VIDEO: Kahuku’s Big Red block party

Kahuku's Lerod Tongi laid a hit on Hilo quarterback Sione Atuekaho last week. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser
Kahuku’s Lerod Tongi laid a hit on Hilo quarterback Sione Atuekaho last week. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser

Defense wins championships?

Defense takes a good team to the brink, but somebody’s got to get the ball into the end zone. The Kahuku Red Raiders were spectacular and steady on Friday, limiting Hilo to 37 yards on 30 snaps in the first half. But they trailed 10-0.

For most teams, a solution would be a few gadget or trick plays. Perhaps more gambling on defense. Risk. Adverse risk. For Kahuku and coach Lee Leslie, the best option was the simplest. Load up and pound. Senior Salanoa-Alo Wily lined up all night at defensive tackle against the run-oriented Vikings. He also carried the load after halftime to finish with 136 yards and two TDs, including the go-ahead score with 2:34 to play. After gaining just 4 yards on four carries in the first half, Wily followed his blockers for 132 yards on 14 carries after the break. One of his trusty blockers, RB/LB Reupena Fitisemanu (6-0, 255), had a big second-half run of his own, too.

It took time against one of the state’s top defensive units, but Kahuku eventually wore Hilo down. Wily, his offensive line and lead blockers were instrumental in the win, even as the Big Red defense kept them all in the game. The ultimate chess move: switching left tackle Siotame Uluave (6-3, 295) to center. Trench Warfare blogger Billy Hull noted the change during the final two plays of the first half, and when Kahuku left Uluave under center for the duration of the contest, it was nothing short of intriguing.

Kahuku actually ran away from the inside gaps on its first three snaps of the second half. But ultimately, his presence and skill — plus the game-ending circumstance for key Hilo run stopper Kiliona Pomroy — contributed largely to the Red Raiders’ turnaround at the line of scrimmage. Even as backup-turned-starter Samuta Avea became less a thrower and more of a handoff machine, the Red Raiders wore the Vikings down.

Wily credited his offensive line. He also credited fellow backs Fitisemanu and Pesa Lefau (5-9, 205) for their blocking work. Whether it’s a full house or power-I in double-TE sets, Kahuku has been effective in the jumbo. The possible return of starting QB Tuli Wily-Matagi may set the ground-and-pound power sets aside, but Kahuku knows now — and probably knew all year — that smashmouth continues to be one of their greatest weapons. Same as it ever was.

Defensively, it was another night of swarming, gang-tackling men in red. Malcolm Macatiag hustled for a team-high 7.5 tackles (1.5 for loss). Linebackers Sioeli Naupoto (3.5 tackles, one for loss, one pass deflection) and Manaia Atuaia (3.5 tackles) played with big motors. Defensive lineman Roman Salanoa had three tackles.

Fitisemanu had three tackles, including one for loss, and Wily tallied 2.5 tackles with one for loss (sack). Keala Santiago and Alohi Gilman, once again, were tough in pass coverage. Gilman had a fumble return for 37 yards (final play of the game) and returned a pick six yards. He also had a pass deflection.

As much as any defense in the state, Kahuku consistently brings a heavy hit to ballcarriers. Explosion, speed. The swarm. If Wily-Matagi returns and continues to play with authority and consistency — he was playing very well before suffering a concussion in the first half against Mililani in the OIA D-I final — that would be a very difficult combination — wrecking-ball offense with deep-ball ability — for any opposing defense to deal with.

If their staring QB can’t return this week, at least the pride of the North Shore has found a formula to get the job done.


  1. maukamakai November 9, 2014 9:41 pm

    People forget that in all our years as a smash mouth team we never had to rely on our Defensive Tackle and D-End to be our main running backs. Thats a recipe for disaster if either of them get hurt. We just don’t have any depth this year at Running back and in the trenches, sounds weird to say but its a fact that some of our best players are playing in the ILH leaving “THE HOME TEAM” very shorthanded. How we got this far in the playoffs is a testament to the heart of our boys, brilliance of our coaching and support from the community.

    Imagine Mika Tafua (DE Kam School) replacing Pena at DE and Pena only playing offense as the full back.

    Imagine Wayne Talaupapa (RB punahou) playing RB with Kesi and Pena allowing for Sala Wily to stay on the defensive tackle position.

    Imagine Saitui Moeai (LB punahou) playing linebacker and adding to an already talented defensive front seven.

    Imagine Semisi Uluave (Oline punahou) playing next to his cousin Tame on the red raider offensive line and allowing for consistency on the offensive line that has struggled all season long.

    Imagine Ephraim Tuliloa (Qb punahou) starting as our QB and Tuli playing at his true postion of TE

    Imagine, Imagine, Imagine!!!! oh well, even with our best talent playing for private schools we are still in contention. Congratulations boys for getting this far and we support you all the way to the moon. Lets go hard this week and leave it all on the field! RR4L!! Cheeee!!

  2. tubby November 10, 2014 12:49 pm

    Imagine if the game was played in Hilo.

  3. Guest November 10, 2014 9:08 pm

    @maukamakai I’ll just imagine that you didn’t just make that comment. Your “best talent playing for private schools”. So I guess the ones that stayed and played for the home team are the leftovers?? Second best?? Give me a break.
    I’ll take the ones that stayed and came back and I would never say the best ones left. They’re the best ones for staying/ coming back.

  4. Recruiter808 November 10, 2014 9:35 pm

    How much yards did the Vickings end the game with? It didn’t matter where the game was played you can’t win a game if you can’t move the ball consistanty. Hilo got dominated and that’s why they lost. As for the other North Shore kids who left, they made the right choice. Lee Leslie is a clown who knows very little about Football strategies and game plans. Can you name me the last Kahuku team that had more penalty yards than offensive yards? When was the last time you saw a team as undisciplined as this one? Kahuku prides its on discipline and playing hard all 4 quarters! This guy has taken all that and flushed it down the toilet. Kahuku won the game because these kids pushed themselves to the limit and refused to lose. Those other kids who left made the right choice.

  5. footballfan2014 November 11, 2014 6:02 am

    Can you imagine if Salanoa didn’t leave Kamehameha or if Semisi’s cousin went to Punahou with him and Pena didn’t leave Punahou, as well as Rex Manu. Wow. Really. Kahuku is not the center of the Hawaii prep football universe anymore and thank god. We need more parity and praise Mililani for beating them or don’t tell me, most of Mililani’s players are from Kahuku, come on or that we would have beat them if one or another player had been available. Or here’s another big one, blame your coach for the losses. Geez, for once can you guys just give credit to the other team for a well played game and leave it at that.

  6. Recruiter808 November 11, 2014 2:33 pm

    No, Mililani’s players are not from Kahuku BUT neither are most of the players at Mililani. When Kahuku wins the OIA or States the kids can celebrate and have fun in their community. Do you think any of the kids on Mililani’s team that live in Kalihi celebrated in their community that night. You crazy if you think they wore Trojan shirts walking through Kam 4.

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