Conventional wisdom will tell you that Friday night’s OIA football semifinals are a mere formality before division champions Mililani and Kahuku play for the OIA championship.
Upsets are rare in the Final Four, but they do happen. Farrington took down Kapolei last year for the first semifinal upset in five years.
There is a level of comfort for the favorites, though, as a division winner hasn’t made it to the semifinals and failed to make states since Mililani in 2003 and every division champion since Mililani and Castle in 2005 has moved on to the grand stage.
The list of coaches who have pulled off upsets in the semifinal round is a familiar one. Farrington’s Randall Okimoto and Campbell’s Darren Johnson have done it twice and Wendell Say, Nolan Tokuda and Reggie Torres accomplished it once.
Here is a look at the seven upsets in the OIA semifinal round in the state championship era (1999-present):
2016: Farrington 33, Kapolei 27
As much a heartbreaker as any, the Governors finished the regular season in third place in the OIA Red behind Mililani and the division champion Hurricanes. Kapolei won the title in part because of a 28-7 thrashing of the Governors a month earlier when Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 264 yards in June Jones‘ pass-heavy offense. Tagovailoa was even better in the rematch, hitting Isaiah Ahana for 173 of his 321 yards. But Kapolei’s defense wilted in the face of Challen Faamatau, who threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Kapolei bounced back with a 27-15 win over Waianae in the third-place game, but both teams had already clinched spots in the state’s diluted pilot program for the state tournament. Both teams were blown out in the state semifinals.
2011: Kahuku 9, Leilehua 7
Calling Kahuku an underdog in the OIA is always a recipe for an upset, but the Red Raiders were relegated to second place in the East after a 14-13 loss to Farrington at Roosevelt in the regular season and the Governors ran the table the rest of the way. Leilehua won the rugged OIA West and blew out Moanalua in the quarters after a much-needed bye week. Kahuku spent Leilehua’s week off in a tough 20-16 win over Waianae, but showed no ill effects when staring across the line at interim coach Mark Kurisu‘s Mules. Aofaga Wily went off for 225 yards against the Leilehua defense and the Red Raiders thwarted Leilehua’s final drive when Johnny Tapusoa broke up Kenan Sadanaga‘s pass intended for Jeremiah Andrade on fourth down with 1:13 left. Kahuku went on to hammer Farrington 23-0 in the rematch to become the last squad to take an OIA title without winning its division and went on to win the state championship. Leilehua shook off the tough loss to beat Campbell in the third-place game to earn a trip to states, where it met Kahuku for a second time. Kahuku’s defense was as good as ever, though, limiting Sadanaga to 85 yards passing and Allen Racette to negative-1 yard rushing in a thrilling 13-10 win in two overtimes on a 3-yard leap over the goal line by Wily.
2008: Farrington 26, Leilehua 24
Another game that was an upset in seeding only, the Governors were second in the East behind Kahuku while the Mules won the West over Waianae and Kapolei. Apelu Sooalo carried the mail for the Governors, churning out 135 yards, but Isaiah Iuta was the big hero. Iuta blocked Leilehua kicker Maika Kunioka‘s 26-yard field goal try with his shoulder pad on the last play of the game. The thrilling result didn’t add up to another upset in the final, though, as the Governors fell to the rival Red Raiders 22-19 when Iuta and his mates couldn’t knock down St. John Lessary‘s 22-yard field goal in the second overtime. Farrington went on to lose to Punahou 35-28 in the state semifinals while Leilehua recovered to beat Waianae 32-0 in the third-place game and turned it into a run to the state final, where it lost to Punahou 38-7.
2007: Leilehua 7, Farrington 3
The Mighty Mules’ grandest season was all about upsets. The Mules limped into the OIA playoffs as the fifth seed out of the West and dropped Castle in the first round despite quarterback Kaipo Kea getting hurt. No worries, sophomore Andrew Manley took over and the Mules defense gave him enough stops to keep the pressure off. Manley threw for 159 yards against rival Mililani in the quarterfinals to set up his meeting with Farrington, the second-place team out of the East. Leilehua’s defense was stifling, with linebacker Robert Siavii picking off two passes and forcing a fumble that led to the only touchdown of the game. The Mules went on to beat West champion Waianae 12-3 in the final for its first OIA championship since 1984. From there, Leilehua marched to the state championship with wins over Baldwin and Saint Louis. Farrington came back from the loss with a vengeance, beating Kapolei 37-19 in the third place game to rob the team that won in Kahuku from a chance at states. The Governors didn’t do much with the chance, falling to Baldwin 26-14 on Maui in the first round.
2005: Aiea 26, Waianae 15
Na Alii limped through the regular season fourth place in the West, but earned a bye when McKinley forfeited its first-round game on the eve of the tournament for using an ineligible player during the year. That unexpected bye helped Na Alii tune its offense, thumping East champion Castle 52-31 to reach the semis against Waianae, which was second in the West and beat Wendell Say‘s crew 25-6 in the regular season when it held Kali Kuia to 180 yards. Kuia was having none of it in the game that mattered, though, throwing for 162 of his 284 yards to Lofa Liilii in the upset and made them 4-0 with 36 points per game after averaging 20 ppg without it. Na Alii’s defense held Waianae to 121 rushing yards and forced three turnovers. The new offense couldn’t hold up against East No. 2 Kahuku in the championship game, though, losing 26-16 before falling to Punahou 35-14 in the state tournament. Waianae recovered from the upset, beating Farrington 17-7 in the third place game to reach states. The Seariders beat Kealakehe 21-14 in the opening round before being trounced by Kahuku 43-0.
2003: Kailua 20, Mililani 12
The Surfriders were a hardly an underdog against the West champion Trojans, finishing second to Kahuku in the East with a 7-1-1 record. The Trojans were unbeaten at 9-0, though, and featured a dynamic offense that put up 300 yards against Kailua but committed four turnovers, including three picks of Mililani quarterback Maka Kahoano, who threw only four all season. Kailua running back Damien Torres led the Surfrider offense with 115 yards, although the Mililani defense proved stubborn as well despite losing linebacker Mikhail Mabry to a hamstring injury in the first half. Kailua, which beat Nanakuli 42-6 in the quarterfinal round to set up the date with Mililani, fell to East champion Kahuku 6-0 in a gritty contest. James Millwood‘s Trojans followed up the loss to Kailua with another loss to Farrington, 14-6 in the third-place game and is still the last division champion to reach the OIA semifinals but fail to reach the state tournament. Coach Darren Johnson made sure Kailua’s defense stayed stout in the state tournament, but suffered a 20-13 loss to Baldwin in the first round when Torres was held to 81 yards rushing and quarterback Kelroy Kohatsu managed only 27 yards through the air.
2001: Kailua 13, Castle 7
The Surfriders finished the regular season in third place in the Red behind Castle, which took second after beating the Surfriders 36-29 two weeks before the playoffs. Darren Johnson made the adjustments against Nelson Maeda in the rematch, holding Castle quarterback Joel Botelho to 123 yards of offense and Kailua claimed its first OIA championship since 1965 with the semifinal win. The Surfriders shared the title with Kahuku because the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York wiped out a week in the regular season and it was agreed before the game to skip the OIA championships. Kailua shared the crown with the Red Raiders despite falling to them 48-7 in the regular season. Without the championships or third place game, Castle joined Kailua at states but fell to Waimea 41-20 in the first round. Kailua destroyed Waiakea 53-8 in the first round of the state tournament before getting the same treatment against Saint Louis in a 49-7 loss in the next round.