Kahuku-Mililani: twists, turns … breaks

Kahuku defensive end Bradlee Anae (99) is one of the playmakers on the Red Raiders defense. The unit did not allow a touchdown in Friday night's 20-7 OIA championship game victory over Mililani at Aloha Stadium. In 11 games, the unit has yielded just 22 points, which breaks down to 2 points per game. Jamm Aquino / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Kahuku defensive end Bradlee Anae (99) is one of the playmakers on the Red Raiders defense. The unit did not allow a touchdown in Friday night’s 20-7 OIA championship game victory over Mililani at Aloha Stadium. In 11 games, the unit has yielded just 22 points, which breaks down to 2 points per game. Jamm Aquino / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

When Vavae Tata arrived on the North Shore to become Kahuku’s head coach in the spring, Hirkley Latu didn’t know what to expect.

The Red Raiders safety who now plays linebacker was part of a special team a year ago, a team that was defense-heavy with an offense that struggled. They went far, but first-year head coach Lee Leslie returned to the mainland and Latu was nervous that whoever came in might ruin a good thing.

Latu’s worries were over within the first week, but now there is something quite tangible to show for it. Kahuku turned the tables on Mililani on Friday night with a 20-7 victory over the Trojans for the Oahu Interscholastic Association championship.

By “turn the tables,” we mean it was just one year ago when the Trojans topped the Red Raiders by that same 20-7 score in the OIA title game.

Is there a rivalry brewing? Is that rivalry already here, ready to last for a long, long time? The Aloha Stadium stands were pretty packed on both sides (not the end zones) in the orange and blue sections.

Several Kahuku fans commented on many Mililani fans leaving the stadium when there were still a few minutes left and wondering why.

Well, the answer is football is important in Mililani, but football is close to EVERYTHING in Kahuku. That’s the difference; not trying to incite anything here. Just the truth.

But, football is the subject and not fandom, so we’ll go back there.

There were many twists and turns in this one. Both teams had the good fortune to turn turnovers into touchdowns for a 7-7 tie in the fourth quarter.

Kahuku scored on its second possession of the opening quarter, when Harmon Brown, taking a direct snap in the wildcat formation, drove through the pile for a 26-yard TD after Pesa Lefau‘s fumble recovery of a muffed Trojans punt return.

It took until the 6:50 mark of the third quarter for Mililani to etch its own 7 on the scoreboard. Isaac Liva, a defensive end and a transfer from non-football Hanalani, did the trick, scooping up a fumble that ricocheted back into the Kahuku backfield (from the rugby-like pile that the Red Raiders run most of their offense with) and streaking 27 yards into the end zone.

Mililani freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel suffered a broken collarbone. Jamm Aquino Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Mililani freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel suffered a broken right collarbone. Jamm Aquino Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

But, wait. It’s time to interject what went wrong with Mililani’s high-powered offense on this championship night. Well, yes, you have the immense Kahuku defense, but it is worth mentioning that the Trojans were down to their third-string quarterback. Injured star QB McKenzie Milton (shoulder) was on the sideline throwing some passes in the first quarter, but he was wearing shorts and a gray hoodie under his No. 13 jersey and was not cleared to play.

Dillon Gabriel, the freshman backup, was up and down in his start. He didn’t last, though. Latu came in and put a clean hit on him that ended his season in the second quarter. Gabriel suffered a broken collarbone and in came Kaysen Higa.

Gabriel’s night was interesting. Three times on Mililani’s first drive — after a long Vavae Malepeai run put the Trojans inside the Kahuku 5 — he tried to throw a fade to the left corner of the end zone but overthrew Kalakaua Timoteo each time. You could see that Gabriel did not want to make a mistake by underthrowing it and that he just couldn’t find the correct range.

A little while later, before the injury, Gabriel’s dad, Garrett Gabriel of University of Hawaii fame, had his hands on his knees on the Mililani sideline and was looking straight down at the FieldTurf. Reading minds is not an exact science. Far from it, but it seemed like he was thinking: “So close in such a critical situation. How do you tell him how to take a little bit more of a chance? The line is so fine between touchdown and interception.”

