Big, Red Leather Helmets: Kahuku Smash

Kahuku defensive lineman Aliki Vimahi sacks Kapolei's Taulia Tagovailoa during an OIA playoff game on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. Jay Metzger/Special to Star-Advertiser
Kahuku defensive lineman Aliki Vimahi sacks Kapolei’s Taulia Tagovailoa during an OIA playoff game on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. Jay Metzger/Special to Star-Advertiser

Pete Carill, the legendary Princeton basketball coach who used throwback offensive schemes to keep his Tigers competitive against big-time colleges, once said that putting high-flying scorers like Michael Jordan into his sets would make them even better.

When Kahuku implements its traditional running lanes out of its jumbo hybrid formation — unveiled against Waianae in the OIA regular-season finale less than three weeks ago — it looks much like something out of the 1940s. Just switch out 200-pound linemen of a bygone era for wooly mammoth, 300-pound bruisers.

It is, as Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez said, like going into a “time warp.”

And yet, defensively, the Red Raiders adapt and adjust in complex, modern ways. They had to against Kapolei on Saturday, facing a freshman slinger (Taulia Tagovailoa) who had passed for 534 yards in a game recently.

The blend of old and new, and the buy-in from their players, reaped the reward of a 56-10 playoff win over Kapolei on Saturday night. For their coach, it’s all about the day-to-day, week-to-week and nothing more. Moments after the win over Kapolei, Vavae Tata asked a simple question.

“Who do we play, anyways?”

There was a pause. He asked again. It’s not coachspeak or anything like that for the first-year head coach at Kahuku. When they prep for a new opponent, the Red Raiders don’t glance ahead at the schedule or playoff bracket. And, for the record, they will play Farrington on Friday at Aloha Stadium.

“We keep telling them every week, we’re going in 0-0 and we’re just hoping to be 1-0 at the end of the week. As long as we’re in the ascending mode, which I believe we are, but we still haven’t played a complete game,” Tata said.

After the win over a persistent, but worn-down Kapolei squad, Tata was far from satisfied. Maybe it was the nine penalties for 98 yards, but that’s relatively low compared to some earlier showings this fall by Kahuku.

Maybe it was the 13-yard average on kickoff returns. Or getting to Tagovailoa just twice for sacks. Maybe it was none of the above.

“I’m still looking for that complete game. Hopefully, it’s around the corner,” Tata said.

The Red Raiders rushed for 431 yards on 48 carries, most out of their not-yet-patented, but highly effective throwback formation that recalls an era of leather helmets and wooden goal posts standing on goal lines. Defensively, they shut down Kapolei’s ground game (11 carries, minus-5 yards).

This is how zoned in the Red Raiders are. Their players spend so much effort on fine-tuning every aspect — PK Kekoa Sasaoka was a kickoff touchback machine nearly every time, except once when he faced a 20-25 mph wind — that they don’t all necessarily spend time studying film.

“Uh, I don’t even know if we watched film on them,” said Kesi Ah-Hoy, who ran for 191 yards and four TDs as a wildcat QB once again. “We just want to do what we know.”

Kekaula Kaniho studied video. The Kahuku cornerback watched again and again, studying Kapolei’s offensive tendencies. That led to two of his team’s four interceptions, including a 72-yard pick-six and a leaping one-handed snag near the goal line.

“Kekaula played a phenomenal game. Shoot, that one-handed catch there that stopped them from getting in the end zone — unreal,” Tata said. “We pride ourselves on not letting any opponents score on us. Hat’s off to Kapolei. They scored 10 on us and did a great job. We have to work on our mistakes and get better.”

“I just watched film a lot on my spare time,” Kaniho said. “That slowed the game down for me.”

The Red Raiders look more and more like the dominant defense that carried the program to state championships in 2011 and ’12. Kaniho, Stokely Botelho and Keala Santiago have been among the best anywhere in coverage and support. Hirkley Latu, a 6-foot-4, 208-pound senior, had been a blitzing phenom of late, but is also rangy enough to cover in space. He nearly had a pick in the second half, which really means it’s incredibly unfair — a basketball center who can play outside linebacker with the agility of a safety while rushing passers like a defensive end.

That’s one thing the “Sharks” of those recent title teams didn’t have. For all of their athleticism, versatility and smarts — safety Kawe Johnson was an all-state defensive player of the year — they didn’t have a defender as tall as Latu in the pass-defense mix.

Latu blamed himself for the lone Kapolei touchdown, noting that he thought there would be help over the top.

“It was miscommunication,” he said.

