HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
State football's final 4 big on defense
Saint Louis faces Waianae and Kahuku plays Baldwin in the state semifinals tomorrow
The game is often about second chances.
A holding call turns a first-down catch into a third and long, which turns into a miraculous pass play. A player on academic probation turns his study habits around and helps his team reach the state tournament.
There were no second chances for the Leilehua Mules, who saw gaffes on special teams cost them dearly in a playoff loss to Mililani. The Trojans went on to lose a heartbreaker against Baldwin in the first round of the state tourney, and the Mules are now watching from the stands.
Leilehua's prolific offense, in some ways, was a litmus test for two of the four remaining teams in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I State Football Championships.
The doubleheader tomorrow at Aloha Stadium will pit Kahuku and Baldwin in a 5 p.m. matchup, and top-seeded Saint Louis against resurgent Waianae in the 8 p.m. battle.
The Division II semifinals, also scheduled tomorrow, are on neighbor islands. Waipahu hits the airport for a second time in as many weeks and will face unbeaten Kauai, while King Kekaulike hosts Iolani on Maui.
Here's a look at this weekend's final four in each division:
Waianae (8-4) vs. No. 1-seeded Saint Louis (10-0), Aloha Stadium
The strength of both teams lies in the old, time-tested ingredient of many champions: defense.
Saint Louis' combination of talent up front and in the secondary is matched by very few teams. Defensive ends Solomona Aigamaua and Scott Smith (6-foot-6) are impossible to ignore, especially by average-sized quarterbacks who struggle to get passes over the line. Linebacker Jacob Barit and his cohorts will see a multitude of traps and pulls by Waianae's thick, mobile linemen. One mistake, and the stampede of elephants will trample any defender.
Leilehua was shut out by two opponents this season: Waianae (20-0) and Saint Louis (24-0). In the Saint Louis loss, way back on Aug. 26, the Mule offense was searching for chemistry and timing, but Mules coach Nolan Tokuda still sees the Crusaders defense as dominant.
"The key to Saint Louis is their defense, and their ends are the best in the state. For Waianae to beat Saint Louis, they have to be able to run and pass. They can't do just one," said Tokuda, whose offense was split evenly between the run and pass this season, but still lost 24-0 to the Crusaders.
Waianae's ability to crush interior defenders and open pathways on the edge with pulling guards has worked against a number of quality defenses. "Saint Louis is very athletic and they'll muck it up inside," Tokuda said.
The Seariders offense was shut out two weeks ago by Kahuku in the Oahu Interscholastic Association title game. Speedy quarterback Ben McQuown had little to no time on Waianae's normally effective pass plays.
"They like the three-step drop or rollout play-action. Saint Louis would eat that up," Tokuda said, mindful of Kahuku's sea of red blitzers on the edges. If Waianae can move the ball well on the ground, McQuown won't see so much heat. Otherwise, the Seariders may have a few new wrinkles.
It won't be easy on Saint Louis' offense, either. While Micah Mamiya has engineered one of the most precise offensive units in the state, Waianae's defense is eager for this challenge.
"They're gonna be in for a big surprise," Seariders middle linebacker Chad Duran promised. "They haven't seen anybody like us."
He isn't exaggerating. Kamehameha's defense was one of the best, and Waianae's could be even better. The Seariders' 3-4 alignment is flexible and built to stop the run, even the flex option run by Mamiya.
"Offensively, Mamiya is the biggest problem. He's an athletic quarterback, but he gave us a hard time," Tokuda said. "I thought the only threat would be his legs, but he beat us with his arm and his head."
Kamehameha limited Mamiya in their two Interscholastic League of Honolulu battles, but he came through with timely plays down the stretch. The Crusaders will be pressed to sustain blocks on Duran and fellow linebacker George Kauwalu.
"To me, he's the defensive player of the year," Tokuda said. "Their linebackers are tough and very active. They run a 3-4 like Jerry Glanville's. The way the run it is great against an option team. Most times it's a 4-1 look with linebackers on the slots."
Coach Delbert Tengan's Crusaders have been patient against resilient defenses all season. They'll have to be patient again because Kauwalu's motor never stops.
"I don't think anyone has a chance to block Kauwalu. Even Kahuku couldn't," Tokuda said. "You put a block on him, he gets off the block."
Converting first downs has been a key for Mamiya and his receivers. A year ago, Mamiya was good on out patterns and wasn't quite as strong on deeper routes. This year, he's aired it out with consistency and authority.
"Saint Louis likes the comeback routes. To me, they own that hitch for first downs," Tokuda said. "No defensive back can cover that."
Waianae's defense has accumulated 25 interceptions this year. Cornerback Preston Ayala accounted for three of those in last week's win over Kealakehe.
"I want to pick Waianae because they're from the West, but if it's down to the wire, it'll come down to special teams," Tokuda said.
Jacob Barit has been one of the most consistent punters in the state, and Kenton Chun has been reliable as any place-kicker. Waianae's punter is Kauwalu, who has good distance on his punts. Guard Willie Duseigneur is reliable on PATs, but the old-school, straight-on kicker hasn't been tested on a pressurized field-goal try yet.
Waianae won't be flustered easily. The Seariders knocked off Saint Louis last year in an early nonconference game, 30-20.
Saint Louis is chasing its first state title since 2002. Waianae, which has not won a state championship, reached the semifinals in 1999, 2000 and '05.
The Seariders won the Prep Bowl in 1973, '77 and '78, all under Larry Ginoza.
