If defense is not your cup of tea, then you didn’t have an appreciation for the close-to-the-vest, 7-0 win by Kapolei over host Waianae on Saturday night.
But, if Dick Butkus or Ronnie Lott are your kind of players, then you had a ball of fun watching this intense, early-season matchup of rivals and Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top-10 ranked teams.
Train your binocolars on the line of scrimmage and watch the warriors slug it out. The fistfight was a draw. One way to describe it: clean nastiness.
And it was a clean game. Nobody was taking potshots at each other.
On one side, Kapolei’s defensive ballers like Kukea Emmsley, Rocky Savea, Dylan Toilolo, Aaron Faumui, Dylan Naehu, Treven Maae and Junior Tuia, among others, made it extremely difficult for Waianae to move the ball. The Seariders were held to 60 total scrimmage yards, and their offense became even more anemic when starting quarterback Justin Tacgere went down with a leg injury late in the first half.
That misfortune changed the complexion of the game because All-State running back Rico Rosario moved to the quarterback role. In other words, he was sent to the wolves, and they dropped him for three losses.
On the other side, Waianae’s defensive playmakers were constantly in the face of Kapolei quarterback Kaniala Kalaola, who actually put up pretty good numbers (14-for-25, 226 yards) anyway despite throwing an interception on the first play of the game and getting sacked six times.
In on the hunt were Seariders stalwarts Toto Mailo (two sacks), Zefften Thompson-Avilla, Kanai Mauga, Kalena Sione (three sacks), Kawika Sementi-Nakoa (sack), Selu Cook (fumble recovery) and Kaimana Swann-Merritt (interception).
In the end, fifth-ranked Kapolei (2-0, 1-0 OIA) and its passing game prevailed. Marquis Montgomery scored the winning touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Kalaola with 4:23 to go in the first half.
But seventh-ranked Waianae (0-2, 0-1 OIA) was in the game until the final whistle. Mailo, Mauga and Thompson-Avilla were called upon to line up behind Rosario in the offensive backfield near the end. Instead of blitzing the quarterback, they were blitzing forward … WITH THE BALL. Thompson-Avilla picked up a key first down and finished with three rushes for 15 yards. But his most important carry of the night fell short. He gained more than a yard (and less than 2) on a fourth-and-2 situation from the Waianae 15. He was a few inches short. Basically, that was the final chance for Waianae to pull it out.
“We were pushing the ball and they overmatched us with their defense,” Mailo admitted afterward. “The coaches were telling us that they were going to put the defensive guys in on offense if they had a chance. When they let us go in, it was balls to the wall.”
Hurricanes coach Darren Hernandez said Waianae’s late zesty effort with those hard hitters was a huge challenge for his defenders.
“They rose up to the challenge and it was nice to see,” he said.
Kapolei has held on to the War Club rivalry trophy twice in a row now. They Hurricanes beat the Seariders 27-15 in last season’s OIA third-place game to nab the trophy from Waianae, which won the first installment of the War Club series with a 35-14 win in the 2016 regular season.
“We played a great team and we’re getting better as a team,” Seariders coach Walter Young said. “It’s a team sport and we gotta play together in all facets of the game.”
Hernandez gave deserved props to his defense.
“Whenever you play a rivalry game like Waianae vs. Kapolei, it’s going to be a street fight,” he said. “They were tough and physical. The way we played defense, I was excited and proud. Our quarterback, Kaniala, after that first interception, played pretty good. We’ve got to get better running the ball and with protection, but Waianae has a great defense.”
The Seariders are at home against No. 1 Kahuku (1-0) next Friday. The Hurricanes play host to Castle on Saturday.
“Big Red, they’re no joke,” Mailo said about the Red Raiders. “We’ll come back to the locker room and watch film and keep watching film and learn from it. It (improvement and readiness) happens in practice.”