HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Waianae, Kealakehe meet again in states
The Seariders won last year and get to host this weekend
They were just seven points apart a year ago.
Waianae opened state-tournament play last season with a 21-14 win at Kealakehe. Since then, the Seariders have continued to ride a successful wave to prominence, including a No. 3 ranking in the Star-Bulletin Top 10.
When the new season began, first-year Kealakehe head coach Cliff Walters had plenty of optimism, a wide-open offense and an expectation to host another state-tourney game.
The Waveriders did their part, running the table in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation. Now 12-0, Kealakehe won't be at home when a rematch with Waianae kicks off tomorrow.
Instead, the teams will battle on Waianae's home turf, Raymond Torii Field. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The other Division I matchup in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships will be on Maui, where Baldwin and Mililani clash tonight.
In Division II opening-round play, Kamehameha-Hawaii hosts Waipahu and Iolani entertains Kaimuki. The Kaimuki-Iolani game will be played on Saturday afternoon.
Here's a look at this weekend's matchups:
No. 8 Kealakehe (12-0) at No. 3 Waianae (7-4)
Kealakehe, which lost home games in the opening round to Leilehua and Waianae the past two seasons, has more to worry about than Friday afternoon flights and crowded West Oahu traffic. Kealakehe will face a Waianae defense that has become exceedingly stingy, rivaling Scrooge proportions.
While eighth-ranked Kealakehe rolled up a whopping 580 points, none of its foes were of Top 10 caliber. Even the Waveriders' Division I rivals in the BIIF struggled against D-II opponents like Honokaa, Kamehameha-Hawaii and Konawaena.
Gabe Tuata, who gave Hawaii a verbal commitment recently, ran for more than 1,600 yards and is one of the top pass-catching running backs in the state. Max Papalii, back from an early-season injury, and Fetu Iongi give Kealakehe more punch from the backfield. The question is, will their power running between the tackles be enough to keep Waianae's relentless defense honest?
It is a classic matchup of finesse vs. power, speed vs. ... well ... speed.
For Kealakehe, which comes from a league that has never won a D-I state-tourney game, this is a formidable, yet precious opportunity to prove doubters wrong. A win on Waianae's turf isn't impossible; Farrington and Punahou did it early in the season.
The front seven of Waianae's defense has no peer, not compared to the BIIF. The Seariders limited Kahuku's smashmouth offense to just 152 yards in last week's 7-0 loss. Linebackers Chad Duran, George Kauwalu and David Paaluhi have been excellent against the run. Kauwalu, in particular, locks in and thwarts shifty running backs like a heat-seeking missile.
The Waianae secondary hasn't been bad either. Led in part by hard-hitting Matthew Ibanez, the Seariders have a remarkable 22 interceptions this season. Some of the state's best passing teams have been stymied by Waianae.
Punahou's Brett Kan threw for 335 yards but was picked off three times. Aiea's Alfredo Higa tallied 313 yards on 30-for-56 passing, but was intercepted five times. In Higa's second try against Waianae, four of his 16 attempts were swiped as Waianae won 46-0 in an OIA playoff game. Standout Leilehua quarterback Bryant Moniz was picked off three times by the Seariders.
Kahuku took away Waianae quarterback Ben McQuown's favorite pass plays last week. The Red Raiders shut down the flats by sending a ton of blitzers into McQuown's usual rollout areas. He managed only one long scramble instead of a handful, which is the norm for the fleet-footed junior.
Whether the smaller Waveriders, who have Iongi as a standout linebacker on defense, can withstand Waianae's mammoth offensive line and force passing situations is another key question.
Walters, a 30-year veteran of coaching in Canada, could use his team's relative anonymity as a weapon. Waianae has been on statewide TV, but Kealakehe has myriad formations and schemes that won't be easy to decipher. If Waverider quarterback Keoki Limahai and his line play well, Kealakehe could make BIIF history.
The recipe to beat Waianae? Kapolei might have it in its kitchen. Hurricane quarterback Mason Koa threw for just 35 yards, but Kapolei had no turnovers and used its option attack to control the clock.
Kauwalu did not play in that game, however.
The Waianae-Kealakehe winner will face top-seeded Saint Louis in the semifinals at Aloha Stadium a week later.
No. 9 Mililani (8-3) vs. No. 6 Baldwin (9-0-1), War Memorial Stadium
The last time Mililani visited the Valley Isle, bad breaks were a part of the story. Aaron Po'oloa, their safety and a defensive leader, was out with a leg injury. Lahainaluna, a senior-laden squad, took a turnover and scored a touchdown just before the half en route to a stunning 41-34 victory.
The Trojans have matured as a program in the two years since. New offensive coordinator Darnell Arceneaux has employed a new passing game that allows receivers and quarterback Rustin Funakoshi to make reads before the snap. The Trojans also faced some inner struggles after losing their first two OIA Red West games.
"We're here where we're at because of the early-season losses," coach James Millwood said. "I think it's putting together character and perseverance."
The Trojans caught fire and reached the OIA semifinals, where they lost to Waianae. A 23-21 win over arch rival Leilehua on Saturday secured the final state berth. Now they get a return trip to Maui.
"Baldwin reminds me of those old Saint Louis teams," Millwood said of the Bears' run-and-shoot offense.
Jordan Helle's top targets, Chase Nakamura and Kolten Quinabo, may be the best receiver corps in the state. Nakamura set a single-season MIL record for touchdown catches. Quinabo, like Nakamura, is a 6-footer. He is lightning quick and doubles as Baldwin's return man. Kai Maiava is both the most targeted and the most talented of Baldwin's offensive linemen. The brother of USC linebacker Kaluka Maiava, Kai is one of the MIL's top college prospects.
