Most Hawaii high school football coaches would rather have their teams playing in Friday’s Division I championship game at Aloha Stadium, but only two get that honor this year — Kahuku first-year mentor Vavae Tata and the winningest coach in state history, Cal Lee of Saint Louis.
Most of the rest will be watching at Aloha Stadium or on pay-per-view.
On Thursday, many Hawaii coaches gave some of their insights into the showdown between the Oahu Interscholastic Association champion Red Raiders (12-0) and the Interscholastic League of Honolulu champ Crusaders (9-1).
AMOSA AMOSA, Campbell: “I haven’t gotten much of chance to watch the Crusaders in action until last week’s semifinal (a 56-30 win over OIA runner-up Mililani). St. Louis looked impressive and it seems like going through the ILH has made them even more state-final ready. As for Kahuku, well the best defense I’ve seen in the last eight years. Also with that Kahuku offense of wildcat pound and ground, it matches their defensive strength to the max. Now as much as I feel defense wins championships, in this game I feel a great offense can be the best defense. I think the game will not be a high-scoring game, but i definitely feel that (Saint Louis quarterback) Tua Tagovailoa will ditto what (Mililani quarterback) McKenzie Milton did last year in the final against Punahou to win the state championship this year.”
RANDALL OKIMOTO, Farrington: “Keys to the game: Penalties and turnovers. If it’s one-sided, then it will make a difference in the outcome of the game. If penalties and turnovers are not a factor, then whoever wins the battle up front in the trenches will win the game. Special teams: the team that emphasizes this phase of the game the best will give themselves the edge to win the game. When a team is able to change the field position with the kicking game, it pays dividends for them defensively because the chances of scoring go down dramatically. Example: starting from the 20 the chances are 1 out of 30. Starting from the 40, the chances are 1 out of 6.”
WENDELL SAY, Aiea: “You couldn’t ask for a better matchup in this week’s Kahuku vs. St Louis game — the prep elite going head to head. Both teams carry great athletes, tradition, and coaches. The team that wins this week will truly have to play flawless football in all phases of the game because each team can hurt you at any given time. They are both playing their best football right now and I believe it will come down to the mental preparation … the team making the least mistakes. I see a close game with it coming down to a field goal, or a blowout due to mental miscues (which I seriously doubt, with these two teams and their coaches). I say ‘Good Luck’ to both teams!”
WALTER YOUNG, Waianae: “I think it will be a very good football game. Two very well-coached football teams going after the win. One team known for offense and one known for defense. It’s going to be a great one. Good luck to both teams.”
POHAI LEE, Baldwin: “This past season, Kahuku reestablished their identity with its physical, power-running game. Traditionally, Saint Louis likes to be physical and outnumber pro-set/run-first teams in the box. Getting to the ball and gang tackling has been well known. I think Kahuku has to keep Saint Louis off balance with play action and high-percentage passes. Offensively, Saint Louis is dangerous. The run-and-shoot got ahead of the curve with run/pass-option plays. A big key for the Crusaders is being able to protect Tua. Kahuku’s defense has been dominating. Physical, fast and aggressive. We’re looking forward to watching this one.”
SAM CANTIBEROS, McKinley: “It’s going to be a great game. A proific, high-powered offense (Saint Louis) vs. arguably the best defensive unit in Hawaii high school football (Kahuku). It’s going to be a chess match between Coach Lee and Coach Tata. Can’t wait to watch it tomorrow.”
NOLAN TOKUDA, Leilehua: “Close game. Comes down to 1) Turnovers; 2) Field position; 3) Penalties; 4) Capitalizing on opponent’s mistakes. 5) Who wants it more. 6) Which coach prepared their team for every or most of the situations … onside kick, onside recovery, punt pinning, spiking the football to preserve clock, getting out of bounds on two-minute drill, possibly a trick play or shot down the field to score and win the game. I think 17-10 or 13-10. Not going to say who wins. I’m praying for Kahuku, the OIA representative, of course. If it was Mililani, I would root for them. If it was us, I would hope the OIA would be rooting for us, too. I know we felt their support in 2007 (when the Mules won the D-I state championship). God bless Saint Louis, but I am a strong supporter of the OIA.”
BRYSON CARVALHO, Waipahu: “It should be an excellent game and I’m excited to watch it tomorrow night. They say defense wins championships, so it will be interesting to see how both defenses do. We played Kahuku and their defense is the real deal. If you take a look at the defensive OIA Red all-stars, all but two spots are filled with Kahuku players. But then you have Tua and the Saint Louis offense that is so explosive and had an impressive showing last week in the semifinals. And also their defense forcing six turnovers last week. Coach Cal has been a mentor to me. His resume speaks for itself. He will have his team ready to play tomorrow night, no doubt. Coach Vae has done a tremendous job bringing Kahuku back to the championship game. All I can say is that it’ll be fun to watch. I’m very intrigued to see how this one will be played out.”
JOSEPH WONG, Kailua: “I honestly believe both teams will hit each other with everything they’ve got, and whoever turns the ball over more and makes more stops should win the game. We didn’t get to see Kahuku much this year, but we scrimmaged Saint Louis and they were really good and they’ve gotten a lot better since then. Kahuku’s got that great running game and they play great defense, and their defensive backs will definitely get tested. Kahuku probably doesn’t have to blitz because their front four or five can get in there and the rest can be in coverage. Saint Louis has tremendous double-threat players in Tua, who can pass and run, and Saiatua Lefau, who can run and catch passes out of the backfield. They will be tough to stop. It’s a great matchup and will be worth your money. Big games like this usually come down to whoever makes the least amount of mistakes. Cal Lee and (Crusaders offensive coordinator) Ron Lee are legends and they will have their defense ready to go to. Cal’s a defensive guy. I also have a lot of respect for Vavae Tata and what he’s done for Kahuku this year. Both staffs are filled with excellent coaches. Kahuku’s staff and players, with their whole community behind them, know what to expect. They’ve been there and they know what’s a stake. Saint Louis hasn’t been there in a while and their boys haven’t experienced this yet.”