Campbell. Mililani. Once again, the two shall meet.
Campbell’s second season under football coach Darren Johnson took another big step forward in 2018, though it is not quite complete. Sometimes a big step isn’t enough for players, especially outgoing seniors. They’re one step away from the Open Division state title game. The Sabers can smell it.
Coach Johnson chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday about their chances against Mililani, which dominated Campbell during the regular season. The Sabers, as much as any team not named Saint Louis, have the kind of offensive firepower to make this a close game. A puncher’s chance, like Tommy Hearns versus Marvin Hagler. Hearns lost in the third round, but he was oh, so close. Inches away from changing history.
HPW: Is this Hearns against Hagler? I think Campbell has that kind of explosive opportunity.
Johnson: Yeah, our kids also have vulnerabilities.
HPW: The Open Division had a bye last week. The timing was good.
Johnson: I think probably for both teams, all four teams, it was a good bye for everybody. There’s about 200 coaches in this state who wish they were still playing. If you’re playing in November you did pretty good for the season. We’re excited. We know what we’re up against.
HPW: One of the sneaky-effective weapons you have is RB Sky Lactaoen. He can take a narrow opening and churn until he’s deep downfield.
Johnson: We’re hoping to get him in the secondary and run wild, that would open up a lot of our passing game for us.
HPW: Blaine Hipa, the freshman QB, was sharp in the OIA third-place game. Do you have him ready to go, or is Krenston Kaipo’s shoulder back to normal?
Johnson: Krenston’s ready to go. That makes me feel good. I like what we got, what we got going to the table.
HPW: When did he get hurt?
Johnson: He hurt his shoulder against Mililani and Waianae.
HPW: Mililani’s defense offers unique challenges. Probably some new looks or disguises like every team this late in the season. And really quick athletes up front. What’s it like preparing for them?
Johnson: We tell our QBs, we know you’re doing your homework when you go in the huddle, and they get monitored by us. We tell them we know exactly how many hours you put in getting prepared. You put in the homework and you can win. They have a good understanding.
HPW: This is a bit like college bowl season, when you have some extra practice time to get younger players some valuable reps. But you’ve also had to replace some key contributors like LB Tyrese Tafai due to injury, and the next guy always seemed to step up.
Johnson: It makes your team tougher mentally and closer. We had to go through the injury bug and other kids had to play and they stepped up. We expect more than just doing the job. We got lucky because Peter Manuma stepped up and he’s probably going to be the top recruits in the state by the time he’s a senior.
HPW: He’s really athletic, not a huge guy.
Johnson: He’s the guy that we got lucky with. He stepped up. He reminds you of a younger Marist (Liufau of Punahou, who recently committed to Notre Dame).
HPW: This feels maybe like the kind of game that will come down to three or four key plays. Maybe one or two on special teams. What would have to work on special teams for Campbell to make this a victory?
Johnson: On returns, we need to get outside the 35. Pin the ball (on kickoffs) inside the 20. Get a punt block. Punt return, field the ball and no negative yards.