Kahuku made a goal-line stand that inspired its fans big-time.

This narrative shall now move on to Bradlee Anae, the Kahuku defensive end who played with a fire that’s rare in this day and age. On every Mililani punt, he lined up in the middle along with Aaron Tapusoa and they both charged like madmen to get to the punter. The ploy did not result in a block, but it did make the Trojans punter rush every time.

And since we are singling out people who made a difference in the outcome, it’s a good idea to get the name Keala Santiago into this post. Everyone knows about his ability as a safety and a punt returner and those skills were on display all night. He finished with two interceptions and some punt-return bravery.

So, how did Kahuku get ahead, then?

Interestingly enough, it was offensive coordinator John Hao‘s backup quarterback Cameron Renaud — a rare dropback passer at Kahuku in these rugby-style days — who led the way.

Renaud, a junior, threw two midrange passes to Keakaula Kaniho to put the Red Raiders in field-goal range.

Next up in the getting-things-done category: Kekoa Sasaoka, the place-kicker who is a transfer from OIA rival Farrington. He stepped up and sailed a 42-yarder through the uprights for a 10-7 lead with just 9:51 left in the game.

Earlier, Sasaoka came up short on a 54-yarder with 2:49 left in the third quarter. Later, he was wide left on a 45-yarder with 5:32 remaining.

With 2:24 to go, somehow, for the first time since the first quarter, the holes opened up for Kahuku. Santiago did his part in spreading out the Mililani defense with his 21-yard gain on a reverse. Brown then went up the middle three straight times out of the (rugby!) wildcat before scoring on a 2-yard run for a 17-7 lead.

Sasaoka, after a Santiago interception, drilled a 38-yard field goal for the final scoring as time expired.

OK, so if it’s not evident, let us tell you how much Kahuku enjoyed this win. There were honks galore from cars leaving the parking lot, and Kahuku fans in the back of pickup trucks flying red Kahuku flags and shouting triumphantly.

They are pumped up about their undefeated Red Raiders (11-0), who in the minds of any other upcoming opponent statewide, represent a very scary thought.

Vavae Tata? The defensive mastermind jumped and shoulder-bumped three players on the defensive unit near the end of the game as they exited the field after a stop. Tata looked in their eyes as if to share that defensive spiritual/mystical bond and they followed through with the bump. Others coming off the field — maybe they had just been bruised or winded — were walking slower, so they just got a pat on the head from Tata.

It should be noted that Tata made it a point after the game to pat the head of Mililani defensive end Kaimana Padello, who never stops coming at you, no matter what. Padello was all over the field on Friday, making plays and sacks and tackles for loss and just being the general nuisance that he has proven to be.

“It just goes to show you that we can stop the run,” said Padello, who was dripping sweat after the postgame handshake line. “We’ve heard the talk about how we can’t stop the run after what happened (a 71-53 loss to Liberty, Nev.) in Vegas. Our defense did a heckuva job tonight. Yes, we gave up 20 points and it was a big loss, but we still have the state championship to play. It’s football. Whether you win or lose, it’s about how you come back and not how you suffer from it. We’re ready and hungry for the states.”

Rod York, the head coach of defending state champion Mililani (9-2), was a gentleman in defeat. He said: “Kahuku was the better team tonight. No excuses. I’m very proud of every single player who put the Trojans helmet on tonight. They represented very well. Sometimes, you lose on the scoreboard, but it’s how you show up in the game that counts. We’ll be back. Maybe we’ll see them (the Red Raiders) in the states.”

Kahuku will get a bye in the states next weekend. Mililani will play in the first round.

Milton, who reporters from Hawaii Prep World spoke with briefly after the game, may be back soon and it is well documented how he has the ability to make the Trojans offense much more dynamic. He is expected to return to practice with a doctor’s clearance this week, but it’s not certain if he can play next weekend in the first round of the states.

Mililani isn’t the only team with quarterback injuries. Kesi Ah Hoy, Kahuku’s starting quarterback, ran the wildcat on Friday, but went down with a left ankle inury in the third quarter. It was serious enough to keep him out the rest of the game, but it didn’t appear serious enough to keep him out for the rest of the season.

