The future starts now for Kahuku. No sense stewing over 45-6 loss to a team ranked No. 6 in the nation.
This year is done. The Raiders gave their ever-faithful fans an OIA championship last month and yet another appearance in the Open Division final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.
Anybody watching Friday’s nightcap of the title-day, Black Friday tripleheader saw that Saint Louis was a far superior team. There is a huge gulf between the Crusaders and everybody else, except for Punahou, which came close twice to beating the boys from Kalaepohaku in 25-19 and 21-14 losses.
But next year is when teams can begin to close the gap, and that will be pretty high on the minds of the Kahuku brass.
“The future is bright, so I hope that they come out and train for next year,” said Red Raiders coach Sterling Carvalho, whose team finished 9-4. “The deal is that when you play a good team like this, you cannot make mistakes and you have to execute. We gotta go back and make sure we do those two things. Saint Louis is a dynasty. Their program is a great one. They have great coaches. Who wouldn’t want to play for those coaches?”
Carvalho is talking about Cal Lee, who added yet another title to a long list, his brother Ron Lee, the offensive guru, and Vinny Passas, who has mentored quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota and Tua Tagovailoa, among other top-of-the-heap assistant coaches.
Major highlights on Friday were few for the Red Raiders. Zealand Matagi and the offensive line did their best. Matagi picked up 79 rushing yards and bulled his way for a 38-yard touchdown, and the good news is he is only a junior. All told this season, Matagi pounded out 1,418 rushing yards.
A senior who won’t be back next year, Peter-John Mataira, came up with what was almost a huge play for Kahuku, giving their fans the feeling that they were in for a close ballgame. Mataira picked off a Jayden deLaura pass and returned it 84 yards into the end zone. It was called back on a penalty, so Kahuku — instead of closing the gap from a 14-6 deficit — still trailed by eight.
Mataira finished the contest with 4.5 tackles and also made several pass breakups that helped to temporarily slow down the Saint Louis offense. Fellow seniors Kenai Luia (6.5 tackles) and Kana Fonoimoana-Vaomu (5 tackles) and his brother Mana Fonoimoana-Vaomu (4.5 tackles) chipped in with big defensive efforts against the Crusaders (12-0).
Ace Kaufusi made the Red Raiders’ highlight reel Friday with a punt block.
The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Sione Heimuli got a loud cheer from fans late in the game when he recovered a teammates’ fumble, advanced it and stayed upright for a long time while at least six tacklers tried to bring him down.
Right guard Harrington Wa’a was ejected for two consecutive personal-foul penalties (targeting and taunting) and his effort (not necessarily the lack of sportsmanship) in the face of defeat got a large cheer on his way to the locker room.
“I’m playing for Kahuku and the fans and the boys,” Harrington said. “I’m going to miss it. But I wouldn’t want to go out any other way (than having been a Red Raider). I’m playing for my boys and putting my life on the line for them.”
After winning the top-tier state title in 2015, Kahuku has now lost in the Open Division state final in three of the last four years.
There’s some big names coming back. Aside from Matagi, two-way player Tomasi Pasi — the hero of a 21-19 state semifinal win over Campbell returns, and so do quarterbacks Tiger Adolpho and Jason Mariteragi, receiver Cole Pruett, fullback Jack Tito, and defensive tackle Zion Ah You, to name a few.
So Kahuku can expect another strong season next year. Is there enough in the think tank and the player pool to get past Saint Louis? That is the same question Punahou and the other Open Division rivals are asking.
“It was a good season, a good run,” Red Raiders senior cornerback Kaonohi Kaniho said. “Nobody was thinking we would be playing in this game. It was good to prove those people wrong. Shout out to Saint Louis. They’re a great team. There’s going to be a lot of returning guys. There’s no dropoff in the next class. Saint Louis is pretty dominant. The best team each night wins the game and they’re the best guys tonight.”
Matagi, a junior, said, “We’re going to put in the grind in the offeason and make sure we know this (losing) feeling and next year to not hold back. I’m not that mad. We did our best. We tried. That’s the most important thing. My boys did our best. Our team is still young. I feel like we’re going to be pretty good next year.”