Balance keeps Surfriders on their toes

Kailua's Dalton Kalama ran the ball against Campbell on Friday night. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser
Kailua’s Dalton Kalama ran the ball against Campbell on Friday night. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser

In less than two seasons, the brain trust of Kailua Surfriders football has built a foundation of winning.

It’s not just the 5-0 record, 4-0 in league play, that proves it. The Surfriders, guided by coach Joseph Hau‘oli Wong and his staff, can change tempo, go contrary to any defensive scheme when necessary, and do it with the kind of maturity that can be rare at the prep level.

A 34-21 win over a much-improved Campbell squad was a sample of just about every facet of Kailua’s evolution since Wong took the reins before the 2014 season. The first half was a shootout with Campbell’s first-year starting QB, Kawika Ulufale, firing darts around the field, especially to Noah Esprecion.

In the throes of that slugfest, Kailua managed to rally and take a 27-21 lead into the half. Then, the Surfriders altered the tempo. While Campbell was in no-huddle, sometimes hurry-up mode through the first half, Kailua took the time to slow down.

“That’s me managing the game,” senior quarterback Noah Auld said. “We had the lead, so we could afford to rest our defense and burn the clock.”

Kailua kept handing the ball to its large group of running backs, and presto — the third quarter was over almost in an instant. Campbell had 30 plays in the first half, including 24 pass attempts by the elusive Ulufale. In the third quarter, Kailua’s defense adjusted and Campbell mustered just one first down in three possessions. Two of those series came with Ulufale on the bench and Siaosi Soto at QB.

Kailua may have been too conservative for some fans. Two drives ended on fourth-down runs that came up short. But the clock and field position were on the side of the team in black and blue, and the Sabers never entered Kailua territory in the fourth quarter.

The Surfriders didn’t produce eye-popping rushing numbers (140 yards on 36 carries) or passing statistics (166 yards on 13-for-22 accuracy by Auld). But between their determined commitment to run the ball out of the pistol and establish control of the middle of the field, Wong’s team has the blueprint (no pun intended) to keep defenses off balance in any stage of a contest.

One fumble lost and no interceptions thrown. Kailua has learned how winning is done. Oh, it’s not just the offense’s ball control and production, of course. Five sacks, including four by Christian Mejia, stymied the Sabers. While Kailua put Mark Lagazo, Gabe LeLesch and Dalton Kalama to work out of the backfield — they had a combined 29 carries for 105 tough yards — Campbell could only dream of getting yards in a more simple way.

Until Terrell Johnson returns from injury, they don’t have a consistent running back, particularly one with Johnson’s size (215 pounds) to keep defenders from going full-blown attack mode on Ulufale and Soto. While Kailua’s offensive line looked unsurprisingly fatigued when the humidity and heat rose significantly in the second half, they got the job done by moving the chains often enough.

Ulufale and Soto, a combined 22-for-40, 211 yards with two picks, showed the ability to get the ball out quickly much of the time. But with Christian Mejia bringing heat (four sacks) and Kailua’s secondary providing sticky coverage most of the night, there wasn’t much more Campbell could do.

Ulufale is quick and aggressive when he gets flushed out of the pocket, a natural runner with the ball. But aside from an early 25-yard TD run, Kailua contained him. When Auld ran, it was without the fury of a pass rush and more about gaining easy yards on the empty side of the field. He looked at times like Delbert Tengan-era Saint Louis when Micah Mamiya was the Crusaders’ QB, picking up 18 yards on the ground every time it was third-and-17.

For now, the Sabers know they can move the ball and provide plenty of resistance in the trenches — not enough to shut offenses down, but enough to stay in games. Kailua is ranked No. 7 in the state and Campbell made it a heck of a game for 48 minutes. Amosa Amosa’s team won’t take any solace in being 0-3 — and becoming a long shot at qualifying for the OIA Division I playoffs — but there is hope.

There are three talented QBs from Ewa Beach who don’t play for the Sabers, but Ulufale showed great potential on Friday night. If Johnson can return soon — that’s become more and more of a possibility with each passing week — there’s enough time for Campbell to make a run.

Kailua found ways to move the ball even with WRs Martin Tigilau and Koolau Gaspar getting special attention from Campbell’s secondary. Isaiah Damo-Agcaoili had five catches for 99 yards and a TD, and Auld spread the ball around to Noah Ah Yat, Noah Vega and even Lagazo, played both ways. He had a key interception and return in the final quarter to set up Kailua’s last TD.

That’s the scary part for Kailua’s future opponents. It’s not just power football, and it’s not just one-dimensional offense or defense. The Surfriders have a lot of different ways to beat you, and they’re only getting better with each week.

Auld says being 5-0 means “nothing” and he means it. Wong is concerned with keeping his guys healthy and eligible. There’s no sense of surprise on the Kailua sideline after another win. They’ve learned to be grinders, and when grinders win, it always makes that early-morning Saturday practice a whole lot more fun. Getting up early on a weekend gets a lot easier in the midst of a perfect season — so far.


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