The Waipahu Marauders have been there before. When Bryson Carvalho was an assistant (and JV) coach Bryson Carvalho, the program won the OIA Division II football title.
Waipahu football took the OIA D-II titles in 2006 under Sean Saturnio and in ’11 under Eric Keola. The Marauders (9-0) enter tonight’s OIA title game with Pearl City (7-2) in an ultimate winner-take-all: a championship and the lone state-tournament berth. Coach Carvalho chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Wednesday.
HPW: The offense gets the video highlights and big numbers, but the defense has been constantly swarming.
Carvalho: I think our strength has been our run defense, ranked first in (OIA) D-II, so we definitely want to force them into third and long situations. We want to be able to do that, we want to be able to control the line of scrimmage.
HPW: Your team has already beaten Pearl City once, a 0-0 tie at the half, final score 37-6. Is there any concern that there might be a little bit of complacency, or is the team hungrier than ever?
Carvalho: We used your video as motivation, last year’s OIA championship to 21:20 in the video, the last drive when we came up short. They’ve been reminded of that all season, you see the celebration (of Waialua). What we’re playing for is much more than ourselves. It’s the community that’s involved. We want that to be our parents and our community to be involved this year.
HPW: The OIA format being what it is, only one team enters the state tournament from the league. That puts a lot of weight on the game this week.
Carvalho: They feel it. I reminded them yesterday that today could be our last full practice. That’s our goal, to stay together as long as we can and we can’t do that if we play sloppy football. We had some games where we had a sloppy start and Pearl City was one of them.
HPW: The Chargers are old-school in many ways, maybe a little bit like the Ray Lewis-era Baltimore Ravens. But they also have a quick quarterback, and I could see them using some spread option or speed option to pick up first downs. Do you think they’ll put some new wrinkles out there?
Carvalho: We want to make sure we take care of their best plays. They like to run the football, and their running back is good. And we have seen some spread option from them. It’s execution and assignment football and that’s what we’ve been driving home the last two weeks.
HPW: Let’s rewind of the preseason and regular season. Nanakuli, a 51-14 win.
Carvalho: I know that first week I had a lot of questions running though my head. Week before we had a camp. We had a young team and playing each other it’s hard to determine where you out. But after this game, I knew we’re a pretty darn good team. Just head down, work hard in everything you do, and as long as we do that I knew we could find success.
HPW: Next was a forfeit win over Kalaheo.
Carvalho: What’s funny is that week preparing for Kalaheo, and they forfeited the day before the game, I realized this team works really hard. Now I look at where we are, we’re by far the hardest working team I’ve ever coached. We’re not a big team, so sometimes the scout team has starters on it, so that might be why we prepare so well, but we give each other a darn good look at practice.
HPW: Then came bye week, so that’s actually two weekends off counting the Kalaheo forfeit.
Carvalho: We added a little bit more formations. It ended up being a good thing that it happened, just because of the different wrinkles we were able to add in. The kids got a lot closer. We laid back on the tempo at practice a little bit just to avoid injury and make sure teaching was on point.
HPW: Roosevelt. A hard-nosed, run-first team. Waipahu won 35-8.
Carvalho: Roosevelt is a very, very tough team. I thought they played us very well. I had a feeling we’d see them again. Defensively, they’re very good. We ran the triple option from 2004 until Sean left in ’09 so I knew it can be frustrating to defend and we had to have every assignment. We drove that home at practice.
HPW: Waialua, a 63-7 victory.
Carvalho: That has always been a tough game for every coach that’s been at Waipahu. That’s when we rededicated the field to every coach who laid the foundation for the program. That game was a special game for us. We wanted to make sure we represented our community well.
HPW: A huge matchup with Kalani. Waipahu won 49-0.
Carvalho: Their quarterback (Seth Tina-Soborano) was hurt when they went to the mainland (a week earlier). For me, I approach every game the same. I didn’t know he wasn’t going to play until the game started. We prepared all week for him, have a spy on him. We stuck with our gameplan defensively. We didn’t know what we’d be getting out of the backup. Offensively, we mixed up our run and pass and our RPO offense. We were grateful a lot of kids got to play.
HPW: Showdown with Pearl City. A lot of Waipahu penalties (12 for 100 yards) by halftime, 0-0 tie. Then a 37-6 win to take sole possession of first place. That talk at halftime must have been firm.
Carvalho: I don’t think the talk was firm. It had some volume. It was frustrating because of how much penalties we had in the first half, killing ourselves. That’s no discredit to Pearl City. I think in the first half, one half that stands out the most, we had the ball on their 10 and ended up punting from our own 40. I think it was nerves, adrenaline. It was homecoming day as well. I’ve never heard of our stadium being sold out and people being turned away. It was eye-opening for everybody, let alone 14- to 17-year old kids. We just made sure they got focused.
HPW: Another crucial game, this time against a balanced and powerful Kaimuki squad. Waipahu won 35-14.
Carvalho: We wanted to play fast because we knew they were short on numbers. There’s pros and cons to any offense, so three-and-outs come quick and that hurt us a little bit in the first half. Our defense was out there for a very long time. We were battling. Our defense came up big, Fiva (Tulafale) returned a pick for a touchdown. They were playing man coverage the entire game, before the half, we called time out and threw it to (Matthew) Fiesta for a touchdown. The second half, we just wore them out.
HPW: Regular-season finale, McKinley, a 56-0 win.
Carvalho: For me, it was more about our kids being focused, not overlooking the challenge at hand. There were concerns I had about McKinley, like every team, offensively and defensively. That week, I think I got on our staff a lot to make sure that all our players were focused. Alfred (Failauga) missed a practice, so he didn’t start. Braden (Amorozo) same he didn’t start. They both had legitimate reasons. Offensively, we ran a little bit different package.
HPW: Then comes a 1 versus 4 playoff matchup, Waipahu and Roosevelt. Waipahu wins 38-0.
Carvalho: We had a little bit of a change. It’s always harder to beat a team twice. We made sure we took advantage of some of the things they did the first time, and be fundamentally sound agains what they do. They came out a little different and our kids played well.
HPW: That’s an amazing season to this point for the defense, allowing just 49 points.
Carvalho: Our secondary, I think, we struggled last year. There’s always still work to be done, but overall we’re playing very good football. This week, we’re driving home that defense wins championships. We’ve got to play sound football all around. Know your assignment and execute it.
HPW: Up front, so much consistency. Who are the guys at the line of scrimmage defensively?
Carvalho: Our D-line, it’s a three-man front, six in the rotation. Centennial (Kulikefu) moved from ILB to DE during the season. Kealii Barrett. Azserus Moli. Abraham Montero.
HPW: How about the ‘backers and secondary?
Carvalho: We’ve got Fiva, and Manuele Palusami leading them. Our cornerbacks are Tarynce Antolin and Sam Guerrero. Zeondre Benjamin has been huge for us. He usually plays center field for us and roams. Deacon Kapea is also a junior, a transfer from Damien. He came in as a RB, but because we have Al, he moved to safety. I like his downhill play the most. He’s very aggressive, a good tackler, likes contact. He says his true position is RB, and he does get some touches at RB, but I definitely think he can play at the next level somewhere.