It’s quite nice here in Kailua in the press box.
Technically, Brian “BMac” McInnis and I are in the video “box.” He’s doing the game story for Kalani-Kalaheo. I opted to come here and shoot video. I was prepared to do stats, too, unaware that BMac would be here.
Stats? Yes. This is a matchup that could be special. Makena Johnston of Kalaheo is on a tear so far, huge numbers out of the backfield. He had a solid year last fall and follows a litany of two-way athletes who have played for the Mustangs.
On the other side, Noah Brum is putting up big numbers in the aerospace program known as Kalani Falcons football. So, if this is going to be a special night for one of them — or both — I am ready.
Some thoughts on Friday’s results:
Late hits worth the penalty?
Looking at some of the video footage of the Kamehameha-Saint Louis game, I see why the Crusaders coaching staff questioned officials about Kamehameha’s defensive methods. Saint Louis quarterback Ryder Kuhns was hit late at least twice, including one where the defensive lineman left the ground and sailed helmet-first into Kuhns’ head. (Note: a roughing-the-passer penalty was called.) There were also a few borderline “targeting” and helmet-first plays by the Warriors defense.
All of this is tough to manage for any officiating crew on any level. Kamehameha is playing fantastic defense, stifled Kuhns and snagged three picks, but if officials take a closer look — they always do via video review — it might be sooner rather than later that the Warriors will have to tone down on the late-play, post-whistle collisions. Some fans might label it “dirty,” but I don’t think it’s quite that bad.
It has to be an issue, though, because it’s tough to spot at normal speed. When Saint Louis running back Adam Noga went down away from the ball on one play, I had no idea what had happened until seeing video after the game. Noga was the decoy on a screen play, and when Kuhns passed to the other side of the field, Noga got decleated — not a clothesline, but definitely a dangerous blow that left Noga landing on his head. A personal foul was called on the play, but when you tally up the number of these types of plays by the Warrior defense, it’s distracting from the potential greatness of this unit.
I don’t think any fan or reporter wants to take anything away from what is becoming a great defensive unit. But the video doesn’t lie, and it would be sad for a superb group of defenders to get a reputation for unnecessary, dangerous hits.
It’s also easy to side with Kamehameha, which is playing within the rules and taking the penalties when they happen. But I ask this: Would any offensive coordinator allow his players to be hit this way by the defense during practice?
It’s a tough place to be. A big, foggy gray area. I just hope it gets clarified before someone gets seriously and unnecessarily hurt — without impairing Kamehameha’s physical style of defense.
(See game video highlights here.)
>> Kamehameha isn’t the only cornerstone of defensive prowess. Mililani curbed Waianae’s dangerous quarterback, Kekoa Kaluhiokalani, in a 44-24 win at Torii Field. At Radford, Kaiser put the wraps on Rams slinger Cody Lui-Yuen.
“Their defense is pretty good,” Brian McInnis said. “They were a couple of dropped picks and penalties away from a perfect (defensive) game.”
It was comforting, almost, to read Jason Kaneshiro’s story about Campbell and Aiea, a game the visiting Sabers won 28-7. Na Alii are without their starting quarterback, Jordan Liilii, and installed a wing-T offense against a strong Campbell defense.
It was a smart ploy by coach Wendell Say and his staff. A good wing offense, whether the wing-T (Waianae, Lahainaluna) or a double wing (Word of Life, Anuenue) can eat up chunks of the clock, save your players’ legs for the second half, and keep a small roster competitive. It worked for Aiea early on.
St. Francis lined up in its version of a funky old offense, using three running backs. All three lined up shoulder to shoulder to either side of quarterback Ranan Mamiya, who followed his lead blockers for decent gains against ‘Iolani on Saturday. It was hard to sustain consistent drives, though, through no fault of Mamiya, a converted running back filling in for an injured starter.
D-III, we need you
Speaking of the Saints, they lost another starter to injury. It was a shoulder injury to defensive back/wide receiver Taylor Wong-Monette. If the injuries keep racking up, it’s going to be more and more challenging for the gritty Saints. Five of them were starters for Pac-Five, according to Wolfpack coach Kip Botelho, before St. Francis went on its own with a varsity team this fall for the first time.
It’s a great endeavor, a tiny school fielding an 11-man football team in a league as rugged as the ILH. Right now, the D-I programs — Kamehameha, Punahou and Saint Louis — might be the best three in the state. They’re stacked with talent, big, fast, physical … and will take on the league’s D-II teams in the next few weeks.
I wrote long ago about the need for a “Superconference” in Hawaii high school football, and everyone I talked with, including the then-OIA chief, Dwight Toyama, didn’t disagree that the competition would be fun to watch. But comparing island football to most leagues elsewhere is deceiving. We have a unique environment when it comes to football. An elite conference would seem … too collegiate?
But most fans would dig it. The elites would gather to play in that conference for football only. Then there would be the other bigger schools that are competitive. Then Division II would be the true home for smaller schools, lower enrollments. The Waialuas and Anuenues. There would even be a Division III … or 8-Man League. (It’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming.)
But I bring this up simply because St. Francis and Kamehameha will not belong on the same field. The Warriors, as always, will do their best to keep the game “competitive” by playing a ton of reserves. That’s what mounting injuries to a small roster can lead to. There’s no questioning of the heart and talent of the Saints. But football is a different animal. A ferocious, merciless one.