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Leilehua's defense a secret weapon


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POSTED: Friday, November 06, 2009

They don't like a low-scoring postseason game.

They love it. It's not just Kahuku that's been in its share of defensive duels on the football field.

Try Leilehua, which got past Farrington 9-7 last week in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red Conference semifinals. Go back to last year, when the Mules edged Kahuku in the state-tournament semifinal round 17-10 in overtime.

The two teams meet tonight for the OIA Red championship at Aloha Stadium.

Here's a look at tonight's matchups:

 

No. 1 Kahuku vs. No. 3 Leilehua, Aloha Stadium

Yes, it's been about gritty Mules in the trenches—a shotgun hybrid offense that has been about ball control and Andrew Manley's precision more than ever.

For the Red Raiders, it's not just about Manley and his receivers. It's also about sustaining defensive intensity and focus.

“;We've got to play four quarters. Our defense did a good job (last year) until Leilehua drove and got the 2-point play,”; Kahuku coach Reggie Torres said of the Mules' game-tying drive with 1:37 left in regulation.

Kahuku (10-0) still has a stiff defensive unit, but is probably tougher up the middle with the emergence of interior playmakers Hauoli Jamora and Kona Schwenke. Both have speed and anticipation that rank among the state's best, allowing the Red Raiders to keep their blitz package relatively minimal.

The Mules can counter with myriad looks, including an I-slot set that has created openings and mismatches in years past.

“;We'll use it to get cover-3 shell and throw it,”; Tokuda said. “;We want them to put eight men in the box.”;

They also like their double-tight-end sets, sending out just two receivers at times and relying on Manley's accuracy. Last year, it was 6-foot-4 linebacker Nate Dixon who was a touchdown threat. This time, defensive linemen Chevez Ma'afala (6-2, 210) and Charlie Tuaau (6-4, 290) line up at tight end.

Kahuku imported a number of new looks on offense this year, but the theme remains the same: smashmouth football. The offensive line has been stellar, but the Red Raiders are counting on Shairone Thompson and Blaise Kubota to pick up the slack for Jackson Kaka. Thompson is the best pass catcher of the three—a deep threat—but Kahuku would like Kaka's blocking skills on the field.

“;Jackson's been sick. He's out with pneumonia, so he's not playing (this week),”; Torres said. “;Our tight ends are key for our running game, especially off-tackle. He's our best blocker.”;

Leilehua (7-2) has no plans to get into a shootout. With stellar special teams, the Mules might be content to win the field-position game like they did against Farrington. A defense led by tackles Frazer Taua (6-2, 250) and Tuaau has been rock solid.

“;We're getting our kids to trust the scheme that (assistant) coach Mark (Kurisu) draws up,”; Mules coach Nolan Tokuda said.

Leilehua bent, but rarely broke last week. Farrington running back Harry Tuimaseve racked up 138 rushing yards and Siaosi Feleunga added 85, but it was mostly empty yardage because of a great performance by the Mules punt team.

Torres is concerned about Leilehua's punt blocking, as well.

“;They almost blocked the Farrington punter the first two times, and they pinned them. No game is safe with them,”; he said.

That's why Kahuku spent much more time on special teams this week. If the Red Raiders can play at least even with the Mules, place-kicker/punter Cameron Mercado becomes a lethal weapon. The senior normally booms kickoffs for touchbacks and has range beyond 50 yards on field goals.

 

Aiea vs. Moanalua, Aloha Stadium

When they met three weeks ago, Moanalua (9-1, 9-0 OIA White) won 31-14. Aiea (8-2, 7-2) missed defensive tackle Lawrence Lagafuina, one of the top stoppers in the state, after he injured an ankle at practice that week.

With Lagafuina back, Aiea could slow down Moanalua's potent ground attack and shorten the field for its run-and-shoot offense.

Easier said than done, of course. Moanalua running back Tahje Canyon continues to be a threat as a rusher and receiver. Canyon had 182 rushing yards (11.4 per attempt) against Aiea.

Aiea's offense moved the ball against Moanalua. Freddie Taliulu had 227 passing yards with only one pick, but Moanalua's defense allowed just one touchdown; Aiea's second touchdown came on an interception return late in the game.