It started with Waipahu’s Alfred Failauga breaking the all-time Hawaii state rushing record on Aug. 17. Who knows where it’ll end, but the 2019 season has already been a landmark season for running backs in Hawaii.
Massive numbers have been put up by Hawaii’s top rushers this year. As the regular season came to a close on Saturday night, Kahuku’s Zealand Matagi had another performance to remember among a season full of them across the state.
He is part of a bunch of runners in the higher division churning out big yards this year. Among the elite, Waianae’s Kolu Quisquirin-Sabagala, and Vincent Terrell of Punahou, he has churned out yardage against the best of the best.
In a 28-6 win for the No. 4 Red Raiders over Farrington, the junior carried the ball 20 times for 110 yards and three touchdowns. In nine games this season, he’s totaled 985 yards on 149 carries and 14 touchdowns.
“It feels good, but I knew I couldn’t do it without the (offensive) line or my defense. I give all credit to the team,” Matagi said. “Just keep grinding. Play Kahuku football, play smashmouth football. Just do what we do.”
As Matagi eluded to, the Red Raiders (6-3, 4-1 OIA Open) played their trademark brand of football against the Governors (2-7, 2-3). With Matagi leading the way, the Red Raiders relied heavily on the run to go along with a suffocating defense. The only points Kahuku allowed on Saturday night was on a 93-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Calijah Mareko in the second quarter.
Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho complimented his every-down back after the win, citing his versatility as a runner.
“Zealand is our running back that can not just run between the tackles, but also break it on the outside. He’s a great football player, a very humble running back, and we’re very fortunate to have him on our team,” he said.
For Kahuku, the win over Farrington clinched the No. 2 seed in the OIA playoffs, which are set to begin next week. They’ll host Campbell. Meanwhile, the Governors are the fourth and final seed, and are set to visit top-seeded Mililani.
“I feel like we’re at a good spot. I know we got a lot to work on,” Matagi said when asked about the team’s regular season. “There’s a lot of mistakes on the field but eventually we’ll get to where we need to go.”
When Kahuku sees Campbell (5-4, 3-2) again, it’ll be a rematch of when the two teams played on Aug. 31, a 35-7 home victory for the Red Raiders.
Matagi and Carvalho know not to take the explosive Sabers lightly, an attack led by Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, the state’s leading receiver in yardage. Whoever wins the upcoming matchup punches its ticket to the OIA finals. But all is not lost for whoever loses, as the winner of the OIA third-place game also gets a bid into the HSSAA Open Division state tournament.
“I’m not underestimating them. I know they’re a good team,” Matagi said of Campbell. “I know they’re gonna bring it. Both of us have nothing to lose so we’re just gonna ball out and do what we have to do.”
It was Campbell who beat Kahuku in the regular season matchup last year before losing a playoff game to the Red Raiders at home. Carvalho knows come postseason play, anything can happen.
“I think every team that’s in the playoffs, it’s all about execution now. The team that executes the best will basically come out victorious. Looking at everybody in the playoffs, they’re all great teams,” Carvalho said. “Campbell has athletes. Coach (Darren Johnson), he’s from this side. He’s a great coach. That coaching staff will get that team ready.
“We’re expecting a tough game, a physical game, and we just gotta do our jobs. I know they’re gonna prepare and execute their jobs on their side of the ball too so we just gotta come out focused and ready to play.
“When you face a team for the second time, it’s a lot tougher. The bottom line is we just gotta make sure we take care of the ball, play solid defense and win on special teams.”