The grimace said it all. Even after a 46-point win. But even with Tata’s supreme standards, the Red Raiders know they’re playing great football. Four interceptions were crowd-pleasers at Carleton Weimer Field, for sure. But that willingness to be patient, bend between the 20s — Tagovailoa accumulated 356 passing yards on 36-for-63 passing — and come up with stops in the red zone was indicative of a mature defensive unit.

“Our defense has been playing lights out. All credit to Coach Vae and our staff. It’s fun for all of us to be able to switch roles,” Latu said of their versatility on defense. “I feel like there’s no weak links on this team.”

It’s classic. It’s leather-helmet football. Great defense. Nonstop, punishing ground attack. Superb special teams. Kahuku is on a quest to win championships. If that means throwing the ball just five times per game, so be it.

They’re doing it, as Hernandez said, with “lethal precision.”

Sometimes, old school is the best school.


  1. Manly October 18, 2015 9:53 am

    I don’t see any team stopping that Kahuku smashmouf football. it looks like Kahuku and Mililani will advance to the States. Waianae will be the third OIA entry. Kapolei actually have a big DL and backers, but couldn’t slow it down. Time of possession with smashmouf will keep your opponent off the field. On the defensive side, bend but don’t break. 10 points and over 300 yards passing is still good. With 54 points on the board via smashmouf and 435 yards rushing, that’s an offensive show.

  2. nanakuli October 18, 2015 10:12 am

    Just play an eight man front and chop the Kahuku Oline. Farrington this week and rematch with Waianae next week for third place.

  3. Saka October 18, 2015 10:46 am

    I don’t think you are allowed to chop as part of the dline… The reason I say that is because Kapolei got called for illegal chop block a few times… One more thing that I throughly was odd…. Why were the refs blowing the whistle after every play like it was a dead ball??? I know that after a penalty or a timeout but refs wee doing it after a regular run play…. Is that how it is supposed to be???
    Please advise…

  4. LBI October 18, 2015 11:01 am

    Nanaz…You do realize “Chop” is illegal right? In fact if you were at the game, the Canes were called a few times for doing so.

    One game at a time…Go Big Red!!

  5. biggz73 October 18, 2015 11:02 am

    @nanakuli when do we play u guys?

  6. 88 October 18, 2015 11:10 am

    When you lack fitness and intestinal fortitude you resort to cheap chop blocking. This is a classic example of why a pass happy offense is a bad thing. Because in practice all your defense goes against is the pass. Makes your D soft because not to much contact. Might as well play flag football already…..

  7. MadMax October 18, 2015 11:52 am

    @88 you’re right…. stl defense looked soft last night causing six turnovers and allowing less tham 200 yards to Punahou. If Kahuku gets down un a game, their done. If you can’t pas, you won’t win.

  8. 88 October 18, 2015 11:58 am

    Everybody looks like AllStars until
    they play Kahuku. But after they get hit they turn into FLAG FOOTBALL ALL STARS

  9. Good Story October 18, 2015 12:10 pm

    Love it, love it. The self proclaiming experts from St. Louis are alive and well. Go head, keep it up MadMax…I was getting tired of Lee Boy anyways. Bring it on folks, just please don’t be a chump like Lee Boy and then hide when it’s time to eat your words.

  10. Good Story October 18, 2015 12:11 pm

    …or like Don’t Explain Your Life or Better Story.

  11. The rim October 18, 2015 12:16 pm

    Kahuku will be in every game with their tough defense. The difference is getting stops and turnovers against good offensive teams. I do recall the Liberty team running the ball and beating a very good high powered Mililani team, and Kahuku kind of uses the same blueprint Standford used to beat Oregon. Ground and pound and get defensive stops.

  12. Fuki October 18, 2015 12:27 pm

    @MadMax…stl defense playing Punahou? The same Punahou that couldn’t score a touchdown against Kahuku last year, and then all of a sudden they light up Mililani for 7 TDs in the state championship game? All the flag football teams look soft against Kahukus defense. Insulting that Kapolei thinks they can win with a freshman at qb. Then again, if Kahuku can’t score, it’ll be a repeat of last year.

  13. Manley October 18, 2015 12:28 pm

    I don’t think that poster is from nanakuli. Mote from the ILH. Chop block,lol.

  14. Tanoai Reed October 18, 2015 1:27 pm

    @MadMax…”if you can’t score you can’t win”. How come everyone uses handles on here? Just post your real name! Lol!

  15. Good Story October 18, 2015 1:49 pm

    @Tanoai Reed
    Cause we not 6’4″ 240 like you my braddah. I wish.

  16. matuu pulotu October 18, 2015 1:52 pm

    Good luck to the teams left in the race to states. Never mind talking trash, let the players play and don’t manifest your dreams on the boys who are living it now. Be proud for your school as well as all of the athletes we have here in the 808 regardless of what school they attend. We must also remember to be respectful so the young players also learn it as well. If we as fans are disrespectful , it will easily carry over to our kids and then we will all regret it when players seek to injure each other instead of playing hard and clean. Let them enjoy their high school experience as many of us did already. Be pono and go hard. Go Big Red.