Baldwin's unbeaten mark belies the fact that they had no nonconference games. While Lahainaluna gave Baldwin the usual tough competition, the Bears struggled to get past King Kekaulike (28-25) and had a 14-all tie with Kamehameha-Maui in the second round.
The Bear defense has seen plenty of run-first offenses in the MIL, but Mililani's offensive line is outstanding. It paved the way for Jordan Torres, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns. Isaiah Lawelawe has developed into a complementary platoon back, a bigger, but still fast ballcarrier to spell Torres, who has played well as a defensive back.
The Baldwin-Mililani winner will face Kahuku in the semifinals.
Waipahu (7-2-2) at Kamehameha-Hawaii (9-2)
The Division II championships should prove interesting. Generally comprised of smaller schools and rosters, the field in recent years has showcased a healthy number of current college players. Kamehameha-Hawaii, which repeated as BIIF champion, sent Ian Dulan to BYU. He is a starter on the defensive line despite being a true freshman.
Former KS-Hawaii quarterback Mana Silva is redshirting at Oregon State. Kolten Wong's best sport may be baseball, but he has been the most prolific running back in the BIIF since returning from an early-season mainland trip.
This year's Warriors aren't bad, either. Kalani Aldrich, their highly recruited lineman, may be the best in the league. He visited Oregon last month, and trips to Washington, Utah, Tennessee and Oklahoma are in the works. He also has scholarship offers from Hawaii, New Mexico State, Oklahoma and UNLV.
The 6-foot-6, two-sport athlete has not made a verbal commitment to any school. Athletic director Bob Wagner is also optimistic about Aldrich.
"In a 4-3, he can play defensive end. In a 3-4, he can be a tackle," the former University of Hawaii coach said. "He's up to 250, 255 now and getting stronger. His best years are ahead of him."
Reece Alnas has been a force as a wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner. Coach Ulima Afoa considers Alnas a Division I prospect. Alnas has made his mark in basketball and baseball, but his play on the gridiron has also been stellar.
"Most of your best athletes play basketball," said Afoa, who was an assistant coach at San Diego State.
Waipahu (7-2-2), a 22-6 winner over Kaimuki in Friday's OIA White title game, has seen plenty of KS-Hawaii on tape. The Marauders will face the prospect of traveling off-island for the first time this year. Keo Palimo'o and fullback Jesse Doctolero are part of Waipahu's posse of ballcarriers in the spread option. Gil Fernandez was turnover-free in the win over Kaimuki.
Waipahu's stellar defense limited Kaimuki to 107 total yards.
The KS-Hawaii/Waipahu winner will visit unbeaten Kauai, the top seed in the tourney, next week at Vidinha Stadium in Lihue.
Kaimuki (6-4-1) at Iolani (5-5-1)
The 2:30 p.m. Saturday kickoff at Eddie Hamada Field shouldn't affect the Bulldogs, whose campus is a stone's throw away.
Kaimuki has little time to lament the loss to Waipahu. The Raiders are on an upswing after a 33-19 win over Damien to claim the ILH crown. Iolani, the defending D-II state champion, is seeded third in the state tournament.
"I saw them play (against Damien), and they're tough. They're going full throttle," Kaimuki coach Daniel Mafua said. "Their team speed is similar to Mililani. Their kids are very disciplined."
The Raiders use a no-huddle run-and-shoot offense to take advantage of smaller, but speedy receivers. Ryan Dung had some big games this season (254 yards, three touchdowns against Damien early in the season), but he doesn't carry the whole load. Justin Yamamoto ran for 119 yards last week.
Iolani coach Wendell Look is optimistic.
"They picked a good time to play a full game," he said of the Raiders' win over Damien. "If you wanna call it that, we're peaking."
I-slot sets work to the Bulldogs' advantage more often than not. Chase Nanod and Joshwa Salvador are sturdy runners, while quarterback Stephen Harris has been savvy.
"Kaimuki is a little bit like Pac-Five in size, how they run their schemes. They've got some good athletes," Look said.
The winner will advance to the semifinals, where MIL titlist King Kekaulike awaits after drawing a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed.
Moanalua 2-way player Eselu picks Oregon
Staying home would have been nice, but Savaii Eselu's dream is to be a tight end.
The versatile Moanalua senior gave an oral commitment yesterday to play football at Oregon. Eselu, whose GPA reportedly is 3.9, also received offers from Arizona, BYU, California, Colorado, Stanford, Utah and UNLV, among others.
Eselu played defensive end and wide receiver for Na Menehune. He also played basketball but will focus on football training this winter and spring.
Initially, Hawaii was interested in Eselu, but he expressed an interest in going away for college. UH does not incorporate a tight end in its run-and-shoot alignments.
Eselu, 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, visited Oregon two weekends ago. He returned from a trip to Colorado this past weekend.
"After I came back, my family and Coach (Arnold Martinez) talked," he said. "My heart's always been with Oregon since I was little, so I knew."
Committing early -- letter-of-intent signing day is in February -- helps everyone in the picture.
"This will save the coaches their time and their money. They can recruit someone else," Eselu said.
Of the 10 schools that offered scholarships, only BYU wanted him as a defensive lineman. The rest pegged him as a tight end, including Cal, which pencilled him in for both sides of the ball.
» Moanalua quarterback Jordan Monico has begun to draw attention. Colorado is taking an interest in the 6-1, 200-pound athlete. Monico, projected as a possible safety in college, ran for 901 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games for Moanalua. He amassed 157.4 yards per game in total offense.
Paul Honda, Star-Bulletin