(Long version of the Kahuku-Farrington game preview that ran in Friday’s Star-Advertiser.)
There are cousins in maroon and red.
There are ties that go back to villages in faraway regions of the Pacific.
But when No. 1 Kahuku and No. 2 Farrington square off tomorrow, the similarities go even deeper. The Red Raiders and Governors, maybe more than ever, are twins. Clones. Take your pick, and there you have the two best teams in the state.
Tomorrow’s battle at Roosevelt’s Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium isn’t about a state championship, not yet. Kahuku (6-0, 4-0 league) and Farrington (6-0, 4-0) last met on Oct. 1, 2010, a 16-0 home win for Kahuku. Aofaga Wily rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown at muddy Carleton Weimer Field as the Red Raiders continued an unbeaten run through the regular season.
Farrington dropped to 2-3 in the Oahu Interscholastic Association at the time. What was missing from the Governors’ blueprint was one vital piece: Tyler Taumua.
Then a sophomore, Taumua was injured and didn’t return until late in the season. Coach Randall Okimoto had raved about Taumua in preseason, but without him on the field, Farrington’s dependence on the ground and pound game was revealed.
“He’s a strong runner with the ability to slash. He’s not just put your head down and run over people,” Kahuku coach Reggie Torres said. “He makes people miss. One guy is not going to be able to do it alone. He’s got to work with the team.”
Other than the usual intensity of this rivalry, there’s the pride of finishing first in the Red East, but little else. With six teams qualifying for the playoffs out of the division, the top two get automatic first-round byes. Kahuku and Farrington have already done that.
On paper: Taumua comes into the game with 1,152 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 192 yards per game. He’s on pace to surpass 2,600 yards.
The 5-foot-10, 199-pound junior has been healthy all season thanks in part to a light workload. Since carrying the ball 25 times in Farrington’s nonconference win at ‘Iolani, Taumua has racked up more than 15 carries in a game once. With just 106 total rushing attempts, he is averaging 17 per game. Still, Taumua has managed to pass the 200-yard mark four times, including a 228-yard effort against Kaiser on 12 carries.
Taumua is having, in effect, the kind of season the might have been expected of Kahuku’s Wily. As a sophomore, he amassed 1,175 yards and 17 touchdowns in 10 games. This fall, injuries have hampered the 6-1, 195-pound junior, but he has come back strong. Still limping a bit, Wily was the go-to back in last weekend’s 14-7 win over Moanalua. He rushed for 181 yards, including 137 after halftime.
With Wily close to healthy and just 50 carries in all this season so far, he may be the fresher of the two marquee backs tomorrow. Since he moved from linebacker to running back, Kahuku has implemented more of the stretch game, staying in between the tackles. Last week, backup quarterback Kawehena Johnson unveiled an option attack with mixed results. Kahuku attempted just seven passes, giving Farrington — which had a bye last week — little to scout on.
Farrington, with Taumua in the I-formation of a West Coast offense, is also a between-the-tackles, smashmouth attack. The Governors have what is probably the heaviest offensive line in the state.
That powerball mentality works fine against most of the Red East. Now that the finest of the North Shore and Kalihi can tangle, pressure is on their defenses to handle the volume of mashers at the line of scrimmage.
Kahuku’s defense has been at its best against run-first offenses: a 26-0 win over Waianae; 13-3 against Kamehameha. Teams dependent on the air attack, Kailua and Moanalua, scored a combined 14 points.
The skinny: Kahuku defensive coordinator Kimo Haiola takes everything to heart. On Friday, when Moanalua scored its lone touchdown on a “double pass”, he was almost despondent. That pride in the defense is infectious at Kahuku, which has allowed 17 points in six games.
Since a 26-21 win over Kamehameha six weeks ago, Farrington has allowed just 20 points. At 412 rushing yards per game, the Govs and their immense offensive line — the “Bamboolas” — have been dependent on invasion by ground.
But what happens when the defenses step up and force these offenses to put the ball in the air? This is where Kahuku, with its fleet of athletic defensive backs, will get a big test. Farrington quarterback Travis Tamapua has been efficient with eight touchdown passes in just 79 attempts. He has also been picked six times in his first season as a starter under center.
Kahuku has Viliami “Lasi” Livai at quarterback, possibly a starter tonight despite sitting for part of the game last week. Though his progress as a first-year starter has been up and down, he has thrown just three picks in 83 attempts with eight touchdowns.
The Red Raiders run a variety of formations and won’t hesitate to go to the shotgun with Livai and his strong arm. But Big Red is committed to the ground attack, pounding away rather that have Livai air the ball out. Mahonilai Fakatou and James Kahele have shown plenty of evidence that Kahuku is deep at tailback. They have a solid fullback in Sterling Moe.
In a key game like this, Kahuku may go deeper than usual in its rotation at wide receiver and slotback. Defensive backs like Evan Ramirez, Bronson Beatty, Mekeli Fiso and and the multi-positioned Johnson are also some of the team’s top downfield threats. That will be a particular challenge for Farrington’s secondary and defensive back Daniel Prescott.
Don’t expect any change in the game plan, though. Offensive coordinator Sterling Carvalho admits that he’d love to air it out, but he won’t mess with a winning formula. Neither will the Governors.
X factor: The Governors defense has been beefy in years past, but is a little bit lighter this year. Linebacker Semo Sila (6-2, 195) will be tested by an aggressive Kahuku offensive line.
Another key is the kicking game. Keanu Foki has made 11 point-after kicks for Farrington, but no field goals so far. Kahuku’s Kekahu Aluli has 35-yard range on field goals, Torres said. Aluli has made six field goals already.
Extra point: The junior-varsity game will kick off at 3 p.m., followed by the varsity at around 5:15. Early arrival is suggested. When the two teams played at this facility two years ago, at least 1,000 spectators were turned away at the gate.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser