Kahuku doesn’t give away football titles easily.
The third-ranked Red Raiders came back from a 21-7 deficit by turning the tables on No. 2 Mililani on Saturday night for a 35-31 victory for the OIA Division I championship at Aloha Stadium.
Surprised? Not if you are from Kahuku. The Red Raiders got it done to win an OIA title for the 19th time in the last 29 seasons, the 26th time overall and the third season in a row.
Mililani (10-1) failed in its bid to win a fourth title in eight years. The Trojans’ 14-game winning streak was also broken.
With 1:34 to go, Kaonohi Kaniho made an over-the-shoulder, 28-yard TD catch of a Sol-Jay Maiava throw for the final dagger.
Kahuku coach Makoa Freitas, Mr. Understatement, said it best afterward: “It was a good throw. It was good.”
Yes it was. And before that, so was Dillon Gabriel‘s 11-yard TD strike to Kilifi Malepeai with less than 5 minutes to go for a 31-28 Mililani lead that just didn’t hold up in the end.
Maiava had a fantastic night, throwing for 248 yards and avoiding the Mililani rush with pocket-movement ability. He is beginning to truly come into his own.
Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu, however, showed what can best be described as that true Red Raiders never-say-die attitude. He turned the game around. Trailing 24-21, he ripped the ball out of a Mililani receiver’s hands and pin-balled off about three or four Mililani defenders, refusing to go down and successfully getting into the end zone from 45 yards out. It gave the Red Raiders a 28-24 lead, the first time they were ahead all game. It also gave Kahuku more of a reason to believe.
“I saw the ball and I wanted to get it back for the offense,” Fonoimoana-Vaomu said. “The feeling (of winning) is inexpressible. … We played our hearts out.”
Kahuku’s defense kept the high-scoring Trojans down in the second half and that also made a big difference.
“Our coverages were a bit off in the first half,” Fonoimoana-Vaomu said. “We came back and talked about our coverages and reads and tried to execute every single play.”
Mililani coach Rod York knows when his offense is being suppressed, mostly because it doesn’t happen very often.
“We didn’t put up enough (points),” he said. We lost the game. Credit Kahuku though. They earned it and they took it from us.”
So now for Kahuku (10-1), it’s on to play Waianae (7-4) — a team it defeated 37-0 on Aug. 18 — in the state Division I-Open semifinals next Friday at Aloha Stadium.
“We’ll get healthy and then we’ll get ready for that,” said Freitas, who had some positive words for Mililani.
“Our defense has been good all year,” he added. “I can’t say enough about the Mililani team and the effort they’ve shown. If we play them again, who knows who’s going to win. Hat’s off to them and the effort they showed tonight.”
The Trojans have a much tougher road to the final. They play No. 1 and defending state champion Saint Louis (8-0) in the other semifinal matchup Friday.
“It’s gonna be a tough matchup,” York said. “We just gotta regroup and we’ll be right back at it.”