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.