By Paul Honda
The DNA is encoded into Kahuku football.
There were occasional variations in years past, but when it comes down to it, Red Raider football is about controlling the line of scrimmage.
Down 6-3 against a formidable Roosevelt defense, coach Reggie Torres and offensive coordinator Walter Santiago made a sea change. After passing in eight of its first 18 plays from scrimmage, Kahuku ran on 40 of the last 46 plays. A 38-12 win doesn’t tell the tale of the obstacle that a relatively healthy Roosevelt squad was.
Whether it was a single-back set (ace) with a wing man in motion, or an I formation with a slot split out far away — basically a twin receivers set — Kahuku pounded away. Roosevelt, which has come a long way since its season-opening loss to Aiea, slowly began to cave in. The linebacker corps, arguably one of the best in the OIA, became a step slower converging to the ball. Kahuku offensive linemen Christopher Thee (6-foot-1, 240), Amofala Sopi (5-11, 230), Steven Siilata (6-0, 250), Tevita Tonga (6-3, 300) and Jamal Napeahi (6-0, 265) exploded out of their stances.
“They’ve been working their butts off. Our coaches made great adjustments at the half,” Kahuku coach Reggie Torres said.
With another good blocker, Fonoivasa Mataafa, lining up at fullback and wingback, it was almost unfair. Kahuku marched at will on the ground, chipping away with gains: 5 yards, then 5 more, 8, 10, 5, 6, 14, 3 and 2. The last was a Galeai Malufau touchdown, and the Red Raiders never trailed again. The Red Raiders finished with 300 rushing yards (6 per carry).
It was still up in the air through the third quarter as the Rough Riders filled more gaps and back-to-back three and outs by Kahuku. Offensively, however, they couldn’t sustain drives.
“We’ll take a look at the film, so it’s hard to say,” Roosevelt coach Pat Silva said, trying to find a positive aspect. “But we battled.”
Just about every Kahuku championship team has been reliant on the ground attack. But this season’s Red Raiders are a little more like the 2001 state championship team led by Inoke Funaki. That year, former coach Siuaki Livai, intrigued by the strong arm of his quarterback, turned to then-UH quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison for pointers. Livai returned to the North Shore with some of the intricacies of the run-and-shoot.
That season, Kahuku threw the ball more often, even in the midst of dominating an opponent on the ground. Why? Livai wanted to prepare his team and Funaki for what laid ahead.
Kahuku’s ability to batter away at a strong rush defense set the table for quarterback Evan Moe, who later tossed touchdown passes to Shairone Thompson and Kaipo Pearl, who was left alone in the left corner by a Roosevelt defense that had to put eight defenders in the box.
Maybe the best throw of the night came in that fourth quarter, when Moe executed a perfect play-action strike to Michael Mariteragi on third down. It was the first time Moe targeted the junior wideout and showed that even with just 12 pass attempts, the junior has evolved into this new passing attack.
One of Kahuku’s running backs in a three-man rotation, Tyrone Brown, finished with a team-high 115 rushing yards and showed impressive second-effort burst on a 55-yard touchdown. Viliami Pasi was the workhorse with 93 yards in 20 carries, and Malufau had 38 yards before leaving with a knee injury.
Kahuku cornerback Johnny Tupola picked off two passes intended for speedy Agaese Tago. Tupola’s coverage skills were a huge factor, though Tago did score on an 80-yard touchdown later in the game.
“He’s a good athlete,” Tago said of Tupola. “We had opportunities, but we didn’t take them.”
Tago, who missed Aiea game with an injured ankle, figures to be more effective as his leg regains flexibility. For now, Roosevelt uses him almost exclusively on fly routes.
A fierce pass rush led by Loti Kelepi and Hauoli Jamora bent, but didn’t break much. Roosevelt quarterbacks combined for 12-of-38 passing for 148 yards with three picks.
“They were quick running away, but they had quick releases, too,” Jamora said.
Roosevelt tried a number of quick passes, especially to Tago, but never quite found a groove.
“The frustrating part was their quarterback got out of the pocket,” Torres said. “The pass rush allows us not to have to stay in coverage long, but offenses are forced to tip their hat early. They’re not trying combo routes or they’ll get sacked.”
Good news for Red Raider fans.
Bad news for Oahu Interscholastic Association foes.