  17. 88 October 18, 2015 1:54 pm

    No for reals Grind him already……

  18. TGOD October 18, 2015 2:20 pm

    @matuu pullout – Agreed brother, it’s all about the kids.

    Kahuku has one of the best defenses in the state, after last night I think they are the best. Thought Kapolei would keep it within 2 scores, but not even. Congrats to Kapolei on a good season. Kahuku remains the favorite to me on taking the OIA title, and with their talent and style of play. They are going to be tough for anyone to beat.

  19. setu October 18, 2015 2:45 pm

    Illegal chop blocking is when an offensive player delivers a low block to a defender who is already engaged with a blocker, basically a high low move. It is also illegal for defensive players to do the same to offensive players. But one on one chop blocking aka cut blocking is perfectly legal. One on one chop blocking is not allowed during all special teams play for both teams. Just FYI. kahuku looks unstoppable. But this is football. Anything can happen at any given moment.

  20. Good Story October 18, 2015 3:02 pm


  21. setu October 18, 2015 6:16 pm

    Illegal chop blocking is when an O-lineman delivers a low cut block on a man who is already engaged with another blocker, so basically a high low move. It is illegal for both offensive and defensive positions to do this high low style of blocking. However one on one chop blocks also known as cut blocks are perfectly legal with in the tackle box. Just for you guys to be educated on the subject. Kahuku looks unstoppable. But this is football and anything can happen.

  22. Homegrown October 18, 2015 7:06 pm

    I think Kahuku blows through Farrington then battles it out with Mililani for the title. Kahuku is just a matchup nightmare for the remaining teams. StL is probably the only defense that has a chance of not being completely overpowered by that ground and pound offense. Actually they can’t overpower a young Punahou O-line so Kahuku’s bruisers might have their way with them. Crazy thing is, 90% of Kahuku’s Oline and backfield are JUNIORS

  23. Paper Crane October 18, 2015 7:22 pm

    All of this read and write can only say what Red Raiders smashed mouth had resulted to and like it’s in each and every Kahukuan past or present yet this years varsity men live, eat, sleep, and worship their smash mouth intensity with wrapped up silence, like a cocky and confident silence within their hearts and when it’s game day and game time like them smash mouth silence becomes heavy battle sounds like snap, crackle, pop, swosh, rap, wrack, and crunch like their intensity goes like yum yum mess them all up like in and out under and over like no mercy football sure needing referees and like it’s expected for racking up penalty yardages and what this means is we even see the numbers on the scoreboard is true silence but it’s the results of smash mouth like worshipping true Red Raiders Silence;…he,…he,…and it gets even better too…enjoy kay. RR4L/63er.

  24. Good Story October 18, 2015 9:39 pm

    @Paper Crane
    Simply Beautiful

  25. Paper Crane October 18, 2015 10:36 pm

    @Good Story
    Mahalo,…that and our Koolau like even the bus/car ride home after 9 victories,…how sweet it is!

  26. MadMax October 18, 2015 10:39 pm

    Lol….you sounds like guys who coach flag football and never played a down. I set back and watch your comments and you still do not understand. Kahuku is good in the OIA but it still goes through Mil. They won’t be able to run wild on Stl. They have too many playmakers on D and O. Kahuku has play nobody with D1 talent but you all go crazy and their the greatest. Even Vae knows this is true. The OIA 3rd best team got killed by Kam. The OIA doesn’t want two ilh teams so no need to talk about that. They know what will happen. So…continue to put your foot in your mouth and look forward to reading your comments next week if I decide to check. And only people who needs attention and frds writes their name. Kahuku fans are too funny..remember the kids play while you think you know the game….lol

  27. MadMax October 18, 2015 10:47 pm

    Of matter of fact…I just got dummer reading and responding to these comments. Feel like I’m on the west side. Fyi….so, I can’t respond to people who don’t know the game. I know, I don’t either

  28. 88 October 18, 2015 11:03 pm

    Isn’t Kapolei’s Auwae a D1 commit along with 2 of their LineBackers? Or is the news paper article about them just lies.. Maybe it’s just a nack that Kahuku has of making D1 prospects look like NAIA prospects. I know you want so bad for the ILH to return to its glory days, well it was really just St. Louis, but those days are OVA…. The only gap between the OIA and ILH nowadays is the A and B gap that no one can seem to fill when Kahuku runs the ball…..

