The Kapolei Hurricanes were on the verge of a breakthrough after a season of extreme ups and downs.
No. 2 Kahuku wasn’t willing to budge. The Red Raiders are in a metamorphosis, a power-running team for decades on end that can turn to sophomore quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava for the quick third-down conversion by air. That happened again and again as the patient Red Raiders patiently imposed their will with sheer force and precise finesse en route to a 35-7 victory over No. 10 Kapolei on Friday night at Carleton Weimer Field.
For Maiava, it was fun to throw the ball a career-high 24 times in the first half. None of it felt forced, and it was all under control, mostly built on play-action. The effective ground attack meant productive carries for Enoch Nawahine (96 yards, one TD), who had a modest 12 carries. Big, 220-pound running back Toalei Lefau barreled through for three TDs as Kahuku rushed for 155 yards on 32 carries without a lost fumble. Maiava finished was 15-for-24 in the first half and finished 17-for-32, some of the second-half inefficiency caused by drops. But all in all, Kahuku handled Kapolei’s tenacious front seven by relying on that perfect blend of ground-and-pound, and Maiava’s increasing patience and vision from sideline to sideline.
Nine different Red Raiders caught at least one pass from Maiava.
The capper came on the final play of the first half when he circled out of trouble, then rifled a 21-yard touchdown pass to Duke Heffernan, a converted defensive back who is also an accurate placekicker. Heffernan (six receptions, 76 yards) never gave up on the play, zigging and zagging until he got loose.
“It’s funny, that last play of the half, I thought we were going to get a field goal, then he started scrambling and the clock ran out. Somehow, he found someone wide open in the end zone,” Red Raiders coach Makoa Freitas said. “He has a unique ability to see the field.”
For Maiava, it was a “fun” effort, he said, though he never seemed overly excited at any point.
“We started off kind of slow offensively, but defensively, they were banging,” Maiava said. “Our offense picked it up in the end with the passing game and the running game. It was a good win,” Maiava said. “After the Campbell game, second half, after I opened up, Coach gave me the reins. This game, he pretty much told me, ‘Hey, we’re going to put it all on you.’ “
That gameplan, in a playoff setting, is a world and a universe away from where Kahuku’s offense had been in recent years. By necessity, the Red Raiders were an ultimate smashmouth team when they won the state crown in 2015. Now, they have the balance that Freitas likes.
“We just studied their film, pretty much,” Maiava added. “We knew what they were doing. Film helps us prepare a lot, and we reacted off of them.”
For what it’s worth, Kapolei is one of the few teams in recent years that was able to limit Kahuku to less than 5 yards per carry. It still wasn’t enough, largely because the Red Raiders are committed to balance.
“We knew that Kapolei coming in, they have a good D-line,” Freitas said. “There’s a reason all those guys have all those offers. They’re really good. We thought, we’d get some short completions that could soften them up a little bit. That was the gameplan going in, to try and pass because we knew it would be tough to run the ball on these guys. Looking at the film, it’s been so hard to run on these guys the entire season.”
Kahuku enters the semifinals with momentum, still unbeaten against Hawaii teams. No local team has scored more than seven points on Big Red this season.
“Hat goes off to our defensive coaches, Coach Sola (Soliai) and his staff. They’ve been able to play well every game. I’m really proud of our players,” Freitas said. “We played well as a team. I’m happy for our fans. We have some of the best fans in the state. I’m happy for our coaching staff and I’m happy for our players.”
Kahuku’s final run-pass count: 32 rushes, 35 passes.