As usual, Kahuku can run (but how far?)

Sophomore Kesi Ah-Hoy is one of Kahuku's main weapons on offense. Photo by Krystle Marcellus/Star-Advertiser
Sophomore Kesi Ah-Hoy is one of Kahuku’s main weapons on offense. Photo by Krystle Marcellus/Star-Advertiser

There are three types of offenses and only one championship.

Will a passing team such as Saint Louis or Leilehua or Mililani win the Division I state football championship in November?

Or will it be a running team like Kahuku or Farrington?

Don’t rule out a more balanced attack, something defending champion Punahou does better than all the others?

Well, let’s consider Kahuku’s stake in all of this, shall we? The Red Raiders are No. 4 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Top 10 and are cruising along with a 4-0 record.

Three teams have a shot at slowing them down — Kaiser, Leilehua and Waianae — as the regular season winds down. And then it’s on to the playoffs, and possibly to the states. The phrase “most likely to the states” is more like it.

With a new coach in Lee Leslie and a much bigger playbook than in years past, the Red Raiders are near the top but not at the top of the list of state-title contenders?

Let’s go back to last year for a moment, when Kahuku stumbled in the semifinals of the OIA playoffs, 37-22 to Mililani. And then they lost the third-place game 28-7 to Campbell, ending any chance for the states.

Somehow, Kahuku just didn’t have enough to get there last year, despite the efforts of Reggie Torres in his final year at the helm.

So, what will do it for them this year?

It’s a little complicated, but Leslie, it seems, gave the best possible answer after last Friday’s victory over Castle.

He talked about his stable of runners — something Kahuku always has and something he knows is going to be the Red Raiders’ strength as they hit the home stretch and beyond.

The line, so to speak, has been drawn in the sand. The state’s other elite teams — Mililani, Punahou, Kamehameha, etc. — are either going to be able to contain Kahuku’s horses or not.

“If a game is in the balance, we know we can go to our big backs,” Leslie said.

And that very practice allowed Kahuku to ease to a 56-19 victory over Castle after the Red Raiders were in a 19-18 hole.

Kahuku has Kesi Ah-Hoy, a mere 192 pounds, weaving his way around defenders and keeping them busy for a while until the doomsday boys step in.

That starts with Salanoa Alo-Wily, 270 pounds of beef looking like an Earl Campbell imitation, coming right down the middle, inviting anyone to step in the way.

And then, if defenses haven’t been broken yet, they have to deal with 255-pound Pena Fitisemanu, who also blocks for Alo-Wily, coming down the tracks.

But that’s not all. We haven’t even mentioned Soli Afalava yet. He was Kahuku’s leading rusher a year ago, despite missing four games due to injury. He’s been dealing with nagging injuries this season, too.

Afalava might just be the wild card in all of this. Instead of using him up during relatively meaningless regular-season games, he might get the call when it really counts. That is certainly a possibility.

In the meantime, Leslie is preparing to make the Red Raiders into a well-rounded offensive team, and with good reason. If the state’s other powerful teams find a way to stop that stable of backs, then what?

Senior quarterback Tuli Wily-Matagi, who is also a 230-pound threat as a runner, has been lukewarm in the passing game so far this season.

So far, he’s 26-for-44 for 427 yards and three touchdowns in four games. Not bad, but he’s going to have to really step up the further the season goes on, not just if the Kahuku running game struggles, but also as something defenses must concentrate on in order for the Red Raiders runners to flourish.

“Teams will fill the box up with eight guys against us,” Leslie said. “So we have to work on getting Tuli dialed in. We have to have other options.”

Leslie admitted that he has probably asked too much of his team to learn a huge playbook, and that most likely it will be pared down somewhat.

Defensively, Kahuku was a little suspect against Castle, especially in the backfield, where Castle receivers got open and exploited some holes and shortcomings.

Semisi Kauvaka turned in a solid game against the Knights, with an interception return for a touchdown. He also knocked down a deep pass that was on target for elusive Castle receiver Chad Figueroa.

