Thanksgiving week is a good a time as any to feel grateful, but hospitality is out the door for the state's top football teams tomorrow.
The semifinal rounds of the Division I and II First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships will bring fans one step closer to new champions. Last year's D-I champ, Kahuku, and D-II titlist King Kekaulike didn't make it this far. That means Baldwin and Leilehua will battle for the right to play in the D-I final.
It also means No. 1 Saint Louis could fulfill a dream that was broken last season in more ways than one -- unless Waianae can spoil the Crusaders' feast.
Lahainaluna, the top seed in D-II, is one win away from a spot in the state title game. The Lunas, however, are up against a hot and bothered Kaimuki squad that was not seeded.
Iolani, meanwhile, gets one last game on its home field when Kauai visits.
All four games will kick off tomorrow.
The chase is on, and the sky's the limit for the once-heartbroken Baldwin Bears.
The Bears, if you may recall, were one play away from upsetting Kahuku in the semifinal round of last year's First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships. Instead, an ingenious flea-flicker-lateral-turned-bomb pass play by the Red Raiders ended Baldwin's dream in a 25-22 finish.
Now, it's Baldwin that returns to the semifinals, while defending state champ Kahuku is off the radar. The airborne connection of quarterback Jordan Helle and wide receiver Chase Nakamura has been supplemented by much more: slotback Skyler Cabacungan.
"He carried us the whole season since Chase went down," Baldwin coach A.J. Roloos said. "Now that Chase is back, it's even harder for defenses to key on one person. It was hard for (Farrington) to bracket one guy, and Chansi (Bolosan) was running the ball well."
That Bears matchup against Leilehua is one of two Division I games at Aloha Stadium tomorrow. In the other semifinal, top-seeded Saint Louis will face Waianae.
The D-II semifinals bring Kauai to Iolani, and Kaimuki goes off-island to play Lahainaluna. Here's a look at the matchups:
Division I Semifinals
Leilehua (8-4) vs. Baldwin (9-1), tomorrow, 7 p.m., Aloha Stadium
Nolan Tokuda, Leilehua; A.J. Roloos, Baldwin.
The Bears showed magnificent results after a late-season week off, ousting Farrington 26-14. The Bears aren't the biggest team, but they have speed to burn on both sides of the ball. Helle (17-for-29, 200 yards, three touchdowns) isn't entirely reliant on All-State wide receiver Nakamura. Slotback Cabacungan (5-5, 140) has been a rock all season long, while Nakamura healed up from a knee injury. Bolosan puts the run in Baldwin's run-and-shoot attack.
Leilehua is in the state semifinals for the first time since 2004, when it upset Kahuku. The Mules have a defensive unit, guided by coordinator Mark Kurisu, that relies on playmaker Robert Siavii. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior has the freedom to roam and make stops, interceptions and more for a defense that has allowed double digits in just five of its 12 games.
Two teams with a penchant for aerial fireworks won't refuse early Christmas gifts. Though Leilehua sophomore Andrew Manley has drawn rave reviews for his performance in three wins since being promoted from the JV squad, his success has been dependent on the Mules' running game.
Baldwin won't be entirely different, either, willing to take easy rushing yardage against defenses that sit back in Cover 2 zones. Leilehua, however, will likely mix up its looks.
"They've got good linebackers that fly around to where the quarterback looks," Roloos said. "They've got great linebackers. That's the only thing that scares me about their defense. They'll fly into windows. Their D-linemen, they rotate so many in at a time, they stay fresh."
The experience of Helle and the development of a young offensive line are key.
"Jordan is smart enough where he can read and throw to the right receiver," Roloos added.
Baldwin receivers adjust their routes at the line of scrimmage depending on the defense.
"I think (Leilehua) will blitz more than they've ever blitzed before. Jordan reads and makes use of his slots, kind of like how UH does," Roloos said. "In the first half, I think (Leilehua) will be conservative ... like they were in the OIA championship game.
Speed. Baldwin's creativity fits in well with its personnel. Roloos will occasionally put Cabacungan at quarterback, and if the Mules gamble defensively, the Bears' speed at wideout and slot will become potential game breakers each time. Leilehua's speed merchants -- Rico Newman, Edieson Dumlao and Allan Macam -- will have their opportunities, as well.
Saint Louis (10-0) vs. Waianae (9-3), tomorrow, 4 p.m., Aloha Stadium
Delbert Tengan, Saint Louis; Daniel Matsumoto, Waianae. Matsumoto missed last week's game at Kealakehe due to a detached retina.
Saint Louis won last year's meeting, 10-7, which was also a state semifinal matchup. It was a painful win, as quarterback Micah Mamiya suffered a collarbone injury that knocked him out of the title game, a loss to Kahuku.
This fall, the Crusaders have been resilient, consistent and in some ways perfect. Mamiya is 21-0 in two seasons as starting quarterback, and he continues to elude the most persistent of defenses. Of their 10 victories, only two were decided by a single-digit margin. Kamehameha was close in a 14-7 loss to Saint Louis, while Punahou fell 7-0.
"We went top half today (helmets and shoulder pads only), did some banging," Crusaders coach Delbert Tengan after yesterday's morning practice. "On Monday, I thought our kids had a hop to their step. They finally know who they're going to play, and they're excited."