  29. Sam October 19, 2015 2:42 am

    MadMax you cant even type or speak proper english my friend. Im going to keep this simple. Kahuku has nothing to prove. People like you talk this and that and make fun of their fans. But we all know who the real power house is and always will be brother. If Kahuku don’t beat you, the RED SEA will…lol

  30. Good Story October 19, 2015 7:29 am

    I have to disagree with you bro…the only gap is between MadMax’s ears.

  31. Insideoutsidein October 19, 2015 7:55 am

    @maidmaxi Hahahhaaaa…hahahahhhaaaaa….ho..okay …. Hahahaaaaaha. You crack me up.

  32. Homegrown October 19, 2015 8:37 am

    Can the moderators double check mad max’s IP address, might be an old member with multiple personalities(accounts) cough cough angry at the kahuku coaching staff haha

  33. OHHREALLY October 19, 2015 8:41 am

    Madmax- just so you know, waianae was leading kam for most of the game. Secondly, an oia team will win states.. Again!!!

  34. Jerry Campany October 19, 2015 9:13 am

    MadMax is legit, has always been Mad Max but I can’t speak to how many different computers he has. And if his email address is any indication, he certainly knows a thing about the game.

    I’ll leave it to him to stay anonymous if he so chooses.

  35. GoBigRed October 19, 2015 9:29 am

    Everybody talking about Kahuku vs Mililani… And overlooking Waianae. I believe they have the right combo of Run offense + very good defense to beat Milton-less Trojan team. I think Waianae beats them and plays Kahuku of OIA champs. If a healthy Milton plays = different story. But their O line is average and will have a tough time blocking Waianae’s defensive front. I would talk about Trojans lack of Run D but that’s an already well-known deficiency. Waianae will run wild on them.

  36. Same Ol Same Ol October 19, 2015 11:08 am

    Everyone keeps talking about if Kahuku can’t pass, they won’t win. In case you folks didn’t know, Ah Hoy is actually a great passer. He was the starting JV QB his Freshmen year. Kahuku will keep running until someone can stop them PERIOD. If they need to pass, they will pass. And you all will see what a great Passer Ah Hoy really is. But for now, it’s the TOUGHEST TEAM wins against Kahuku. If you are “tougher” than them, then you will win, PERIOD!!!

  37. Realistic October 19, 2015 12:04 pm

    How’s the SBAC scores out in Kahuku since the scores will be made public today? Academics > Sports

  38. Homegrown October 19, 2015 12:40 pm

    Mahalo @jerry campany. Sounds like mad max is a local coach with some success? Ill bet he stays anonymous, cause his post don’t reflect that of a successful coach. No biggie anyway. Having said that, I see no one left in the state who can stop this Kahuku power offense. Actually I do, the officials lol. St.Louis, Mililani, and Punahou don’t have the personnel to do so. That’s a fact. Unless one of their coordinators have some brilliant plan up their sleeve, Kahuku will do the exact same thing they’ve done to Waianae, Kapolei, and soon to be Farrington.

  39. ALLAN October 19, 2015 1:43 pm


  40. Same Ol Same Ol October 19, 2015 2:51 pm

    @ALLAN – Who’s Vavea?

  41. hiro October 19, 2015 3:00 pm

    @same ol same ol…. Vavae Tata, The kahuku head coach…. where you been? And yes, that’s the same name as tha Mililani RB cause thats his name sake…

  42. FUKI October 19, 2015 3:10 pm

    All you ILH lovers are killing me! Your schools go around, recruiting and “paying” kids to come to your schools. Teams like Mililani got kids moving out there just to play football. Only Kahuku got Homegrown talent. Its because their community is full of support for the kids. They have people like Aisa Wily that volunteer their time to coach football year round. Thats a huge commitment and Thats the real reason why they’re great at the sport. Big Boyz football has O Line n D Line coming into high school ready n experienced to play ball. Before with pop warner, big kids had to wait til high school to participate. ILH lost its edge, but they still beg parents n throw around money to buy talent!

  43. KAHUKUREDRAIDERS98 October 19, 2015 10:08 pm

    Omg y’all still talking shut. Dayum I’m a pray for all your haters

  44. Manoa#1 October 19, 2015 10:30 pm

    Don’t Underestimate the Red Raiders Passing Game. if they have to they have a potent Passing Game with Santiago,Kaniho and Botehlo Playing Receivers and these boys can Fly. Afalava is a good Passing Qb also.

  45. Same Ol Same Ol October 21, 2015 9:31 am

    Why is everyone overlooking Farrington? lol

  46. 88 October 21, 2015 10:21 am

    Because we are fans and not actual players. The coaching staff and players do not have the luxury of over looking any opponent they play. We do and if the inevitable were to happen, we as fans also have the option of not coming on this site until next year.

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