Five Kahuku players took a turn at quarterback on Friday and the Red Raiders tossed in a couple of key wrinkles. But the front line remained the engine for the Red Raider offense in a drive to the Division I state championship.
During the regular season, the Red Raiders committed to tucking in behind the offensive line and pounding out first downs — a mind-set first-year head coach Vavae Tata referred to on multiple occasions as staying true to the program’s DNA.
For much of the season, the Kahuku offense came down to 10 players plowing ahead of Kesi Ah-Hoy and Harmon Brown, running backs who happened to take snaps. Although Saint Louis stymied the attack at several points in Friday’s Division I state championship game, the Red Raider offense provided enough production to complement a dominant defensive performance in a 39-14 win to complete an OIA sweep of the Division I and II championships.
Ah-Hoy, who kept the ball 40 times for 142 yards in a semifinal win last week against Waianae, finished the season by grinding out 103 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, the last a 19-yard burst into Aloha Stadium’s south end zone with 4:56 left that erased any remaining doubt.
He closed his junior year with 221 carries for 1,269 yards and 18 touchdowns following a line that started (from left to right) Ezra Tupuola (6-foot-2, 290 pounds) in a tight end spot, tackle Vili Fisiiahi (5-10, 260), guard Vaaivaka Fale (5-11, 300), center Jed Heffernan (6-0, 262), guard Tamatoa Neher (6-3, 290), tackle Ra Elkington (6-5, 300) and Noah Magalei (6-2, 280) in the other tight end position.
Blocking backs Steven Lombard (5-11, 250) and Logan Matagi (5-11, 260) often led the ball carriers into the hole.
The Red Raiders started Cameron Renaud, who came through with a pivotal drive in a semifinal win over Waianae, at quarterback and Jordan Mariterangi opened the second possession. After going three-and-out against a stubborn Saint Louis front, Ah-Hoy took the first snap on Kahuku’s third drive, dropped back and hit Draeton Thompson for a 30-yard completion that sparked the Red Raiders’ first scoring drive.
Kahuku took the lead with a nine-play, 38-yard drive anchored to the ground with Brown carrying the ball on the first seven plays for 32 yards and Ah-Hoy scoring on a 6-yard run on fourth-and-one.
Forcing Saint Louis to load up against the run opened up another big play through the air when Ah-Hoy faked a run then lofted a throw to Pua Falemalu for a 27-yard score that gave the Red Raiders a 22-7 lead going into halftime.
That would be more than enough cushion for the Kahuku defense and the Red Raiders celebrated the program’s eighth state championship.
“It’s so indescribable,” Heffernan said. “We have a rich tradition and to be part of a class that would bring back a championship to the community, knowing how rich a tradition it is, it’s probably the best feeling in the world.”