Waianae, meanwhile, has two losses to Oahu Interscholastic Association champion Leilehua. Though the Seariders lost in the OIA title game two weeks ago to the Mules, they bounced back with a 21-17 win at Kealakehe last week, accumulating 455 yards on the ground.
Saint Louis has won three of the last four meetings, but Waianae's win came just two seasons ago, 30-20, at Torii Field.
Saint Louis doesn't see the Wing T in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu. Waianae doesn't see much of the flex option in the OIA, though Mililani used it some and Leilehua showed more of it in the past. Waianae has played four weeks in a row, and the Crusaders had a bye last weekend. Saint Louis spent it well, studying Waianae's newest wrinkle: the handoff to the "fly" wingback (Toagamalu Brown), who then runs the option with the trailing fullback (Johnathan Abell or Danny Kekoanui).
Could Waianae have more leather-helmet-era, throwback nuances to add for this game? Offensive coordinator Bryant Ginoza has a wealth of knowledge to draw on, and he won't hesitate to do so for special occasions like this.
"I think they'll stick to what they do," Tengan said. "The concern for us is the size of their offensive front and defensive front. They come at you with smashmouth football. I tell you what, they have a Wing-T system, but they're wide open with the reverses, the traps, the fly sweep with the option. If you're not reading your keys, you get hurt on play-action."
Waianae's defense has shown success against option-oriented teams (Mililani, Kapolei), but Mamiya brings an accurate passing touch to a fleet of outstanding receivers. The more Saint Louis moves the chains, the more Waianae's defense will get taxed by fatigue -- something that was apparent in last week's late going against the pass-happy Kealakehe Waveriders.
Saint Louis' anchors on the defensive line, Ryan Eastman and Geordon Hanohano, will be tested by Waianae's behemoths up front. Waianae's success or failure with the basic, vanilla dive play between the tackles could be its best defense against Mamiya's fleet feet.
Penalties. Saint Louis has been fairly good with infractions, but has shown a penchant for yellow flags once it has a comfortable lead. Waianae, though, has a problem with the pens. The flags got Waianae in the second half of the OIA title game, and again in the red zone against Kealakehe.
Division II Semifinals
Kaimuki (11-1) at Lahainaluna (8-1), Saturday, 7 p.m., War Memorial Stadium
Darren Johnson, Kaimuki; Bobby Watson, Lahainaluna.
Lahainaluna is the top seed in D-II and ranked No. 6 in the Star-Bulletin/KITV-4 Top 10 poll. Kaimuki is ranked No. 10.
The OIA White champion Bulldogs shut down Kamehameha-Hawaii's ground game last week in a 22-0 win. KS-Hawaii managed just 15 total yards of offense, and though Lahainaluna is also a run-first unit, the similarities end there. Lake Casco sparks the Lunas' Wing-T attack, which may be as good as it was in 2004, when the MIL title came to West Maui.
Kaimuki's mammoth offensive line, though, is unlike any that the Lunas have faced this season. Justin Paderes ran for 114 yards last week, and the week before had 242 yards in the OIA White championship game against Roosevelt.
Lahainaluna has not played a game for nearly three weeks.
Bulldogs fans have clamored for more respect all season long, but the Lunas can feel their pain. Lahainaluna had the lead and the ball in the final minutes against Baldwin, only to fumble and eventually lose in overtime to the D-I state contenders. Lahainaluna's defense has allowed 20 points or more just once all year. In all, foes average just 7 points per game against the Lunas.
Kaimuki has faced a steady diet of competition, but has not seen a Wing-T offense all fall. The Bulldogs also haven't had a lot of down time, with only one bye in the past seven weeks. Last week's break certainly helps the Lunas.
The Bulldogs love to run off tackle with their mobile linemen and Paderes' excellent vision. Where will the Bulldogs go, however, if the Lunas plug up those holes? Quarterback Kapono Kaiwi-Barrionuebo has a strong, but largely untested cannon of an arm that could prove key tomorrow.
Kauai (8-1) at Iolani (4-6), Saturday, 2 p.m., Eddie Hamada Field
Derek Borrero, Kauai; Wendell Look, Iolani.
The Red Raiders don't amass large quantities of yardage through the air as they did in recent years, but their defense has been a foundation for success. That's the kind of challenge that Iolani is quite used to, thanks to a tough ILH schedule. That's why the win-loss records are misleading in this case. Iolani's early-season performance included a 22-19 loss at Waianae, and a strong effort against Saint Louis (34 points).
The HHSAA caught some flak for seeding Iolani second despite a losing mark and three straight losses to end the ILH season. A win by the Raiders would prove the seeding committee right, but to be fair, the committee had to make a decision at midseason due to travel and hotel considerations.
Though the KIF is as tough as any of the D-II leagues, Kauai hasn't faced a scrambling quarterback like Iolani's Kela Marciel this season. Middle linebacker Darren Satta (5-8, 170) and lineman Chad Koga (6-0, 200) led a Kauai defense that limited Roosevelt to just nine points last week. Defensive coordinator Mike Tresler has his work cut out this time against a foe that runs a no-huddle, wide-open attack.
Marciel's speed complements his ability to throw the deep ball. Most of the time, though, the Raiders will chisel away with short routes by Lionel Fujioka, Reid Furukawa and Ronnie Hirokawa, while running back Justin Yamamoto finds gaps out of the shotgun set.
Kauai's ball control may be the best antidote to Iolani's prolific offense, especially if the sun is scorching in this mid-afternoon game.