HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Competition is wide open in state football championships
STORY SUMMARY »
There was a time when just about every prep sport in the islands had a state tournament with the exception of football.
Now, the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships kick off tonight with four games, including three on the neighbor islands. Baldwin, one play away from playing for the Division I state title last year, hosts Farrington in a matchup of finesse and brute strength.
Waianae, specialists of the Wing T, travels to Kealakehe in another pairing of power football against an aerial circus.
Kaimuki, a dark-horse contender in Division II, will face Kamehameha-Hawaii at Kaiser's field. Kaimuki's Justin Paderes is possibly the top running back in the division, but KS-Hawaii's Kolten Wong is one of the Big Island's most prolific runners ever.
The longest game of the night will likely be between Roosevelt and Kauai, a pair of run-and-shoot teams that have a history of offensive fireworks.
Today's first round
» Waianae at Kealakehe, 7 p.m.
» Baldwin vs. Farrington, 7 p.m., War Memorial Stadium
Today's first round
» Kaimuki vs. Hawaii Prep, 7 p.m., Kaiser
» Roosevelt at Kauai, 7 p.m.
FULL STORY »
The heart-breaking loss the Baldwin Bears suffered at the hands of eventual state champion Kahuku is hard to forget. But prior to that defeat, they caused a little heartache of their own.
Football State Championships
Kealakehe vs. Waianae, 7 p.m., BIIF site
Baldwin vs. Farrington, 7 p.m., War Memorial Stadium
Saturday, Nov. 24
Saint Louis vs. Kealakehe/Waianae winner, 4 or 7 p.m., Aloha Stadium
Leilehua vs. Farrington/Baldwin winner, 4 or 7 p.m., Aloha Stadium
Saturday, Nov. 17
» Kaimuki vs. Hawaii Prep, 7 p.m., OIA site
» Kauai vs. Roosevelt, 7 p.m., KIF site
Saturday, Nov. 24
» Lahainaluna vs. Kaimuki/Hawaii Prep winner, 7 p.m., War Memorial Stadium
» Iolani vs. Kauai/Roosevelt winner, TIME TBA, Oahu site.
Baldwin rallied from a 17-9 deficit for a 22-17 state tournament victory over Mililani at War Memorial Stadium, site of tonight's big game with Farrington in the opening round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships. In the other Division I tourney opener, Waianae will fly to Kealakehe.
In the Division II openers, Kamehameha-Hawaii will face Kaimuki and Kauai will entertain Roosevelt. All four games will be played today.
Already gone from the picture are last year's state champions. Division I champ Kahuku was ousted in the Oahu Interscholastic Association playoffs. Defending D-II titlist King Kekaulike moved up to D-I and fell short to Maui Interscholastic League champion Baldwin.
What does it all mean? Without a doubt, this is the most wide-open field in recent memory, with the exception of unbeaten Saint Louis, the top seed in D-I. The Crusaders, along with OIA champion Leilehua, have first-round byes. So do Lahainaluna and Iolani, the top seeds in D-II.
Here's a look at tomorrow's matchups:
Farrington (6-3-2) at Baldwin (8-1), War Memorial Stadium -- The Bears have been vulnerable, but injuries have been a major reason. All-State wide receiver Chase Nakamura has missed most of the season after suffering a leg injury during summer camps. Without Nakamura, Baldwin's offense has been productive, but not explosive against the top teams.
The Bears got a fortunate break to rally past Lahainaluna, 23-20, and barely beat another D-II team, Kamehameha-Maui (14-12). Gun-slinging quarterback Jordan Helle has an amazing chemistry with Nakamura, who is nearing full strength now. The two combined for three touchdowns in the win over Mililani, and another in a near upset of Kahuku.
The Govs, meanwhile, have been tough, physical and smart with a defense that includes returning starters in the entire secondary and linebacker corps. Defensive back Kalei Stevens has been stellar on special teams, as well.
Offensively, Farrington quarterback Alefesio Iu has operated the West Coast offense efficiently. His mammoth offensive line has paved the way for myriad running backs, the latest being Apelu So'oalo, who rushed for 138 yards and three touchdowns in an elimination-game win over Kapolei last week.
"Their O-line looked good and they're really getting off the ball, moving guys back 5 yards," said first-year Bears head coach A.J. Roloos, who watched Farrington seize the OIA's final state berth. "They didn't run the ball against Leilehua (in an OIA semifinal), but 26 (So'oalo) was, wow."
Baldwin is ranked No. 2 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10. Farrington is No. 7.
The skinny: The Govs depend on their O-line to set the tone, and more often than not, it has dominated the line of scrimmage. Without a good running game, Farrington's play-action attack comes to a halt. Baldwin's defense isn't built to stop a power ground attack, but it makes enough stops to give its high-octane offense the ball.
Baldwin's offense is arguably the best in the state when Nakamura is on the field. Farrington has seen the run-and-shoot (Castle, McKinley, Kamehameha), but Baldwin runs it like a machine when it's on.
X factor: Baldwin's youthful offensive line, with four new starters, has been tested this season. "Sean (Tesoro) is taking the lead as captain," Roloos said of his 6-foot-3, 297-pound senior guard. "He helps out the younger kids, especially the kids in their first year up from the JV."
The Bears' line play could give compact running back Chansi Bolosan enough room to groove. That could be a factor for the well-rested Bears against a Farrington team that had just one bye in the past 10 weeks.
Waianae (8-3) at Kealakehe (10-2) -- The Waveriders rode a tsunami of hype in 2005 and '06 after dominating the Big Island Interscholastic Federation. Their unbeaten rolls were halted both years in the state tournament by one of the historical icons of the OIA, Waianae.
