Things were pretty relaxed before Kahuku football practice Friday afternoon.
But don’t let that lack of intense emotion fool you. Behind the smiles and easy talk from the leaders on the field is an inner mechanism just waiting to go off into a controlled rage on cue tomorrow. Perhaps it will be timed to set off when the sea of red fans at Aloha Stadium do their first tomahawk chop or when the players gather for a haka, if they decide to perform one.
Either way it ends up, win or lose, these Kahuku Red Raiders (11-1) are playing in nothing less than the game of their lives — the Open Division championship against Saint Louis (9-0).
And why not keep their cool now, save themselves from distraction and store up that energy for when they really need it?
Fatu Atuaia, a menacing linebacker, was the poster child for that day-before attitude.
“We’re trying not to get too hyped,” he said. “It’s a big game and we’re not really worried about it. Staying cool.”
It’s no secret what Kahuku needs to do in order to win and that is to slow down the powerful offense of the Crusaders (9-0). More specifically, the best way to do that is by minimizing the damage that dual-threat quarterback Chevan Cordeiro can do.
“On defense, we’ve gotta corral the QB and cut his playground short,” Atuaia said. “If he gets out, he’s dangerous.”
There are a bunch of Red Raiders who were once members of the Saint Louis team. One of them is Feso Malufau, who plays defensive end and linebacker and who was with the Crusaders as a freshman and a sophomore and at Orem, Utah, as a junior.
“This is the most ready we’ve been all year, mentally” Malufau said. “We thought we were going to come in and smash Waianae (a 10-7 comeback win in the semifinals), and we were wrong. Coaches told us we gotta keep playing, even if we’re behind. It’s going to be a good game. We’re going to put up a helluva fight on both sides of the ball.”
Senior offensive lineman Cire Loo is another one with experience playing for the rival Crusaders, but he’s been with Kahuku for the past three years and this will be his third state championship game.
“Sophomore year (a 39-14 victory), that was a tough game,” he said. “We started off pretty slow, but coming to halftime, we made our fixes and executed. Last year was a sad moment and we lost in the end after starting strong.”
Junior linebacker Miki Ah You looked like a fish out of water last week against the Seariders, sitting on the bench with a knee injury and not getting in the game.
But Ah You is healthy now and he’s itching to get back out there.
“They (the Crusaders) are a pretty good team, but I think my team is better,” Ah You said. “It’s going to be close, but I think it’s going to come down to which team wants it the most and which team has the drive and has the assignments down better than the other team.”
Offensively, Kahuku gets a lot of mileage from running back Enoch Nawahine, but quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava‘s accuracy and ability to escape pressure is essential.
Maiava, who had a full limp at halftime of the win over Waianae and missed a few series before toughing it out and throwing the winning TD pass to Duke Heffernan, has had a week to heal.
Head coach Makoa Freitas said Maiava is doing fine and will let others judge during the game to see where he is at in his recovery.
Although he’s only a sophomore, Maiava is one of the biggest leaders on the team.
“Sol-Jay is an incredible kid with lots of talent and he’s a hard worker, too,” Atuaia said. “I know he’s ready. He’s not limping as much as he was last week.”