Final 4 remain in state football playoffs
POSTED: Thursday, November 27, 2008
Final exam time has arrived.
The bye weeks are done, full-contact drills are so yesterday and there's really no time to cram.
» Kahuku vs. Leilehua, 4 p.m.
» 'Iolani vs. Campbell at Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
With tomorrow's semifinal showdowns in the First Hawaiian Bank State Football Championships, defending champions have their territory to protect, while a multitude of contenders—there is as much parity this season as ever—have their hopes sky high.
Here's a look at the matchups:
At Aloha Stadium Farrington vs. Punahou, 7 p.m.
The Governors and the Buffanblu. The Bamboolas and the Obamas. (No, that 'O' on Punahou's helmets is not an ode to the former Punahou hoopster-turned-president elect.)
Farrington is a runner-up (OIA) and Punahou is a league champion (ILH), but the Govs may turn out to be a bit smoother, at least in the early minutes. They're coming off a solid 30-13 win over Kealakehe, while Punahou has been idle for two weeks.
On paper: Farrington (9-3) is unseeded. Punahou (10-1) is the top seed.
Farrington's punishing offensive line, aka the Bamboolas, simply wore down Kealakehe's tough front seven. Governors rushers amassed 338 yards to open the aerial channels for Dayton Kealoha, who tossed three touchdown passes, including two to dangerous Drake Miller.
"We talk about controlling the line of scrimmage. That's our emphasis every week," Govs coach Randall Okimoto said, noting that all but one of his starting Bamboolas can bench press at least 300 yards.
There are other runners with Apelu So'oalo's acceleration, but none with his eccentric stop-and-go maneuvering at the line of scrimmage. The senior has 1,115 rushing yards (5.6 per carry) and 11 touchdowns, but is also a target in the flats for Kealoha.
Few teams throw the ball as effectively as the Buffanblu. Cayman Shutter, with 23 touchdown strikes and just three interceptions, has battled back from injury twice. He was at his best in the biggest game so far, a win over Saint Louis for the ILH title, passing for 312 yards, four touchdowns and no picks—despite suffering a concussion injury just a week earlier.
"He's been hit a lot, but he's very composed and nothing will faze him," coach Kale Ane said. "We're very fortunate to have someone like that as our trigger guy."
When Manti Te'o (113 tackles) lines up as a tailback, Punahou's offense becomes lethal. The state's most sought-after prospect has power in his 225-pound frame, but brings breakaway speed and great pass-catching skills when he goes in motion to the slot.
Future UCLA Bruins Dalton Hilliard (1,003 yards from scrimmage, 16 total touchdowns) and Robby Toma are elite playmakers, too. Toma has 69 receptions for 1,117 yards and 16 touchdowns, and in their biggest game yet, the senior hauled in season highs of nine receptions for 206 yards and three touchdowns against Saint Louis.
The skinny: Punahou's "zero" defense, a three-man defensive line with myriad blitzing angles, is built to slow a prolific passing attack than a smashmouth run-first unit. Te'o and his comrades have fared a little better against passing teams.
Conversely, Farrington's defense has been sterling against the run. Against pass-happy teams, they've had mixed results. The Govs surrendered 313 passing yards and three scores by air against Leilehua, but also picked off Andrew Manley three times. Two were returned for touchdowns.
Farrington safety James Smith is one of the top athletes in the state, while linebackers Sila Tonga, Isiah Iuta and Justin Vele have made big plays all season.
They have yet to see the pistol offense, though, since a scrimmage at Punahou in early August.
Protection is vital to Punahou. After Shutter was knocked out by Kamehameha, he was barely touched a week later by a stout Saint Louis defense. Farrington defensive end V.J. Fehoko is a fierce pass rusher who will cause damage when unaccounted for.
X factor: Smith's defensive play is nearly matched by his sky-high punts, which may keep Punahou returner Stabren Caires neutralized. So'oalo has kicked seven field goals, but has been erratic of late.
