Couldn’t help it.
There were many moments during Saturday night’s 41-6 win at Leilehua that took Kahuku fans back. Sefa Ameperosa ran inside and out — mostly in — over and over in the first nine minutes. Moments into the second quarter, the durable running back, was a go-to guy with 12 carries for 94 yards. It was a pace that wasn’t sustainable, not that one high school RB should carry the ball more than 40 times in a single game.
But in more than a few instances, he brought back memories of former great Aofaga Wily. The Red Raiders defense, with six interceptions and a fumble recovery, didn’t just put up numbers. They played with a rangy, athletic accent that brought back images of the “Sharks” unit that fueled state championships in 2011 and ’12, led by safety Kawe Johnson.
The more Big Red plays this fall, the more they look like a blast from the past. That’s saying something in an era of spread offenses. True, Kahuku lines up often in the pistol, but the playbook is as basic and powerful as any Red Raider scheme of the past.
But there was a time, just briefly, when Kahuku football borrowed freely from a newer era. Back when Siuaki Livai coached, he had a strong-armed quarterback named Inoke Funaki. Livai would often drive into town and visit with then-University of Hawaii QB coach Dan Morrison. Livai loved him some smashmouth football, but he was at the point where he wanted that trump card.
He wanted to be able to open up the offense if and when necessary come post-season time. So, with a large lead late in games, Kahuku would temporarily set aside its under-center formation and line up in the shotgun. Funaki had mixed results at first throwing the ball deep, spraying the pigskin to short-route receivers.
It’s not the case right now.
“We don’t have a quarterback-QUARTERBACK,” Red Raiders coach Vavae Tata said after Saturday’s win. “Kesi Ah-Hoy is a quarterback-slash-running back and he’s one of our best 11 guys.”
Kesi is probably going to throw for 200 yards one night. Sooner or later, a defense will fill every gap, slow the ground-and-pound attack just enough to force Kahuku to throw again and again. And Ah-Hoy has enough arm strength and accuracy — more than most running backs — to make a risk-taking defense pay for that possibility.
But until then, the numbers look very reminiscent: 251 rushing yards, 49 carries, four pass attempts. Leilehua, like the five previous opponents on Kahuku’s schedule, knew what was coming. Just couldn’t stop it. The Mules had their share of stops, but most of the night the Red Raiders simply plowed patiently down the field.
Leilehua kept Ameperosa out of the end zone, but he and his line got the job done. LeRod Tongi got past the goal line three times. Harmon Brown got there once. It’s not exactly poaching Ameperosa’s scores, but if Kahuku has a bunch of red-zone play-action in the book, Tata and his staff aren’t sharing.
They might never have to reveal anything. Dominant ground game. Defense — physical, heavy-hitting and intimidating. The Red Raiders had the Mules on the ground getting medical attention so many times, it took the wind out of their sails. It was a concern, no doubt, for fans and neutral observers. Special teams — Kekoa Sasaoka put almost every kickoff deep enough for touchbacks and Keala Santiago was excellent in punt returns.
Take away the 162 penalty yards, including eight of the 15-yard flag variety, and it’s very possible Kahuku wins the OIA and state titles with a 1970s mindset. For the program that has won seven state crowns mostly with that blueprint, it makes perfect sense.