Kamehameha’s legion secondary sparks comeback 35-28 win over Punahou

Kamehameha's Sheyden Iokia celebrates a touchdown made by Noah Bartley (right) during the second quarter of Friday's game against Punahou at Aloha Stadium. Cindy Ellen Russell/crussell@staradvertiser.com.

One teammate calls them Kamehameha’s version of the Legion of Boom, the once-heralded secondary with the Seattle Seahawks.

“I’d call them that,” running back Noah Bartley said. “They don’t have a nickname yet. All of them can hit. Even at practice, they want to go up on me.”

For all intents and purposes in this pandemic era, they might be a Legion of Zoom, from each defensive back to the coaches. For a second weekend in a row, Kamehameha was resilient defensively, negating Punahou’s explosive offense in the second half for a 35-28 win on Friday. That core of defenders on the back end has been crucial in a league that features aerial juggernauts and slingers like John-Keawe Sagapolutele of Punahou and AJ Bianco of Saint Louis.

Reyn Asato, I’ve been watching him for four years and he’s just a hard worker. All of our kids, that whole secondary, they’re really tight,” Warriors coach Abu Ma‘afala said. “They’re like brothers. Evan Rau, Hunter Kaulana Ah Loo, Kyle Lee, Connor Hackbarth, Trey Tenn. Pono Kinilau and Baba Wailehua, our dime players. To watch them playing together, it’s hard to single out one guy. Like in basketball, you get that strong five, they know each other inside out. They cover for each other. To hold that quarterback (Sagapolutele) to under 100 yards, that’s a defensive effort.”

Sagapolutele was limited to 97 passing yards (10 for 23) with two touchdowns and one pick.

“We just wanted to keep everything in front of us. The last game (against) Saint Louis, they took their shots, but we tried to just stay over the top with Punahou, too,” said Asato, whose favorite DB of all time is former Seattle Seahawk safety Kam Chancellor.

“Even though I’m a Green Bay Packers fan, that guy was a dude. When they had that ‘Legion of Boom,’ that was prime,” Asato added. “I like to be physical, an all-around ball hawk. That mindset of being more physical than the guy in front of you. We don’t have a nickname, but we try to bring that swagger. We keep everyone engaged and pick everyone up when they need it.”

While Ma‘afala gets word about his playmakers to coaches at the next level, he appreciates their bond of unity and sacrifice.

“There’s not a lot of stars after these guys’ names, but what matters to them is each other,” he said. “Now they believe and they play great football.”

Bartley, who rushed for 126 yards and two TDs against Punahou, has quickly become one of the most memorable running backs in recent Warriors history. With Punahou’s defense bearing down on the Kamehameha ground-and-pound game, it was the secondary that stepped up with a spark.

“I think it was that pick right before the half ended from Connor,” Bartley said. “In the locker room, it wasn’t a big deal. We just had to lock in. Everyone knew what they needed to do. We made some halftime adjustments. We noticed that Punahou was trying to stop our pulling guards, so we told our guards to go right up the middle instead of traveling all the way across the run. Punahou really wanted to stop the run, and that’s what they did in the beginning. It’s always a chess match with them. They have good coaches.”

So does Kamehameha, with offensive coordinator Billy Borengasser and defensive coordinator Matt Wright, and a highly influential staff of longtime assistant coaches. After epic wins over No. 1 Saint Louis and No. 3 Punahou, the Warriors haven’t stopped working.

“We ask our coaches to grade the film and send it out to the kids, and some of our coaches are sending it out at 3 in the morning,” Ma‘afala said.

The Warriors were back at practice on Saturday morning, 8:30 a.m. The players swam, working through soreness.

“We got our practice in, our coaches kind of converse,” Ma‘afala said. “Honestly, the pandemic taught us to be as efficient as can be. The old school way is everyone sits in a room and watches film together. Now, we can have a family life. They watch the film individually and have a (online) conference and discuss. Our coordinators already have in mind what they want to do for the following week.”

Swimming on Saturdays?

“Last week (after the win over Saint Louis), we ran. We had a real practice,” Bartley said of the Saturday workout. “Today, we just jumped in the pool. We did 25 laps, a buildup. Easy, then 50 percent, then we worked up to 100 percent.

The fastest Warrior in the water, he added, is a defensive back.

“Evan Rau is pretty fast,” Bartley noted.

If Saturdays for the No. 1 team in the state require an early wake up, Tuesdays are probably slightly more dreaded.

