My incessant scribbling about football floods over the limits of the standard layout in print. So here’s the full-length version of the Kaimuki/KS-Hawaii and Kalaheo-Kauai game previews. Consider it bonus coverage.
All four teams in the opening round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division II Football State Championships have that certain elite flavor.
Unseeded Kauai has a long history of talent in the uber-tough Kauai Interscholastic Federation. Kalaheo battled Oahu Interscholastic Association Red teams tough in recent years before moving over to the White Conference.
Kaimuki also has a background of OIA Red success, making this year’s unbeaten run through the White something less of a shock. Kamehameha-Hawaii, meanwhile, may be the best team in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation regardless of classification.
Here’s a look at the D-II matchups.
>> Kalaheo at Kauai, Vidinha Stadium: When the teams meet tomorrow, the host Red Raiders will see its smallest opponent — in terms of numbers — of the season. The Mustangs (6-4, 6-4 OIA White) finished second in their league despite fielding less than 30 players.
One difference between the teams is that Kalaheo’s most recent game, a 48-12 loss to Kaimuki, was televised statewide. Kauai is a mystery to most of the other islands.
“I hope they scouted that last game because that’s not our kind of football,” Mustangs coach Chris Mellor said. “I wanted to put my head in the sand with an ostrich after that game. More power to Kaimuki. They brought their ‘A’ game and we didn’t.”
Senior quarterback Justin Pagan (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) conducted the veer offense and was proficient by air and by ground. Pagan passed for 943 yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for 937 yards (6.2 per carry) and 12 scores. Pagan, who also plays safety, is one of several Mustangs who pull ironman duty.
Senior running back/linebacker Jesse Carney (1,411 rushing yards, 10.3 per attempt, 16 touchdowns) has been a bull on both sides of the ball. He has returned a pick for six points on the defensive end.
Kauai’s defense reminds Mellor of, well, the Mustangs.
“They run a 4-4, reminds me a little of ourselves. They’re scrappy, fast guys. They have a lot more numbers but the physical makeup of their team looks a lot like us. They’re not monstrous and they tend to be quicker than most of the teams I’ve seen.”
Sophomore Nainoa Frank, at 6-4, is a magnet downfield but managed to haul in 22 passes for 429 yards and six touchdowns.
“In theory, they’re going to get a good dose of Nainoa, a good dose of Jesse and Justin,” Mellor said. “If those guys click, it’s tough. The other receivers need to step it up as well. They’re going to have a corner and a safety spying in. I would. If they double-team our receivers, I like our chances.
Quincy Mason, a speedster who lines up as a tight end, is another effective pass catcher. Sage Richardson, Mellor added, is the team’s fastest athlete.
“They’ve got a great coach who demands discipline and execution,” Kauai coach Derek Borrero said of his counterpart. “They can scrap. They can beef. They can fight. They’ve got tough kids, a small group of 25 to 27 athletes that go both ways and that’s very impressive to me.”
Kauai (7-1, 5-1 KIF) threw foes for a loop by switching out of its traditional run-and-shoot offense and into a ground-and-pound Wishbone at midseason. After averaging 13.3 points per game in league play with the shotgun attack, the Red Raiders boosted production to 23.7 in its final three KIF games, all wins.
Quarterback Shea Shimabukuro hasn’t shown up in the stats, but his direction is key to the transition. Running backs Jake Leake (299 yards, 5.2 per attempt), Kele Hanohano (293, 6.7) and Darren Acoba (157, 4.6) help share the load.
Dealing with a throwback offense that is almost extinct poses an interesting challenge for Kalaheo.
“We do not have a scout team,” Mellor said. “We can’t replicate it to its potential, but we can walk through it. Film’s the best tool, sometimes, drawing it up on the board, sending film home with the players so they can watch it. They play tough, strong football. They’ll put you to sleep with the Wishbone, then sneak guys out to try to drop balls behind you.”
Kauai’s leading receiver is Acoba (seven catches, 141 yards). Shimabukuro threw just two touchdown passes and was picked off six times in just 46 attempts.
That’s where the numbers are deceptive. By switching their offensive scheme, the Red Raiders have developed into state title contenders again.
“We always talk about it. It’s always the long-term goal, but right now, day by day, each rep, game by game, but Kalaheo is a big obstacle that we need to get by,” Borrero said. “We feel we can be more successful if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”
The game will kick off at 4:30 p.m.
The winner will play top-seeded ‘Iolani next week at Eddie Hamada Field.
>> No. 9 Kaimuki at Kamehameha-Hawaii: For watchers outside the Big Island, KS-Hawaii is another mystery team. What’s certain, though, is that the Warriors draw much of the island’s top academic and athletic talent to their spacious campus every year.
Coach Dave Baldwin is at the helm of the program, enjoying his first journey into the state tourney. His team hasn’t played in two weeks after running the table in the BIIF with an 10-0 mark (11-1 overall). The Warriors lost to Kauai 27-15 in a nonconference game at Vidinha Stadium nearly three months ago.
Colby Cabatu, a 6-3, 235-pound senior, is one of KS-Hawaii’s weapons. Cabatu, who plays linebacker and defensive line, is also a threat with the ball. He scored on a 16-yard touchdown run in a title-clinching 20-7 win over preseason favorite Hawaii Prep three weeks ago.
That game turned on a fumble recovery by the Warriors’ punt-coverage team. Placekicker Daniel Grant-Johnson is a weapon, as well. He kicked two field goals in the win over HPA.
Quarterback Keoni Thompson is the trigger man of KS-Hawaii’s shotgun attack. His favorite targets include Tavon Pegues and Aukai Akau.
Defensively, the Warriors have playmakers like Keha Aiwohi and Leo Kozlowski in the secondary. They also used a bend-but-don’t-break approach in that HPA game. That might work against Kaimuki (10-1, 10-0 OIA White).
“Our boys are proud to be where they are, how far they’ve come so far. They’re excited just to travel,” said Kaimuki coach Clint Onigama coach, who had his team do plenty of film study this week.
The Bulldogs rely heavily on multi-talented Chester Sua. The 6-2, 208-pound senior ravaged defenses with his tough inside running and breakaway speed. The Washington State-bound playmaker has rushed for 1,202 yards (6.7 per carry) and 15 touchdowns while also starting at safety and returning kicks. He has returned one kick for a touchdown and caught three more scores.
The Bulldogs have two reliable quarterbacks in Dallas Reis and Nahoa Spencer, who have combined for just five picks in 166 pass attempts. Spencer was especially sharp coming off the bench in a big win at Waipahu during the regular season.
Mason Kualii-Moe leads the receiver corps with 28 catches for 517 yards and six touchdowns.
“Their size and intensity is very similar to HPA and Honokaa,” Baldwin said of Kaimuki. “It’s definitely, always a chess game.”
Calvin “C.J.” Hoohuli (6-2, 222) has anchored the line.
“He’s been a standout. He’s been on blind side most of the year though he prefers right-side tackle. We switched him up because he’s one of our best blocking linemen,” Baldwin said.
“We’re still looking for that game,” Baldwin said. “We had two games against HPA and two games against Honokaa. If you put those four games in a bucket and maybe we came close in one of those games, but I can’t tell you a game that we’ve had that level of execution where we set our standards of achievement.
“Great awesome kids. I am blessed to have this group of kids, especially the seniors. They proved themselves to be a strong brotherhood. Hopefully, we can focus on execution and give Kaimuki a good game.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. today. The winner will travel next week to play Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser