OIA D-I First Round
Life in OIA football, with a dynastic behemoth at the top (Kahuku) and the corresponding food chain below, provides a merciless terrain. Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez knows it.
Kapolei has Top 5 talent statewide but isn’t ranked at all and it doesn’t matter one iota. Aiea closed the regular season with losses to Moanalua and Waianae, but every team is essentially 0-0 when the playoffs begin.
“If you look at what we did, we got a game forfeited that we won pretty good (Castle),” Hernandez said. “We lost a heart breaker to Leilehua in OT. For one half, we played toe to toe with Mililani. We haven’t put it together for four quarters yet, but the basic foundation for a solid team is definitely there.”
Kapolei also lost at Farrington, a battle that the Governors won with defense and special teams. Like Farrington and several playoff qualifiers, the Hurricanes have healed up, improved game by game and evolved as a whole. That’s what makes the OIA playoff format, where 12 of 14 Division I teams reach the postseason, more like the lottery than a purely merited reward. It is a new beginning.
The ’Canes have relied on a stout defensive line. Aaron Faumui has been an iron man on both sides.
With Dylan Naehu, Treven Maae, Junior Tuia, a healthy Kukea Emmsley — he returned from a sprained MCL last week in a key win over Nanakuli — and Faumui, the ‘Canes have a chance to go far. The defensive unit has become more efficient as the offense improved, and that’s where Hernandez rolled the dice, so to speak.
Quarterback Kaniala Kalaola was replaced by Lonenoa Faoa midway in the season. Faoa, a transfer from Bishop Gorman (Nevada) has a quick release and good arm strength, but learning the system on the fly means he will only gain more confidence. So far, he has been excellent with nine TD passes with just two interceptions in three starts.
“He’s getting better every game. He’s going to be very good. Right now he’s still learning. He’s smart, gets rid of the ball quick. He’s a leader. We have to gel around him,” Hernandez said.
Talent and depth at the skill positions favor the ‘Canes, but Aiea and its ball-control passing game will always have a shot. Ty Matsunami (1,419 yards, 11 TDs, 14 picks) can be masterful at times without leaning too heavily on one receiver. Four Na Alii have at least 22 receptions, but defenses have learned to pack the passing lanes and test Matsunami’s deep ball. He’ll have to be as accurate as possible, and the Aiea defense could help. Kapolei’s heavy tilt toward the passing game — 281 pass attempts, 114 rushes — makes Faoa’s short-passing skills (6.7 yards per pass attempt) a de facto running game.
Kapolei’s leading rusher has 111 yards for the entire season, though oft-injured Josh Kansana is back. The predictability could make things simpler for the Na Alii defense.
“Our practices have been good this week,” Aiea coach Wendell Say said. “So it comes down to our mental aspects. We’ve got to be sharp and avoid letdowns. If something happens, we’ve got to get back on the horse. One play at a time.”
Aiea’s only win against Kapolei was in the first meeting between the two schools — a 22-15 victory in the 2003 OIA White title game.
The winner plays two-time defending league champion Kahuku next week in the quarterfinals.
Top performances in series
Aiea passing vs. Kapolei: Kali Kuia with 335 yards in 2005
Aiea rushing vs. Kapolei: Raymond Tuala with 117 yards in 2003
Aiea receiving vs. Kapolei: Lofa Liilii with 131 yards in 2005
Kapolei passing vs. Aiea: Brad Padayo with 291 yards in 2005
Kapolei rushing vs. Aiea: Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada with 147 yards in 2003
Kapolei receiving vs. Aiea: Naliko Kea with 158 yards in 2014
Kapolei’s offensive statistics
Aiea’s offensive statistics