The matchup: Kahuku (10-0) vs. Mililani (9-1)
Date: Friday, Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m., Aloha Stadium
Head-to-head: Kahuku leads 10-2
Last meeting: Mililani 20-7 (Oct. 31, 2014)
Biggest margin of victory: Kahuku 40-2 (Sept. 2, 2000)
Smallest margin of victory: Kahuku 33-30 (Sept. 11, 1981)
Kahuku’s offensive leadersUpdated: Nov. 21, 2015
Mililani’s offensive leadersUpdated: Nov. 14, 2015
>> This is the eighth consecutive season either Kahuku or Mililani has advanced to the OIA title game. The last one not to involve either team was Leilehua’s 12-3 win over Waianae in 2007. The Mules went on to win the state title.
>> Kahuku won the first eight meetings in this series before Mililani scores its first win over the Red Raiders in the 2013 OIA semifinals, 37-22.
>> Trojans RB Vavae Malepeai, who is averaging 98.5 rushing yards in two games against Kahuku, became the second Trojan to top 100 rushing yards against Kahuku in that 2013 win with 141 yards. The other? Dino Gipaya rushed for 197 yards against Kahuku in a 33-30 loss on Sept. 11, 1981.
>> Kahuku has thrown for a total of 372 passing yards in the entire 2015 season. Mililani has had a QB threw for more than 372 passing yards in one game seven times since the start of the 2011 season and three times this season.
>> Kahuku QB Kesi Ah-Hoy was the only Red Raider to catch a pass in last year’s 20-7 loss to Mililani. He had three receptions for 14 yards. Kahuku did not complete a pass in last week’s semifinal win over Farrington.
For now, what Kahuku has on the table is something that even longtime Red Raider fans haven’t seen. Their one-dimensional offense in the past three games, a double-tight end, two-blocking-back, no-wide-receiver look, hasn’t used counters, traps, jet sweeps or anything beyond straight-ahead gashing.
Quarterback Kesi Ah-Hoy (982 rushing yards, 15 TDs) tweaked his previously injured ankle during last week’s OIA semifinal win over Farrington, but is expected to suit up. Ah-Hoy ran the ball in his team’s first 21 plays, picking up 133 yards. He finished with 23 carries for 174 yards.
Even with Ah-Hoy on the bench, Kahuku has ample talent out of that wildcat QB position. Harmon Brown and fellow RB Sefa Ameperosa have been outstanding with the ball.
It’s something the league has not seen, probably, since the infancy of football in the islands. The pain of standing there, trying to stop this stampede, one play after another. Kahuku normally runs more than 45 or 50 times per night. No defense has been able to slow it, let alone stop it.
“We’ve got some things that we’ve been working on and basically to take what they give us,” Mililani coach Rod York said. “The ball’s going to go to the playmakers. None of it works unless we win it up front. We’re going to try our best to stuff the run and make them throw the ball. Tackle and hold them. We know we’re in for a war. We’ll see.”
Farrington showed some resistance early in the matchup with Kahuku last week. Governor players were injured on Kahuku’s first two snaps. By the end of the night, Kahuku had 298 rushing yards on 48 attempts.
That smashmouth offense has been a boost to Kahuku’s stingy defense. Though offensive coordinator John Hao has sometimes had the offense go into no-huddle, hurry-up mode, the clock keeps running and the defense keeps rejuvenating on the sideline. Jumping to big leads has usually put opposing offenses into a different game plan, and Kahuku’s defense has been willing to bend, and very rarely break.
One of the state’s top playmakers, Challen Faamatau of Farrington, was limited to 30 rushing yards on 12 carries and no yards on two receptions. Mililani’s record-breaking running back, Vavae Malepeai, hasn’t faced Kahuku since an early preseason scrimmage. The Trojans’ young quarterbacks, freshman Dillon Gabriel and sophomore Kaysen Higa, have not played against Kahuku on the varsity level. Milton, the Trojans’ all-state QB, is making progress and has started rehab on his shoulder, but still may not play again this season.
“It’s always great to have two different type of guys, but at the same time, they give us positives and whatever fits best,” York said of his QBs. “Both guys are wide-eyed and soaking it up like a sponge. It’s good to have. We’ve got to build and that’s what we’re doing.”
Gabriel’s ability to throw the ball deep and take open field for yardage are two huge factors. Not that Gabriel seems to be affected by his youth or facing players two or three years older.
“That’s Dillon. He couldn’t tell you if he had a great game or not. Even though he’s quiet, he’s always looking to get better, asking questions and asking for film time,” York said. “Not knowing too much and being new to varsity is probably a good thing for him.”
Anything Gabriel and Higa can do through the air will release pressure off Malepeai, a 6-foot, 200-pound Oregon commit who has rushed for 1,453 yards and 25 TDs this fall.
So what happens when an offense averaging more than 56 points per game meets a defense that barely allows more than a field goal?
Kahuku has shown patience defensively, willing to give some cushion to receivers, making sure tackles between the 20-yard lines. They have not faced a receiver like Kalakaua Timoteo (51 receptions, 1,050 yards, 18 TDs), who had eight catches for a school-record 199 yards plus two TDs in last week’s 45-20 win over Waianae.
Gabriel is young, but was at his best on deep throws (297 yards, four TD passes). He’s also elusive. If Higa enters the game, he offers a bit more experience and a fine short-passing touch that might be one of the cures to beating Kahuku’s defense.
Easier said than done. Bradlee Anae returned recently and gives Kahuku a tall, aggressive defense end to balance out the range and reaction of OLB/S Hirkley Latu, another 6-4 playmaker.
Cornerback Kekaula Kaniho has been superb in coverage, arguably as athletic as safety Keala Santiago.
“Kahuku will pound you. They don’t stop, they don’t let up,” Timoteo said. “They have a really good secondary with Hirkley Latu and Keala Santiago. Those two guys are nothing to mess with. Kahuku is not just a run-stop defense, but they’re a good pass defense.”
One very astute observer is Cal Lee, who guided Saint Louis to the ILH championship last week. With brother Ron Lee running the offense, the Crusaders have mastered the four-wide passing offense for a long time with 14 Prep Bowl and two state crowns on their resume. Their version of the run-and-shoot is, to some degree, the inverse of what Kahuku’s jumbo smashmouth formation does.
“You can’t argue with success. They are undefeated. You can’t fault anybody for doing what they do with success,” Lee said. “They present problems. They have some big boys up there. A good running back. Ten guys blocking, it presents a problem, definitely,” Lee said. “(Ah-Hoy) is not real easy. When they’re just running at you, you have to hit some horses to stop him. It’s one thing to go and stop it. Nobody’s been barely successful trying to stop it.”