Hilliard may line up at running back, slotback, wide receiver and possibly cornerback. Kimo Makaula, however, could be the difference. At 6-3 and 225 pounds, he is a quick tight end and a huge wideout—a looming mismatch problem.
Leilehua vs. Kahuku, 4 p.m.
When they met in 2006, Kahuku won and went on to take the state title.
On paper: Leilehua (10-2), the third-place team from the OIA, is unseeded. OIA champion Kahuku (10-1) is the No. 2 seed.
They have not met since '06, when Leilehua was geared more toward the run and Kahuku won in the semifinals en route to the state crown.
The emergence of Manley (3,159 passing yards, 28 touchdowns) and his ability to make hot reads pre-snap makes Leilehua an offensive juggernaut.
"It's hard preparing for a quarterback like him," Kahuku coach Reggie Torres said. "We've got to disguise our defenses and find ways to get pressure. He's big and tough to bring down."
Edieson Dumlao (62 receptions, 820 yards, 10 touchdowns), Cheves Aberilla-Ramento (43, 807, 7) and utility man Rico Newman (1,124 yards from scrimmage, 14 touchdowns) are a remarkable threesome of targets who read defenses as often as Manley.
"(In 2006) they ran a 4-3, but they're in a 3-4 now with faster athletes on the field," Leilehua coach Nolan Tokuda said. "You don't know which linebacker is going to come."
Kahuku's depth at running back is unmatched. St. John Lessary III led the Red Raiders with 697 rushing yards (5.4 per attempt). Lessary, Viliami Pasi and Alapeti Magalei combined for 1,332 rushing yards in Kahuku's I formation.
The skinny: Leilehua's fearless defensive unit has improved over 13 games. Kahuku would love to move the chains and grind out long drives—Waianae did it in a midseason upset of the Mules at Hugh Yoshida Stadium.
"If our front four can eat up their front six and free up our 'backers, it can be a good game for us," Tokuda noted.
Kahuku's 3-4 set appears to be the perfect scheme to slow the Mules' run-and-shoot offense.
"My two tackles are 220, 205. We're not big up front, but we've got speed and it goes hand-in-hand against a passing team," Torres said.
Defensive end Kona Schwenke (6-3, 205) is back from injury.
Irwin Ah-Hoy brought more speed to the linebacker corps when he switched from cornerback. Aulola Tonga and Jray Galeai are top-notch defensive backs.
Still, Kahuku hasn't seen a passer like Manley all season.
X factor: Versatility will be a weapon unleashed for both squads. Newman's pinpoint accuracy as a punter is matched by Lessary. But Newman's ability to run and catch makes him a great piece on the chess board for Tokuda.
Tonga and Galeai have seen action at wide receiver, though Tonga had more success as a deep threat.
The kicking game will be crucial. Lessary had a bumpy ride in the OIA title game, but came through with a clutch field goal in the second overtime to beat Farrington. His counterpart, Micah Kunioka, had a high of three field goals in an early-season game.
Campbell vs. 'Iolani, Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
So alike, so different.
Both teams employ run-and-shoot offenses, but that's where similarities end.
On paper: Campbell is seeded fourth; Iolani is the top seed.
First-year Campbell head coach Amosa Amosa is a master technician with the run and shoot and a great teacher as well. Lalo Respicio learned the system well enough to amass 2,463 passing yards in just nine games. More telling, he threw just six picks in 262 attempts and has 28 touchdown passes.
Campbell (11-1) is emboldened by last week's first-round 25-15 win at Konawaena. Running back Brandon Ahuna got the call again and again until he had a season-high 130 rushing yards as Konawaena's defense sat back waiting for the aerial show. Respicio passed for "only" 176 yards and two scores with no interceptions.
"Our goal is to try to get 100 (rushing) yards a game, to keep them honest," Amosa said.
Guards Cory Pa and Layton Gomez cleared the path for Ahuna. "Those guys were really happy, and we were able to rotate our guards to keep them fresh," Amosa added.