This year, all talk of 500- and 600-point seasons seemed to take a back seat under new coach Gary Clark. What the 'Riders now have, after another BIIF title, is perhaps their most balanced offense yet. Kawai Kanuha transferred from Konawaena, following the footsteps of former Wildcats coach Todd Brown, to Kealakehe. Kanuha has a 467-yard passing game to his credit this season, and last week threw for 300 more in a 50-13 rout of Waiakea in the league title game.
Of course, Waianae has seen its share of sharp passing offenses. The Seariders are coming off a 12-3 loss to Leilehua, giving up all 12 points in the second half. Leilehua's green quarterback, Andrew Manley, threw two touchdown passes in the second half, and Kealakehe saw it all on cable TV.
Clark's Waveriders love to throw the ball, which is something Waianae has seen quite a bit in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red West. "The league's changing more to spread-type offenses with Aiea, Leilehua, Mililani, so we're a little used to that," Waianae coach Daniel Matsumoto said.
Unlike Kealakehe, Waianae has been tested by Top-10 teams all season long. The Seariders can also bank on the experience of winning at Kealakehe 21-14 in '05. Waianae won on its home field against the 'Riders last year, 28-14.
Waianae enters the game ranked No. 5 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10. Kealakehe is unranked.
The skinny: Kealakehe would like nothing more than to prove that it truly belongs with the state's D-I powerhouses, but has not played a significant nonconference opponent since Sam Papalii was the coach three years ago. That kind of low-level competition, plus the D-II level of football in the BIIF, doesn't help a program that has some of the state's best pure athletes.
Waianae's Wing-T offense may be somewhat familiar to Kealakehe by now, but there's no real way to simulate it at practice. Same goes for Waianae's speed with B.J. Jelf at quarterback and Ben McQuown at wing.
X factor: Kealakehe running back Keoki Limahai, a former quarterback, is a major threat. Though Jordan Ursua is another threat, Keaau made Limahai a point of focus in two games with the Waveriders this season. The first time, Keaau lost at Kealakehe, 17-13, but won the rematch 27-21.
STAR-BULLETIN / 2007
Kaimuke's Justin Paderes will match yards with another of the area's top running backs, Kamehameha-Hawai's Kolten Wong.
Kamehameha-Hawaii (7-4) vs. Kaimuki (10-1), Kaiser Stadium -- The Bulldogs have one of the biggest, most physical and athletic offensive lines in school history. That fed perfectly into first-year coach Darren Johnson's offensive philosophy -- dominate the trenches, win games. The Bulldogs have not lost since falling to D-I Aiea in nonconference play.
Running back Justin Paderes had a glorious season behind that line, including a 242-yard performance last week against Roosevelt. But Kaimuki isn't the only good running team in D-II.
Warriors senior Kolten Wong ran for 103 yards in last week's BIIF title win over Hawaii Prep. Wong, who is one of the top baseball prospects in the state, had nearly all of his team's offensive yardage. The Warriors, who operate some of the time out of a spread formation, had 116 yards.
The skinny: KS-Hawaii lacks a truly balanced offense, but fickle Big Island weather plays a factor in that. When the Warriors had Mana Silva's prolific passing arm, they still struggled in a loss at Moanalua two years ago. Last season, the Warriors hosted Waipahu and lost, 27-12.
Kaimuki, meanwhile, has the benefit of playing near home. KS-Hawaii coach Ulima Afoa doesn't see travel as a handicap.
"If you give them structure, they'll be fine. A lot of our kids play different sports and travel," Afoa said. "They know it's a business trip. If you plan to go to college and play football, this is how you prepare."
X factor: The Bulldogs lost to Iolani 41-40 in the D-II semifinals last season, the final campaign under then-coach Daniel Mafua. If any team in the bracket has a hunger for more, it would be the 'Dogs.
Roosevelt (6-3-1) at Kauai (7-1) -- The Rough Riders endured some rough patches in recent years, but Les Parilla's perseverance has paid off with a state-tournament trip to the Garden Island. Both teams like the run-and-shoot. Roosevelt quarterback Lowen Kahooilihala has an accurate touch both in the pocket and on rollouts, and running back Ranson Tuitama is explosive in the trenches.
"Tuitama looked good against Waipahu, but he looked quicker, hungrier against Kaimuki," Kauai coach Derek Borrero said.
Kahooilihala's counterpart, Andrew Renaud, is a veteran of the Red Raiders' offensive system. Renaud's top targets include Tyrus Ceria-Lux and John Gebauer, among others. Renaud didn't start late in the season, however. Trent Allianic was at quarterback when the Red Raiders topped Waimea to clinch a fifth KIF title in a row. Kauai had more rushing yardage than passing.
Kauai's defense has a number of key contributors, including defensive back Keala Lovell and Matt Parr.
The Red Raiders went all the way to the state finals last year, losing to King Kekaulike 33-20.
The skinny: The biggest victory for Kauai this fall was staying organized under Borrero, who succeeded Kelii Morgado in the spring. The fallout was intense for Kauai.
"I have a lot of respect for Kelii. It started with us," said Borrero, formerly a JV coach under Morgado. "Now we're keeping this boat afloat. The style of football that Coach Morgado brought changed football on Kauai, and I have no intentions of trying to fix what isn't broken."
Traditionally, the KIF has always played top-quality football dating back to the Neighbor Island Classic series of the 1990s.
X factor: Kauai will be well-rested for this game, while Roosevelt is coming off last week's bruising loss to Kaimuki. The Red Raiders' speedy pass rush could cause problems for Kahooilihala.