When the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I football quarterfinals roll around each fall, it’s an exciting time for Hawaii high school football fans.
This year, that quarterfinal round takes on new meaning. In the past, it was lose and you’re done for the year.
Now, just getting to the quarterfinals punches your ticket to either the Open division or the D-I state tournament.
OIA quarterfinal winners then go on to the biggest stage at the state level, the new Open division, which is reserved for elite football programs, so to speak.
Instead of going home, OIA quarterfinal losers join the fray in the eight-team D-I states, the winner of which will capture what some people are pooh-pooing as a less meaningful middle division. But, in actuality, whoever wins that title will take their place on the list next to the D-I championships won by Kahuku, Saint Louis, Punahou, Kamehameha, Mililani and Leilehua since the inaugural state tournament in 1999.
Don’t want to pound the point into the ground, but the new Open division champion will be the first of its kind. Yes, it’s a higher echelon, and the four OIA teams who get to that Open division this year are MOVING UP. The ones who don’t are STAYING at their own designated level, and NOT moving down.
With all of this in mind, Monday night’s Farrington vs. Leilehua football game was sort of a template. Those two teams could conceivably not only make it to the OIA quarterfinals, they could meet each other there.
Leilehua (1-4) is only 1-3 in league play, and all of its losses are to teams in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Top 10 — No. 1 Kahuku (49-15), No. 5 Kapolei (44-13), No. 6 Farrington (19-7), as well as No. 3 Punahou of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu. So, even though the schedule gets only a tad bit easier for the Mules — with games against Kailua (formerly in the Top 10), Castle, and No. 8 Mililani remaining — the extra-tough tests each week may prime them for when the OIA playoffs begin.
The Mules are being used as an example here, mainly because they were leading the Governors 7-6 at halftime before getting worn down in the second half of a 19-7 loss. But any OIA D-I team could get hot at the right time and grab one of those eight (four Open, four D-I) state berths available to them.
So, let’s just say that Farrington and Leilehua meet in the quarters and the Mules take a 7-6 halftime lead again.
Imagine what Leilehua head coach Nolan Tokuda is telling his team at the break: “Don’t let them score, boys, and we’re going to the Open division, baby!!!” Or something like that.
And then you could picture what Farrington’s Randall Okimoto is saying at the same time: “We didn’t come this far to lose now. We want to prove where we belong, and we belong with the best in the state.”
As it turns out, the top two teams in the regular-season standings in each OIA D-I division (Red and Blue) get a bye into the quarterfinals and are assured of a state spot (either Open or D-I).
And then the fun starts. Where do you want to go, fellas? Win that quarterfinal game and you have a chance at new glory. If you weren’t considered elite before, you are well on that path now.