Success is sometimes a matter of evolution.
When Leilehua met Waipahu last year, the Mules won 50-20 during the regular season. When the playoffs arrived, the Marauders stunned the Mules 29-6 with some deft adjustments in the trenches. It was only fitting that Leilehua adapt and evolve this season, and the results were solid. Leilehua is in the OIA Division I final — and earned a state-tournament berth — with a 13-7 win over Moanalua on a soggy, cool Friday night at Hugh Yoshida Stadium.
Leilehua (9-1) will meet Moanalua for the league title next Saturday at Aloha Stadium. Waipahu (4-6) saw its season come to an end. It was, as Waipahu coach Bryson Carvalho noted, a game of chess. Leilehua coach Mark Kurisu and his staff had to come up with an updated blueprint of sorts.
“They did that to us last year. They did that to us offensively. Inside trap, inside fold, run the long trap and they were keeping us on our toes,” Kurisu recalled. “That’s something we’ve been trying to just slow down.”
Facing an offensive line that has paved the way for the state’s all-time leading rusher, Alfred Failauga, required major preparation. Failauga carried the ball 31 times for a tough 112 yards, scoring a touchdown with 3 minutes to play.
“We know who’s going to get the ball and he’s a just a truck, man. He’s a tough kid to bring down,” Kurisu said. “He’s a great talent he had a great career and he should continue it at the next level.”
When rain began to fall a few minutes before the half, the Mules were still in a scoreless stalemate.
“At halftime, I told them, you’ve got to love these kind of games. The top four teams in D-I, that’s the best of the best in OIA D-I and no one’s going to run away with it. Four great teams with great head coaches and coordinators, and players doing special things for their teams and their schools,” Kurisu said. “It was great, it was stressful, just blessed to be on the other end compared to last year. It was just players trying to make plays on both sides of the ball. Just fun to be part of, something memorable for our families here and our supporters. Our decisions we get to make here we get to bring our families along for the ride.”
The memories include a win-sealing interception in the final minute by defensive back Selau Aiava, who also had a clutch pick in the final minute of a 28-25 win over ‘Iolani earlier in the season. This time, Aiava didn’t go on an extended celebration maneuver. That time, he was flagged and ejected for the celebration — and suspended. This time, he simply walked back to the bench.
Carvalho pointed to Leilehua’s adjustments at the line of scrimmage as a defensive front.
“Up front, they’re not real tricky in coverage. What they do up front, they’re very unique,” Carvalho said. “They’ll rotate guys around, they’ll test our defensive linemen, move guys from one side to another. Playing a running team like us, we’ve got to know where guys are so we can block. So it makes it very complicated. We’re not in pass pro the entire game. Hats off to them, they’re a great defense.
“On top of that, they have a pretty good secondary. Not one ball that we caught was a wide open ball. They were always there,” he added. “At the end of the day, I hope we lost to the eventual champ. That’s kind of how a defending champ would want to go out.”