Absurd, perhaps, to consider that two mere turnovers against a defense like Waianae’s could mean so much.
After all, Moanalua’s Alaka‘i Yuen passed for a respectable 218 yards and connected with Ryan Ramones and Brandon Bender for a total of three touchdown passes. That just doesn’t happen much against a vaunted Searider defense with knockdown artists like Kanai Mauga — the guy with the recent scholarship offers from Oregon State and Hawaii.
But yes, Unbeaten, No. 4-ranked Waianae (3-0, 2-0 OIA Blue) covered Moanalua’s fleet receivers well, both when the pass rush was on and off. Well enough for a well-deserved 47-31 win on Friday night.
>> Yuen kept Na Menehune in the game despite being harassed often, taking four sacks (DL Dayne Evangelista, LB Jaylen Gonsalves, LB Brandon Hattori and DE Mauga) and tossing two picks, including a pick-6 by Tony Cabral.
>> As usual, Moanalua had no rushing attack to speak of, putting even more of the onus on Yuen.
>> A completion rate of 65 percent in a four-wide offense makes for a fluid and effective attack; Yuen barely eclipsed the 50-percent completion mark (26 for 51).
>> A passing offense that relies that much on completions needs to average at least 7 yards per attempt to be consistent. Yuen averaged 4.3 per attempt, and even if two drops are discounted, it wouldn’t be a whole lot better.
And yet, Yuen managed to make enough plays on a night when Waianae kept Moanalua’s leading receiver, Ryan Ramones, from taking over. Ramones finished with a nice nine receptions for 91 yards with two TDs, but he was targeted by Yuen a whopping 22 times. TWENTY-TWO. I don’t know if I’ve seen one receiver targeted that much in 26 years of covering prep football. Yes, 9-91-2 is a nice line, but nine catches in 22 targets? That’s a 41-percent rate, and 91 yards in 22 attempts is barely 4 yards per.
Somebody deserves a badge for that coverage on Friday night. Coach Walter Young will always point out the reality, that it takes more than one man’s defensive pass coverage to make a successful mission happen. It takes a pass rush. It takes help from the back side sometimes. It takes different looks. Deception. It takes a village. Waianae’s preparation and balance, as well as good to great coverage, had everything to do with Moanalua’s erratic night at Raymond Torii Field.
But did it really come down to two turnovers?
Look at it like this. In basketball, that runs a lot and creates more possessions (for both teams) could get 60 to 70 possessions per game. Let’s say it’s 70. And if this team averages 70 points per game, that’s a pretty high-scoring team for the high school level. That’s an average of 1.0 points per possession, which is pretty good. When the NBA decided to adopt the 24-second shot clock decades ago, the math came out to roughly 100 possessions per game, and 100 points, the magic number to attract more fans to a then-drab pro sport.
On the prep gridiron, Moanalua has been a dangerous offensive squad for several seasons. Yuen had sparked his offense to six touchdowns in the six quarters he had played during the first two games. (He sat out the first half against Kailua last week.) That’s a solid statistic: a TD per quarter, which basically comes out to 27 points per (full) game in his case.
Moanalua had 10 full possessions and two more than were ended prematurely by the completion of each half. So let’s say Moanalua had 11 possessions tonight and generally averages 11 per game.
So, 27 points per game when Yuen is on the field at 11 possessions per game. Moanalua averages 2.45 points per possession. Yes, there’s no way for an offense to score 2-and-a-half points during any series, even with a 2-point drop-kick field goal (according to the rules of ancient football).
But my point is this: any time Moanalua ends a drive by turning the ball over, that golden opportunity for Yuen and his talented teammates to get the ball past the goal line ends. It is death. A small, little death. It ends the chance to score those 2.45 points. And it gives a team like Waianae an extra life.
Yuen threw two picks tonight, and in 51 pass attempts, that’s actually pretty good. Most coaches would take that except maybe Dick Tomey, who once or twice said that three things happen when you pass the football, and two of them are not good. But even Coach Tomey opened up the offense when more talent arrived (where are you, Raphel Cherry and Walter Murray?).
Back to the math. Yuen’s picks cost his team, on paper, 4.9 points. Is that a big deal in a 16-point loss? Probably not. It’s part of the roulette wheel. Risk is part of the process, of fishing for the big reward.
Waianae? The Seariders came into the game with 61 points scored in two games. Though they still prefer to ground and pound, they’re doing it with efficiency, and as they proved tonight, even without throwing the ball much (Jaren Ulu was 7-for-13), they strike with big plays often. So let’s say Waianae also averages 11 possessions per game. The Seariders came into the game averaging 2.73 points per possession. (Never mind that they did this against the stellar defenses of Kamehameha and Kapolei.)
So the Moanalua interceptions (-4.9 points) gave Waianae two extra possessions, which add up to 5.46 points. That’s a combined points swing of 10.36 points. If Moanalua is turnover-free — yes, Coach Savaii Eselu’s team needed to play a practically perfect game to stay close — then in theory, instead of losing by 16 points, Na Menehune trail by a shade over 5 points down the stretch.
Then, anything would have been possible on a drizzly night on the Leeward Coast. Not that Waianae was about to crumble. They have veteran players. Seasoned. Grizzled. Playing team ball. Even when a fumble by the home team, a kick return fumble by Mauga, to start the second half led to a Moanalua TD, the Seariders never buckled. They barely blinked.
“We had to put pressure back on them, control the line of scrimmage, eat the clock and shorten the game,” Young said.
Numbers, statistics, analytics, whatever numbers fans like, they are simply a reflection. Numbers don’t drive production. Talent, skill and work ethic do. Performance does. Numbers don’t compare to what a good coaching staff and a good team can do when it’s crunch time. No, 35-24 wasn’t quite nail-biting time for Searider fans, but with a QB like Yuen — who is as capable as any passer in the state of eclipsing 400 yards on any given night — it could’ve slipped away.
Of course, it did not, certainly not on a night when Waianae rushed for 314 yards. Sometimes, even with an elite defensive unit, the best defense can be an offense.