One team won with ease. One barely scraped by.
That was the OIA semifinals on Thursday night, and we are left with a showdown that pits the league’s best offense hands-down (No. 2 Mililani) against, arguably, the league’s best defense (No. 3 Kahuku) on Halloween night.
Of course, there will be people who argue that the Trojans (10-0) have the best defense, and they may have a point. The Red Raiders gave up one more point than Mililani, 104 to 103, during the regular season, but it should be noted that Kahuku’s defense was on the field a sizable amount of time more than the Trojans’.
There are those who say the Mililani offense is unstoppable, and that certainly has been true all season. But, as Trojans coach Rod York likes to say, “It’s grind time.”
So, what happened in the regular season doesn’t mean the same will hold true in the OIA title game and states.
York was happy with his team’s 47-15 win over No. 6 Campbell (7-3), but he was still worried about some breakdowns.
“Credit Campbell, but we weren’t keeping our responsibilities, not listening. Our scheme is simple. Follow the scheme, don’t have a mental lapse, do your assignments.”
Kahuku (8-1) got some big plays from Keala Santiago, Alohi Gilman and Tuli Wily-Matagi to get past No. 5 Farrington 21-14.
Leading 7-3 late in the third quarter, both players combined to tackle scrambling Farrington quarterback Montana Liana on fourth down to finish off a goal-line stand.
Then, on the next play, Santiago beat his defender badly and hauled in a 95-yard TD pass from Wily-Matagi for an 11-point lead.
“We were ready to pin ’em and they come back and score on that long pass,” lamented Govs coach Randall Okimoto after the game. “That woke us up.”
Farrington (7-2) fought back to tie it 14-all, but with time ticking down the Red Raiders got a 53-yard kickoff return and a 29-yard reception by Gilman before Kesi Ah-Hoy found a huge hole for a 4-yard rushing TD and the win with 10 seconds left.
“We thought it was going to overtime and then they had that long kickoff return, and those long passes killed us,” Okimoto said.
Wily-Matagi only completed five passes in the game. Coach Lee Leslie said the senior quarterback almost didn’t start because of wrist and knee problems.
“I was especially worried about his knee,” Leslie said. “But he said he could go and he did a great job.”
The Kahuku locker room was rocking after the win.
Leslie, the first-year coach, was visibly happy after the dramatic ending. Even though the Red Raiders are 8-1, there were doubts about their offense during a rocky midseason stretch.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Leslie said. “We went up against a great football team, and we’re going to be going up against a great football team in Mililani.”
Most people are under the assumption that offenses are way ahead of defenses in high school football, and that does appear to be true. If it holds true in the OIA title game, Kahuku doesn’t have a chance.
But there is another side of the coin, and that’s the old saying that offense wins games and defense wins championships.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Kahuku linebacker Manaia Atuaia said. “Defense will be key.”
Added safety Malcom Macatiag: “We need to contain their quarterback (McKenzie Milton), who is very fast and shifty, and their running back (Vavae Malepeai). If we do that, we’ll be doing good.”
Including the playoffs, the Red Raiders give up an average of 13.1 points per game.
The Mililani offense, on the other hand, has scored an average of 45.8 points in its 10 games, and that includes a 2-0 forfeit win over McKinley.
On the flipside, the Red Raiders offense scores 31 points per game, and the Trojans defense allows an average of 17.9.
But that’s all in the past.
The only fact that really matters now is that Mililani’s offense has scored nearly at will on every opponent.
So, if you are in the Red Raiders camp, you know that this one is squarely on the defense’s shoulders.
And judging by what Hawaii football fans have seen all season, a great defensive performance might not be enough.