So, as we head to the Division I states, it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out — especially these two OIA teams and how they fare against the best the state has to offer — and possibly how they fare against each other in a rematch.


  1. Good Story November 1, 2015 2:16 pm

    Congrats to the JV Boys for winning the OIA Championship. Kahuku will remain relevant as State Championship contenders for a loooooonnnnnngggggggg time folks….so I suggest you all get used to it. Go Big Red!

  2. Gobigred's friend November 1, 2015 2:38 pm

    Congratulations Kahuku Principal for selecting smart people who can speak english to coach those great kids.

  3. 88 November 1, 2015 3:09 pm

    Did the Kahuku principal refuse your advances or something? Get it together and move on man.

  4. GoBigRed November 1, 2015 3:33 pm

    @my friend. Congrats to your alma mater for not teaching proper capitalization of words such as “English” when it is used in the context of the NAME of a language.


    Babogum!! (I’m having way too much fun on here!)

  5. SimpleSimon November 1, 2015 4:34 pm

    I was surprised York didn’t get a flag. He was throwing temper tantrums all night long, running on the field like a raved lunatic, and no flag. They did get a “warning” though lol “Unbelievable”

  6. Gobigred's friend November 1, 2015 5:49 pm

    First of all I want to apologize for my stupid remarks throughout my existence. lol

  7. SimpleSimon November 1, 2015 5:50 pm

    LOL sorry just had to

  8. Manly November 1, 2015 7:54 pm

    Congratulations for the Kahuku alum that just made head Coach at University of Hawaii.

  9. Hauula93 November 1, 2015 9:15 pm

    I would like to give credit to KAHUKU’S DEFENSE where credit is due.. For one, they stop the number 1 offense in the state (mililani) hands down.. 0 points, two red zone stop, and a whole lot tackles for loss… Everyone has their own opinions, but I believe defense win CHAMPIONSHIP… Great example, just look at Oregon/Ohio st championship game last year. High powered offense get shut down and great running game wins it for Ohio st.. And please let the kids play (refs)… we can’t help it, if we play Physical/Aggressive football… Our kids use out dated weight sets and facilities. So our kids train old school style which makes them train alot harder then most due. So talk all you want about 1 player, but I’ll talk about my NUMBER 1 DEFENSE IN THE STATE… GO REBEL SQUAD… RRFL…

  10. Realistic November 2, 2015 10:55 am

    I would like to congratulate my buddy, Kahuku Alum and Colorado University @ Boulder Alum Chris Naeole as the new interim University of Hawaii Football Coach. We are so excited for you! I still remember hanging out at the UMC, walking to the Hill, eating at Abo’s & Tulagi’s. I remember training tables being catered by Pasta Jay’s. I remember eating 10 cent wings every Tuesday at Potter’s and chilling at the Dal-Ward. Man those were the good old days! We believe that you can right the ship and get UH back to the glory days of the Sugar Bowl!

  11. Gobigred's friend November 2, 2015 5:21 pm

    Congratulations To Kahuku Principal for stepping out of the ordinary to pick a St Louis Alumni to run the program. Edumacation and then Sports!!!

  12. Rough Rider November 5, 2015 8:00 am

    Thanks to Mililani and Kahuku for a great game, I followed Kahuku the whole season and I’m impress on how the coaching staff handle his game plan, some nights I see my self questioning my thoughts but then understanding their tasks. This is my opinion they look at what the offense going to give them, then the shut it down then the look at what their going to bring next and shut it down till the defense can control the game. The offense just continue to find their groove, they might score alot but they are not at their peak yet. It doesn’t matter who win the STATES for me all the kids are winner already from the first day of practice. I’ll be their to supporter of Kahuku. I’m a gradute Of Roosevelt High School but my birth place is Laie, hospital Kahuku

  13. Rough Rider November 5, 2015 8:06 am

    WOW gottah find my reading glasses,need to use grammer/spell check got eat my oatmeal. Heeeeeeeee

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