A year ago, Kamehameha coach Abu Ma’afala took the blame after nearly every question asked from this reporter following the Warriors’ season-opening 26-20 loss to Waianae at Kunuiakea Stadium.
It was the first of six defeats that year for Kamehameha, which finished 3-6, marking its worst season in decades.
Fast forward to Friday night at Skippa Diaz Stadium under the bright lights of the Farrington Governors’ first home game on campus in Kalihi. Ma’afala, again opening the season against a tough OIA opponent, was singing a much different tune following the seventh-ranked Warriors’ 34-15 dismantling of the No. 8 Govs.
“Completely different,” Ma’afala said. “Any time you go through any season, whether it’s successful or unsuccessful, the number one thing is I just looked at myself and what can I be better at.
“Number one was understanding that everything that I’ve learned and everything that I’ve done in the past doesn’t necessarily work. I just had to get a better feel of our personnel and what I want to run with what they can do.”
The Warriors ran a much more simplified offense against the Governors, doing most of their work on the ground. Whether it was swing passes to the outside or running back Kanoa Shannon and quarterback Thomas Yam working the read-option, Kamehameha sliced up Farrington’s defense for 194 rushing yards with Shannon earning 110 and Braden Akima adding 43 on a long touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
“From an overall team standpoint we were physical,” Ma’afala said. “Any time you can go be physical with a team like Farrington you’ve got to feel good about that as you move into the season, and on offense, the running game was really good.”
The passing game still needs work with Yam completing just three of his 14 pass attempts. They were all big though as he averaged nearly 30 yards a completion, including a perfectly thrown 53-yard touchdown pass to Onyx Freitas in the third quarter after Farrington closed to 14-9.
Yam has struggled with accuracy before, but this was a little different. Everything was within the confines of the offense and a couple of his throws were right on the money, but either dropped or broken up by a good play by the defense. A touchdown pass to Skyler Ramos was called back due to a penalty.
It was clear Yam has a better understanding of an offense that has simplified to make things easier. With the ILH season still weeks away, Kamehameha has games against Lahainaluna on Maui and at home against Carson (Calif.) to continue to get Yam work behind center.
Freitas had the big catch, but Ramos seems like the one to look out for. For now though, Ma’afala was most impressed with how his kids handled the emotions of opening the season on the road in a tough environment that was geeked up for Farrington’s first home football game on campus.
“(The kids) did an unbelievable job and I’m so proud of all of our men because we talked about it basically since camp started,” Ma’afala said. “Our first game was going to be the first ever at Farrington and we didn’t try to make like this was just another game because it wasn’t.
“We had to embrace the distraction, get comfortable with the discomfort and they did a great job.”