Twelve is such a beautiful number for Rough Rider nation.
Roosevelt is an amazing 12-1 after a typical gut-check victory. A 20-7 decision over a gritty Pac-Five squad vaulted the Rough Riders into the semifinal round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division II State Championships.
“We knew it was going to be a hard, tough game for us. Pac-Five is a great team. They came to play,” Roosevelt coach Kui Kahooilihala said.
The home team in red answered with another stout defensive performance.
“Our coaches always emphasize, ‘Play with your heart’,” senior safety Marcus Hee said. “So I try to tell everyone out there, don’t hold back. Leave it all out there for your team.”
Roosevelt needed a field goal by Mason Murashige to win the first meeting three months ago. This time, Roosevelt’s coverage kept a lid on the Wolfpack, and despite a string of short-field opportunities, Pac-Five came up with just one score after halftime.
“Coach John (Kahooilihala) had his schemes, moving our guys around, our linebackers. We had to move our linebackers. Offensively, Pac-Five did a great job. We had to put pressure on them,” Coach Kui Kahooilihala said.
It was quintessential Roosevelt tempo. Grind away on the ground. Hit the occasional first-down pass. Repeat, repeat. Play smart defense. Don’t give up the big play. And wait for opportunities.
“Offensively, Pac-Five did a great job keeping us off balance, their formations, gave us different looks. Our defense, their work was cut out tonight. Pac-Five gave us fits,” Kahooilihala said.
A second-half takeaway by Josh Maikui was exactly that as he yanked the ball away from a Wolfpack receiver in a jump-ball situation near mid-field.
“Our defense kept us in the game, and in games the whole season. For us, tonight, that interception by Josh Maikui was a big one for us. He took the ball away. Tonight our defense played a great game, but again, Pac-Five is a great team,” the head coach said.
Maikui’s play, along with the constant pass rush led by Chayden Sasaki-Kalamau served as the springboard to success.
“Everyone’s spirits was down in the third quarter, but people stepped up,” Hee said. “Josh Maikui made a great play. Chayden got sacks. All we needed was a little spark.”
The head and tail winds of Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium hindered both teams. Offensive coordinator Matt Terukina was constantly balancing the difficulty of throwing the ball with the safer option of having shifty quarterback Sky Ogata limit his tosses and pitches.
“I don’t know if you guys notice, it blows hard this way (from Diamond Head) and sometimes it comes this way (from Ewa). Sky, we asked him,” Kahooilihala said.
Ogata told his coaches the wind wasn’t a big factor.
“But we kind of know it was. I don’t know about Pac-Five’s quarterback (Rocket Uechi). I think it did a little bit when he couldn’t reach his receivers,” Kahooilihala said.
With Pac-Five staying close, field position was in its favor as punter/lineman Leif Faitanu sent several booming punts deep into Roosevelt territory. In one Roosevelt series, a penalty backed the ball up inside the 5. Ogata then had difficulty with a snap, ran wide to the left and was corralled by two Wolfpack defenders. But out of the blue, he delivered a two-handed lateral to his left, where one of his running backs took the ball and races out of the end zone to avoid a safety.
“Sky does amazing things on his own. It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Our pitch relationship with quarterbacks and running backs, they know where they’re supposed to be. Coach Arnold (Morgado) is always preaching landmarks, landmarks,” Kahooilihala said.
That’s the gist of it. A defense with consistent tenacity and intelligence and an offense that values the football has turned a budding program into a state-championship contender. Their coaching staff might be borderline obsessive, but they will prepare to no end. Pac-Five came into the game with a puncher’s chance and proved, even in defeat, that defense and special teams go a long way.
“I watched Pac-Five the first time and tonight, they came a lot better,” Kahooilihala said.
Lahainaluna, the defending state champion, had a bye this week along with No. 2 seed Kapaa. The Lunas are a longtime jewel in D-II.
“Lahainaluna’s a great team. We’ve seen tapes and the kids that they have, the challenge is always they want to go after them again,” Kahooilihala said. “It’s always proving thing to guys out there. For us, our community, we’re thankful that they’re coming out and supporting us, but at the same time, this game against Lahainaluna, they come out with formations. Some similar stuff to what we do, but boy, they’ve got athletes.”
It has been a remarkable season for the red and gold, but the underdog mentality still prevails.
“We won this game,” Hee said. “We’ll enjoy it for tonight, but come tomorrow and Monday, we’ll be back to the grind. Lahainaluna is not a joke. They’re two-time state champions for a reason.
Kahooilihala sets the tone. Nothing lights his fire more than being the underdog.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said, “but our kids love a challenge.”