Fitisemanu broke through for one and a half sacks, and Kahale Kaahu added one sack.

Alo-Wily came through with five tackles and a half-sack to go along with his 119 rushing yards.

Ah-Hoy continues to be a threat in multiple ways. He can take handoffs, run from a direct snap, catch passes out of the backfield, and throw from the quarterback or halfback positions.

Kahuku definitely has the talent to go far. It appears that its bruising brand of football that took Castle by storm in the final two and a half periods is the way to do it.

As far as the Red Raiders’ prospects go, it’s going to come down to opponents being able to stop the big boys in the backfield or not.


  1. bleedred September 17, 2014 2:00 pm

    Great article but history tells us that its Kahuku’s defense that determines how far they go. The running game is only there for eating the clock as their smash mouth style is not pretty or exciting. Kahuku does not want to get into a scoring race with their opponents. As beautiful it is to see Punahou pass for 500 yards per game, its even more beautiful to see a hard nose defense stop it. Go Big Red!

  2. SimpleSimon September 17, 2014 7:26 pm

    Kahuku is stacked across the board. They have score in every aspect of the game in every game. I don’t think there’s a more complete “scoring” team than Kahuku. There might be passing teams that can score. There might be running teams that can score. But there’s no team out there that has scored on offense, defense, and special teams the way Kahuku has in every game this year. They are a triple scoring threat this year.

  3. Paper Crane September 17, 2014 8:45 pm

    No sweat,…this year Kahuku got the better of all the best Lee coaches in Hawaii Nei; as for
    Coach Leslie Lee, ” you just show the varsity boys the way and how it’s done and they’ll put out for you 24/7 no matter what, you just watch and see;..”like don’t think,..just feel”,…kay.

  4. bleedred September 17, 2014 10:53 pm

    @simplesimon so far Kahuku has been blowing out weak teams so its hard to say if that scoring can continue in the playoffs against better teams. They need to improve their pass coverage and make some stops against the teams that can pass at will, Should be a great post season this year.

  5. Smoking Duck September 18, 2014 2:02 am

    Who knows who the starting Kahuku JV players last year who transferred to St Louis? There are suppossed to be 4 of those traitors. Punahou’s starting QB and top running back are from the Kahuku school district. As is their big Tongan offensive lineman Semisi Uluave and their star LB Saitui Moeai. No other community in Hawaii loves and reveres their football team as Kahuku. Yet the parents want to send them away. I have seen the Kahuku championship celebrations on YouTube. The Kahuku kids want to play with their boyz they grew up with and want to play for the Kahuku community.

  6. SimpleSimon September 18, 2014 6:52 am

    @bleedred – That’s true and I realize that. But honestly this year, there are pretty much only about 6 good teams. Everyone else seems “below” average (no disrespect).

    @Smoking Duck – I know a few of those kids and they come from great families. I think it’s about education and opportunities. Yes you can do great things coming from Kahuku, but I think the path will be much easier if you went to a private school. The resources and benefits from private schools are ridiculously better/more compared to Kahuku.

  7. BigRedCountry September 18, 2014 3:47 pm

    Its hard every year for our Laie Big Boy League coaches to prepare and teach our kids for High School football and then Punahou and St. Louis come cherry pick the cream of the crop. If our kids stayed home Kahuku would win the State title every year. Personally if a private school offered my sons a free education and better prep for college I would do whats best for my situation, I think Manti opened a big door for our Mormon kids to get into Punahou, the Buff-n-Blue seem to like our Laie kids because they are boy scouts and come from a responsible family environment. St. Louis had a pipeline to the Catholic Hauula’ans from way back in the 90’s and I wonder if Cal Lee’s return opened it up this year.

    When all is said and done lets just be happy that our North Shore kids are doing bigger and better things no matter where they go, with that being said we still got enough Homegrown talent to compete for the crown. Lets get it! RR4L

  8. Nick Abramo September 22, 2014 3:31 pm

    Bleedred — good point about the defense.

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