowed per game in a season since Larry Ginoza‘s 1979 Waianae team that gave up 3.8 points per contest.
The Red Raiders shut out six different opponents and didn’t allow a seventh (Mililani) to score an offensive touchdown.
Heck, the Crusaders might not have scored on offense either if not for a bad snap on a punt that gave Saint Louis the ball on the Kahuku 5. Tua Tagovailoa‘s 3-yard TD run was the first rushing touchdown Kahuku had allowed in 15 games, dating all the way back to the 2014 OIA final against Mililani.
For Kahuku to put up those numbers in this era of football, with so many offensive records being broken, the only question still unanswered from the 2015 season is this:
Was that Kahuku defense the greatest Hawaii has ever seen?