The time of reckoning has come for Kapolei.
The Hurricanes (4-4) started the year with three straight losses, balanced the ship and have now won their last three games by shutout.
The preseason words of coach Darren Hernandez seem prescient now — “We could be 0-3 and still turn out to be a good team.”
Yes, but now the question rears its head, “How good?”
Kapolei will certainly have that answer on Friday night at Kahuku, the scene of a 33-19 loss to start the season. The Red Raiders (6-1) are the fourth-ranked team in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll.
During a conversation after last Friday’s 34-0 victory over Castle in the first round of the OIA Division I playoffs, Hernandez pointed out how evenly matched the second- (No. 5 Farrington), third- (No. 8 Campbell) and fourth-place (Kapolei) teams in the OIA Blue were this year:
>> Aug. 23: Farrington 28, Kapolei 26, at Ticky Vasconcellos Stadim
>> Sept. 12: Campbell 14, at Kapolei 13
>> Oct. 4: Farrington 29, Campbell 27, at Aloha Stadium
That’s five points separating the teams in the three games.
Both Farrington and Campbell went to the state semifinals a year ago, and both are among the eight teams still in the chase for the OIA title and beyond.
But Hernandez and his players know the immediate concern is the juggernaut on the North Shore.
“We have to play a flawless, perfect game to beat them,” the coach said. “It’s a tough, tough place to play.”
Kahuku has struggled for quite a bit of the year on offense, but quarterback Tuli Wily-Matagi brought some spark back with four TD passes in a 28-15 playoff win over Waianae.
Villiamu Auwae, a 6-foot-6, 275-pound offensive lineman for the Hurricanes, is pumped up about getting a rematch with Kahuku.
“We had some mental breakdowns the last time we played them,” he said. “I think we can physically dominate them.”
Some of those mental breakdowns were caused by the tragic on-site death of the father of Kapolei defensive tackle Noah Mahelona during the game.
“We wanted to get back there,” Auwae said. “That’s where one of our teammates’ dads passed away. We’ve been waiting for this.”
Auwae summed up Kapolei’s recent play.
“Coaches have wanted us to play with that nasty mentality and we’ve been playing some good games like that lately,” he said. “They want us to be a silent killer. We’ll be watching film of their games every day on our own time.”
And yes, despite its three straight shutouts (the other two were 20-0 over Kailua and 12-0 over Aiea), Kapolei is still outside the top 10.
The Kapolei defense has been rock solid most of the season, and hasn’t given up more than two touchdowns in its last five games.
Safety Bryson Hughes (interception, fumble recovery against Castle) and linebacker Ronald Matautia (fumble recovery vs. the Knights) are among the leaders on the defensive side of the ball.
Backup quarterback Lee Leonard gave the Kapolei offense a boost against Castle by throwing four TD passes. Starter Alton Julius is recovering from a hip-pointer and a pulled groin.
Starting running back Trensten Spragling got limited carries against the Knights due to a nagging shoulder injury. Tristan Centeio filled in admirably by rushing for 75 yards against Castle.
Kahuku is known for its mighty play in the trenches and on defense, and Kapolei is game for that kind of battle, especially with former Red Raiders assistant Darren Johnson — a master of the ground and pound mentality — now on the Hurricanes’ sideline.
The red-clad Red Raiders, the champions of the OIA Red in the regular season, and the teal-blue wearing Hurricanes of the OIA Blue could be in for a high-octane conflict on Friday.