By now, Hawaii high school football fans know what a mammoth stride the Kailua football team has taken — from last place to a third seed in the Oahu Interscholastic Association playoffs to a 57-6 smashing of Waipahu in the first round on Friday night.
But how big of a footprint the Surfriders (7-2) leave behind this year has not been determined.
It was just a year ago when a solemn Kailua coach Joseph Wong was hard to find after home games during a winless season (it was because he was having heart-to-heart talks with his learning troops in the locker room as soon as he possibly could after the final whistle).
On Friday night, after Kailua’s first playoff win since 2009, things were a bit different. Wong hurriedly headed off toward the locker room, but he made a stop at the still-open concession stand to buy a refreshing drink. One of his players from afar asked if the coach was going to buy him one.
For Wong, who comes across to the casual observer as a serious person usually deep in thought, the impromptu appearance at the proverbial popsicle stand seemed a bit out of character. When approached by Hawaii Prep World, he could barely conceal a smile, though.
Maybe that smile was strictly relief because Wong said he was more nervous for this one than he had been all season. And for good reason: one loss and you’re out. Any coach would be at least a little scared.
It didn’t take long for Wong’s attention to turn to second-seeded Waianae (6-2), the opponent next weekend in the league quarterfinals.
“Waianae’s up next,” Wong said. “That’s who we’re game-planning for. You win or you go home. When our players come off the bench to replace somebody hurt, it’s next man up. Waianae is the next team up. We didn’t overlook Waipahu because they’ve scored lots of points on some good opponents.
“Waianae and us, it will be a classic heavyweight bout. They come at you and hit you in the mouth. The job for our team is to play together. That’s what they’ve been doing and it’s been paying off.”
When asked about productive defensive end Christian Mejia (two sacks, two other tackles for loss against Waipahu), Wong quickly brought up the rest of the defensive unit.
First, the coach mentioned Mejia’s counterpart at defensive end, Kawehe Kohatsu, who had one sack against the Marauders and was responsible for a safety, when he chased quarterback Blaise De Asis in the Waipahu end zone and De Asis was called for intentional grounding.
“You try to stop Christian and you’ve got to deal with Kawehe,” Wong said. “They feed off each other. They come to play every snap, every down. They don’t want the credit, either. They make the plays and it becomes easier for the (linebackers and) secondary, and then the secondary makes plays making it easier for them.”
When asked about Mejia, Marauders first-year head coach Bryson Carvalho said glowingly, “He’s a player! But they have a bunch of good players at every position.”
Kailua quarterback Noah Auld had four touchdown passes in the playoff win, and backup Paul Serikawa Jr. had one.
Gabriel LeLesch, a workhorse in some previous games, only carried the ball three times, but he churned out 71 yards and two touchdowns. The Surfriders might try to sneak him in at opportune moments against Waianae, too.
Koolau Gaspar had three receptions for 121 yards, and Martin Tigilau had what could be considered an off night for him with three catches for 52 yards.
“It feels really good,” Tigilau said after Friday’s win. “Bonding and staying together has made a big difference this year. People aren’t just hanging out by themselves.”
Nilsson Gaisoa summed up the Surfriders’ efficient, no-frills, sometimes deadly offense: “We do what we do.”
Hmmmm. At last look, the Seariders from the Waianae coast pretty much look at their own program in much the same way. Run it. Run it. Pass it. Move the pile. Move the ball. Hit hard and hammer on defense.
Asked what the Surfriders’ innermost wish for the season is, and Gaisoa did not say anything about a championship. He said, “To play for each other and leave it on the field.”
Kailua’s major step forward this season will eventually come to a close. It could stop before it gets Waianae under the shoe or at any other point after that. You know, though, that Wong’s heart-to-hearts to his boys these days — though probably technical and to the point — must also include in it the open-mindedness for those Surfriders to at least imagine stomping that foot on all teams in their path.