“We run hills. It’s the grass hill at the middle school, where we practice right now,” Bartley said, referring to the ongoing renovation of the football field at Kunuiakea Stadium. “I hate that hill.”

That’s saying a lot for a dedicated, year-round athlete. Bartley has speed, agility, vision, but onlookers are wowed by his ability to move mountains. No one in the state has moved a pile of defensive linemen like Bartley, who squats 315 pounds and bench presses 225 pounds four times.

“Most of it just comes from training,” said Bartley, who is 5 feet 9 inches and 180 pounds with a 3.2 grade-point average.

He spent the pandemic running at Tumblelands, a.k.a. Maili Beach Park, with a band around his body while his father, Savili, provided plenty of resistance.

“It’s still regular, every weekend. During the week, my running backs coach (Steven Rowe) makes us do sled pulls,” he said.

The hill, though, is the hill. The angle is roughly 45 degrees. Nobody catches a break.

“We run it on Tuesdays after practice. The whole team, everyone goes. No one really complains. They just get kind of irritated, but they don’t want to say anything ‘cause coach might make us run more,” Bartley said. “It’s 20 or 30 yards, but it’s a steep hill. It’s pretty crazy. We probably run 10 times. Everyone is driving up the hill.”

Not a single slacker.

“I feel it’s just the culture of the team. Everyone wants to push each other. Ive we see someone falling behind, we pick them up. Coach Abu will joke around, but he knows we’re doing our best,” Bartley said.

That training will come in handy with a third Goliath-level opponent in as many weeks. The matchup with Kahuku next weekend has been adjusted to scrimmage format, but the Warriors are just as stoked about the competition.

“It doesn’t really change. We’re going to take any chance we have to play football. Everyone just wants to play and get more film out there for colleges to see,” Bartley said.

With Kahuku recently returning to practice following the DOE’s vaccination deadline for student-athletes, there is enough time for the Red Raiders to qualify for a scrimmage — 10 practices. An actual game would require 17 practices, which won’t happen before next Saturday.

“The HHSAA ruled on Friday that we can’t run like a game, so it got downgraded to a scrimmage. The amount of days Kahuku could practice, HHSAA wouldn’t sanction it,” Ma‘afala said.

The challenge of facing arguably the toughest, most physical front seven in the state, made it a no-brainer matchup.

“If you want an opportunity to be the best, you compete against the best. We’ll play the bottom half of the roster and get those guys reps, a chance to play, but also for our guys in the starting rotation, it’s a great opportunity to see one of the best teams in the state,” Ma‘afala said. “If we’re blessed to play them in states, it’s an opportunity to see them (earlier).”

The idea, he added, is to be flexible within the parameters of a controlled scrimmage.

“Create situations. Coach Sterling (Carvalho) and I will put our heads together this week and see how both sides can gain from it,” Ma‘afala said.

There may be a detractor or two questioning the timing of the game — during a bye week in the midst of the ILH regular-season schedule. The alternative, though, would be to play only five or six ILH games, including playoffs. The value of a scrimmage is still priceless.

“That’s the hope, the appreciation I have, that the athletic directors and coaches realize it’s such a different year. We want to give so many opportunities back to the kids because we lost a season. I think we’re all in the same mindset, in the same boat. We want to play and win a title, but we also want to give them opportunities,” Ma‘afala said.

He was pleasantly surprised to see Punahou and Kahuku link up for a Nov. 20 exhibition game.

“I’m working very closely with (former Kahuku coach and current Kamehameha co-athletic director) Reggie Torres. He’s utilizing his connections as our AD for football. From our headmaster all the way down, we want to give opportunities to our guys for memories. For film for college,” Ma‘afala said.

There has also been a conversation with another OIA powerhouse.

“Coach Rod York reached out,” Ma‘afala said of the Mililani coach. “It’s just a weird spot where the ILH schedule changed, where before we were going to get to play (Mililani) before the playoffs were starting. But they want the competition.”

Whatever the future holds, the Warriors are enjoying the ride. They’re in steady mode.

“I think these are just regular wins,” Bartley said. “We’re not taking it that big. The hard work we put in, it just makes sense that we’re winning.”


  1. John October 6, 2021 9:31 am

    Not surprised. Kamehameha is well coached. Ma’afala is impressive along with the running game.

  2. John October 6, 2021 5:36 pm

    Not surprising. Warriors are well coached and have a balanced attack.

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