>> 2-7 overall, 2-4 OIA Division I
>> John Hao is 25-26 in five years as a head coach and 10-20 in three seasons at Castle
KEY UNDERCLASSMEN IN 2019
>> WR/RB Kala Matthews, 5-4, 180, So.; QB Kila Kaio, 5-8, 130, So.; WR AJ Igafo, 5-7, 150, Jr.; DB Kela Harbottle, 5-4, 140, Jr.
CASTLE THROUGH THE YEARS: 1973-2019
HISTORICAL EQUIVALENT 2012 Anuenue
Three years after Nelson Maeda was shown the door, nothing much else has changed in Kaneohe.
The Castle Knights are still a plucky band of scrappers looking for an upset or three. Castle won two games this year despite giving up more than 30 points per game in each of John Hao‘s seasons, the first time that has happened in program history.
All a coach wants to do is see his team improve every day and Hao’s charges have certainly done that in his three years, capped by last year’s magical playoff run and this year’s near miss.
The Knights averaged 19.2 points per game this year, down from the 21.6 the previous year. The defense allowed 33.3 points per game, nearly a field goal per contest more than the previous group. Although the differences were minimal, the team won three fewer games than a year ago.
The Knights have yielded more than 30 points per game for three straight years, the first time that has happened in the school’s long history. Hao’s teams have allowed three of the six largest points against per game in program history but has improved off the program-worst 37.5 he had when he took over for Maeda.
Castle’s point differential was minus-14.1, five points above 2018. Teams with the same point differential include Wendell Look‘s 1995 ‘Iolani (3-9) team, 1974 Kalaheo (2-7-1) under Fred Hilliard and Kealoha Wengler‘s 2012 Anuenue squad (2-7).
The Knights finished the season with four straight losses, but it could have been much different, playing Kailua and ‘Iolani to within a touchdown to close the book.
Hao tried to open the offense up a bit, calling for passes on 42 percent of the snaps to 38 percent last year, but the offense ran more than 100 fewer plays from scrimmage than last season.
Sophomore Kila Kaio ran the offense as the quarterback, beginning the year with three touchdowns and no interceptions against Kapolei and keeping the efficiency up until a late-season visit to Moanalua when he was victimized for six interceptions, completing more passes to Na Menehune (six) than his own teammates (five). Despite the egg the promising youngster laid at Moanalua, Kaio was the first Castle player to throw for more than 1,000 yards in a season since Willie Ewaliko‘s senior year in 2015.
Kala Matthews took over as wildcat quarterback after the Moanalua game and Kaio was never the same with the limited work. Mana Kahoopii actually had the best performance of the season under center, going 10-for-12 for 185 yards and three TDs and no picks against Waipahu. He threw only five passes in seven games after that performance.
Like Senituli Punivai before him, turning the offense over to Matthews made Castle a completely different team. Matthews, a budding track star as a sophomore, didn’t earn his first carry until the fifth week of the season when he got Radford for 70 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. His workload kept building after that, capped by a 36-185-2 performance in the season finale against ‘Iolani. That performance landed Matthews sixth on the school’s single-game rushing chart and was only the second time the Knights lost a game when having a kid exceed 160 yards on the ground. He will go into next season with two straight games over the Century mark, chasing Punivai’s seven in a row last year for most in program history. Matthews finished 2019 third in all of Division I in rushing, behind only Alfred Failauga of Waipahu and Damien’s Amo Sulu.
Chazz Tom didn’t get the volume that Matthews did, but scored five TDs to Matthews’ six despite 32 fewer carries. The Knights had 14 different players with at least once carry, but Tom was the unquestioned No. 2 man. He shined with 20 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown against Damien’s stiff defense but got only seven carries in the next five games.
Not only was Matthews Castle’s top rusher when all was said and done, he was the No. 1 receiver as well, bringing to mind the heroics of Jeremy McGoldrick and the first Knight to pace the program in both categories since Doug Cozloff way back in 1988.
Matthews had receiving TDs in each of Castle’s first three games and was on pace for an outstanding season as a receiver before his targets dwindled late in the year as he focused on running. His 353 yards are the fewest for Castle’s top receiver since 2012. Jonah Figueroa was the No. 2 but started the season as a No. 1 with touchdowns in the first two games, and 12 catches in the first three. He did not hual in another pass until the last game against ‘Iolani, when he caught a 72-yard TD.
With all of the position shuffling, AJ Igafo and Logan Albinio were a steady presence with both players catching passes in every game except one. The Knights had five different players catch 100 yards in passes, the first time that has happened since 2014 when Chad Figueroa, Isaiah Lewis, Royce Simeona-Townsend and Taylor Bee hauled in passes from Ewaliko.
Matthews is eligible to return for his junior season next year, and the 5-4, 180-pound speedster can count on being an important part of Castle’s plans. He could be the school’s first three-year starter at quarterback since Alika Kekoanui from 1987-89. But so is Kaio, who is also a sophomore.
Figueroa and Keanu Tilton will be among the biggest losses to graduation, so Hao will have plenty of toys to play with next year.