Arthur Aiwohi (48 receptions, 800 yards, 6 touchdowns), Daniel Masifilo (36, 618, 11) and Samson Anguay (35, 597, 5) are the most lethal pass-catching trio in Division II.
'Iolani, the defending state champion in D-II, is resourceful and quick. First-year starter Jarrett Arakawa threw for 19 touchdowns and 1,706 yards with just eight picks. Kellen Imada has rushed for 865 yards and 12 touchdowns, and also has 14 receptions for 209 yards and three more scores.
Receivers Brandon Ball (44, 548, 4), Keenan Hoohuli (34, 367, 5) and Trevyn Tulonghari (28, 359, 4) have come into their own. Former quarterback Kela Marciel is a lockdown cornerback now, but also has a team-high six touchdown catches.
The skinny: Konawaena had to pick its poison and 'Iolani may have to do the same. If any coaching staff has the experience and creativity to manufacture a winning game plan, it would be the one headed by Wendell Look. Marciel's move to defense could be a huge payoff.
"If (Campbell) runs, they're getting out of their own game," Marciel said. "They like to air it out and let the guys make plays. I think (Respicio) will test our guys deep. Hopefully, we can get a big rush on him."
X factor: 'Iolani's no-huddle offense won't surprise Campbell, which has the no-huddle in its package, as well. Campbell's defense, sparked by linebacker Isaac Torres, will be tested in more ways than one—endurance being the biggest test of all.
Radford vs. Lahainaluna, War Memorial Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
The one semifinal game without a run-and-shoot offense will be on the Valley Isle.
On paper: The Rams (9-3) are unseeded, while the Lunas (7-2) are seeded second. This will be Radford's second road trip in as many weeks, which is just fine with coach Fred Salanoa.
"I'm Mr. Travel Itinerary man," he said. "I end up doing it because I like all my i's dotted and t's crossed."
Radford may be the most well-balanced team in D-II, with talent at almost every position. They have two quarterbacks who started at least five games, while running backs Tama Fiaseu and James Jennings combined for 556 rushing yards.
The Rams have a multitude of reliable targets for Mosiah Manuma. Shawn Putman-Curry (46, 531, 6), Brad Osborne (35, 381, 8) and Deshawn Robinson (28, 314, 1) are possession receivers, and tight end Andrew Forester has 18 grabs (211 yards).
"I preach that we've got to be cerebral. We don't have that superstar with 4.3 speed," Salanoa said. "They know when to juke or dive forward for that first down."
Lahainaluna quarterback Jake Manning is a second-year starter who is a maestro in the modified wing-T jet attack. He was efficient in every way, with 651 rushing yards in seven MIL games and 11 touchdown passes with just three picks. He also rushed for 347 yards and six scores to rank among the league leaders.
"I compare them to the Campbell of old and, more recently, Kalaheo," Salanoa said. "A lot of misdirection, fire off the ball, quick hole. if you step the wrong way one too many times, somebody's going to slip by you for 40 yards."
The skinny: Farrington has its Bamboolas. Radford has its Ramboolas. The Rams' offensive line didn't skip a beat with a sophomore in the backfield during last week's 17-7 win at Kauai. Phil Hogan rushed for 150 yards (19 carries) in place of Fiaseu and Jennings, who both had injuries.
The Lunas have a proud history on the gridiron, including a win over Mililani in the D-I state tourney a few years back. Veteran coach Bobby Watson and his staff may have more combined years of coaching experience than any other in the state.
Though the wing T was modified years ago to provide a pre-snap jet (fly) motion component for end-around sweeps, the Lunas also line up in the I, offset I and shotgun (four-receiver) sets.
Bottom line? Both teams rely on the run and won't junk the game plan because of an early deficit.
X factor: Radford's defense has studs, like UH-bound Marcus Malepeai, but hasn't seen a lot of wing T. Defensive discipline, or lack thereof, could signal the Rams' success or doom.