It’s a defense without a superstar, though each of the Kahuku starters are capable of making any play asked.
On a night of dominance, a 42-0 road win over Moanalua, it was classic Kahuku. Smashmouth ground attack. Balanced defense, all the rewards that come with a tremendous pass rush — without having to gamble with blitzes too often, if at all. And then there was special teams, where Stokes Nihipali-Botelho, already busy with his defensive role, was a huge weapon.
The senior would never overstate it, but he consistently boomed kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, played outstanding football in the secondary and returned the second-half kickoff 98 yards to paydirt. It was as fun as the game can be — if you love defense and special teams.
“Sometimes I surprise myself with those kicks,” said Nihipali-Botelho, one of the eight Red Raiders who were voted to the Star-Advertiser all-state first-team defense last season. “We had to come out with a bang (in the second half). Everyone did their job and I did mine. It was good to come out with a statement.”
For the Red Raiders, now 18 quarters into a display of defensive dominance — 18 scoreless quarters against Hawaii teams, that is — it was business as usual. Kahuku brought pressure from various angles, sometimes from seemingly all angles against Moanalua’s dangerous quarterback, Alaka‘i Yuen. They got a pick-six from all-state defensive back Kekaula Kaniho, and he ended up being one of the few starters who sat the second half.
“That’s always our main goal, to get that goose egg,” Nihipali-Botelho said.
That’s four shutouts already this season for Coach Vavae Tata‘s team.
Kahuku closed out the game with most of its starters on the field playing defense — “We don’t have that many backups on defense,” Nihipali-Botelho noted — and extending that shutout streak. With all the hoopla of the trip to Nevada to face Bishop Gorman behind them, the Red Raiders clearly played like the No. 1 team in Hawaii. The trip is fading into memoryville, and the task ahead is all the Red Raiders are focused on. Defending the state championship, emphasis on defense.
“We will move on to the next opponent. Come back on Monday and get back to work,” Nihipali-Botelho said, noting next week’s foe, Kaiser. “Hopefully, get the ‘W’.”
The next-game mentality is true for most championship teams, if not all. And yet, news about the upcoming state-tourney format being expanded to include more OIA and ILH teams is something players and fans are looking forward to.
“I’m ready. We’re ready as a whole,” Nihipali-Botelho said. “We came out to work, show our skills and just ball out, all 11.”