No. 6 Baldwin (10-0-1) vs. No. 2 Kahuku (9-2), Aloha Stadium
This is a matchup of contrasting offensive philosophies. The run-and-shoot that has propelled the Bears to MIL prominence in recent years has its roots in former offensive coordinator Pohai Lee, who learned the offense at Saint Louis under Cal and Ron Lee.
Ron Lee was the head coach at Kaiser when the undersized Cougars won the Prep Bowl in 1979. It's not lost on any fan of the old Cougars, or the new-era Bears, that the run-and-shoot is alive and kicking and faces a mammoth foe in Kahuku.
The Red Raiders have redefined smashmouth football. Coach Reggie Torres has unveiled a throwback offense that is resourceful, putting a herd of 300-pound bonecrushers to work in double-tight end, I-formation sets. Lehi Aumua (5-8, 180) gets the most carries, but Junior Mataafa (5-10, 195) has emerged as a breakaway, late-game threat.
Kahuku's defensive-back-turned-quarterback Richard Torres threw the ball three times in a 7-0 win over Waianae two weeks ago. He didn't complete a pass.
Baldwin's Jordan Helle (6-2, 200), meanwhile, will throw at least three times on any possession. The junior slinger has thrown more than 20 touchdowns, including three in last week's amazing comeback victory over Mililani. He finished with 290 yards on 19-for-32 passing and was picked off twice.
Whether he'll have enough time and space to find his favorite targets is another story. Chase Nakamura (6-3, 170) set a single-season Maui Interscholastic League record for touchdown receptions and had all three scoring catches last week. Colten Quinabo (5-11, 180) is a dual threat as a receiver and kick returner. The Bears balance their run-and-shoot attack with running back Chauncey Bolosan, who ran for 77 yards against Mililani.
The Bears won't limit Bolosan to pass protection on non-running plays.
"Chauncey's a threat catching the ball, too. We could leak him out and use five receivers," coach Jimmy Morimoto said. "We know where we wanna hit. We see some vulnerabilities."
Kahuku, meanwhile, is unlike any team Baldwin has seen. Nai Fotu and Kaniela Tuipulotu anchor a front seven that shut out Waianae's powerful running attack. However, the only teams to beat Kahuku this year -- Punahou and McKinley -- operate the run-and-shoot.
Morimoto is by no means a glutton for offensive fireworks. The former defensive coordinator and his staff found a way to shut down Mililani's balanced offense after halftime.
"We're going to try and control line of scrimmage," Morimoto said. His defense is led by linebackers Kyle Kaimiola-Kaaihue (5-10, 187 pounds) and Kaulana Alo-Kaonohi (5-8, 184), and lineman Levi Aki (6-0, 242).
The Bears, like all MIL teams, did not have a nonconference game this season. This is their first trip off-island since last year. Morimoto isn't overly concerned.
"They're poised. We have leaders who are telling them what it's like, the pros and cons of traveling," he said.
Baldwin and Kahuku last met in the state semifinals of 1999. In the eight-year history of the state tournament, this is Baldwin's fourth appearance in the semifinal round.
Kahuku, the defending state champion, is in its first season under former assistant and junior-varsity coach Torres. The Red Raiders have won four state championships since the tourney began in '99. They have failed to reach the finals only twice, in '02 and '04.
Iolani (6-5-1) at King Kekaulike (6-3-1)
Defending D-II champion Iolani could be the exception to the rule when it comes to defenses and championships. The Raiders are undersized and often mismatched on defense, but find ways to win in the clutch. Last week, the Raiders hung on to edge Kaimuki 41-40 in a game decided on a failed 2-point conversion with 31 seconds left.
A multitude of foes have racked up gargantuan numbers -- Kaimuki amassed 515 total yards -- and still lost to the persevering Raiders. Ryan Dung and his receivers have been opportunistic, and Iolani's no-huddle style wears out normally steady defensive units. Dung passed for 290 yards last week, and all four of his touchdowns came in the first half. Justin Yamamoto ran for just 51 yards against Kaimuki, but is ready when his number is called. In his most productive game, he carried the ball 29 times for 182 yards against Pac-Five.
King Kekaulike and first-year coach J.W. Kenton have brought a first-ever state-tournament game to Upcountry Maui. (Last year's MIL D-II champion, neighboring Kamehameha-Maui, played on the road.) Kenton prefers a wide-open offense, but his personnel are geared for a run-first attack. Shannon Kamakaokalani (5-4, 140) has more than 1,000 yards and led the MIL in rushing.
The last time Na Alii saw a run-and-shoot offense, they nearly upset Baldwin.
Waipahu (8-2-2) vs. No. 10 Kauai (8-0), Vidinha Stadium
The Marauders have come a long, long way since last year's one-win struggle. They are the only team in either division that is traveling for a second week in a row. Coach Sean Saturnio's Marauders, who won at Kamehameha-Hawaii 27-12 last week, is close-knit and relishes each postseason game regardless of location and travel.
Keo Palimo'o (5-7, 176) ran for than 118 yards last week to spark Waipahu's spread option attack. The Marauders ran 54 times for 312 yards.
Waipahu's defense stifled Warrior running back Kolten Wong, limiting the junior to 38 yards.
Kauai will offer a different challenge. Andrew Renaud (5-8, 155) has been sometimes spectacular as the trigger man in coach Kelii Morgado's run-and-shoot attack. Pono Matthews (5-6, 140), who was a running quarterback in last year's offense, has been unleashed as a receiver this season and is a bona fide all-state candidate. Morgado was cautious about expectations before the season began, but his team won its fourth KIF championship in a row.
Vidinha Stadium is likely to fill up for this matchup. A crowd in excess of 4,000 is expected.
No neighbor-island team has reached the final of the D-II tournament since it began in '03.