Vavae Tata emerged from the Kahuku locker room and eased into one of Aloha Stadium’s orange seats to take in a bit of the second game of Saturday’s OIA semifinal doubleheader.
The Kahuku coach was about 15 minutes removed from the Red Raiders’ resounding 38-0 victory over Waianae and touched on his postgame message to his team while Farrington and Kapolei went through their pregame routines on the field below.
“We’re getting there, but we still haven’t played a complete game game yet. I told the student-athletes we still have to play a complete game,” Tata said. “People on the outside look at it as 38-0, there’s techniques involved, there’s penalties, a lot of things.”
Kahuku’s inward focus has kept the Red Raiders on track throughout Tata’s tenure leading the program.
The Red Raiders improved to 22-1 under Tata’s leadership — the lone blemish coming against Bishop Gorman, the nation’s top ranked team — on Sept. 17. Outside of the 35-7 loss in Las Vegas, Kahuku has given up precious little in nine OIA games.
Saturday’s shutout was Kahuku’s sixth of the season and they’ve allowed one touchdown in the last 30 quarters in league play, none in the last 11.
The cornerback duo of Kekaula Kaniho and Stokes Nihipali-Botelho again helped ignite the Red Raiders early with two interceptions in the first quarter. Nihipali-Botelho’s pick set up the Red Raiders’ first scoring drive and Kaniho’s 22-yard return for a touchdown highlighted a 21-point outburst in a span of 3:40.
Kaniho’s score was his third pick-six in the last four games and Kahuku’s 10th defensive touchdown of the season.
“They’re students of the game,” Tata said. “They’re just looking forward to doing their 1/11th, to do their part. These kids, football really means a lot to them.”
Rico Rosario’s 5-yard play to begin Waianae’s ensuing possession was the Seariders’ first gain for positive yardage and Kahuku allowed just 53 yards in total offense. Waianae put together a 15-play, 51-yard drive to open the third quarter, but hit the red wall at the Kahuku 13 when Kesi Ah-Hoy stuffed quarterback Jorell Pontes-Borje on fourth down.
“They’re a tough team. It’s like us looking in the mirror,” Tata said of the ground-based Seariders.
The Red Raiders had pushed their OIA opponents backward for minus-39 rushing yards in their previous eight games and held Waianae to 23 on Saturday, matching the Seariders’ total in their first meeting on Aug. 26. That’s the second-highest total surrendered by Kahuku this season, trailing Leilehua’s 24 ground yards in the Red Raiders’ season opener. The Kahuku defense also dropped its total yardage average to 70.8 in nine league games.
Freshman quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava completed three of seven passes for 64 yards, all coming on throws to tight ends Pua Falemalu and Sekope Latu off of play-action. Maiava picked up 57 rushing yards on 10 carries, including a 16-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. In the third quarter, he kept the ball around the left side on an option play for a 12-yard gain before pitching it out to Elvis Vakapuna, who added 18 more yards.
“How about that Sol-Jay Maiava, wow,” Tata said. “He’s just a dual-threat quarterback. That’s hard to defend because now he can hurt you with your legs.”
Tata and the Red Raiders headed out early in the second semifinal and were probably back on the North Shore by the time Farrington completed a wild 33-27 win over Kapolei to join Kahuku in the OIA D-I final on Friday at Aloha Stadium.
Thus begins the cycle of preparation once again.
“It feels great,” Kaniho said of returning to the OIA final. “We have to get back to work on Monday.”