Defense propels Kahuku into title game
Kahuku's Keala Santiago added two more interceptions to his season total, including one returned 32 yards for a score, in a win over Waianae. Steve Erler | Special to SL
HALAWA— When the offense struggled to move the ball, Kahuku's defense played a big role in stuffing Waianae in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I Football State Championships at Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium.
The Red Raiders (12-0 overall) shut out the Seariders for the second time this season. The first time these two teams met on Oct. 3, Kahuku held Waianae to 48 yards of net offense. Friday, the Red Raiders held them to 76 yards of net offense.
Kahuku keyed in on stopping the run and limited Waianae to 55 rushing yards and the longest run the Red Raiders gave up was 22 yards.
"Our goal is to stop the run and it starts in practice. The coaches hounded us on assignments and playing mistake free. We are one team and we bring each other up and do all we can to win this game," said senior Keala Santiago.
"They're tough and they are by far the hardest running team we faced all season. There is something different with Waianae's run game," added senior Pesa Lefau, Jr., who had 10 tackles.
The Red Raiders registered eight tackle for losses for the game. Aaron Tapusoa and Lefau had two each. Lono Kanongataa had the lone sack for the game. Bradlee Anae had five tackles and four quarterback hurries.
Santiago had two of Kahuku's three interceptions. One he took to the house for a 32-yard score 49 seconds into the third quarter. Kaula Kaniho added another interception and two pass break-ups and Hirkley Latu had two pass break-ups.
"We always make plays, we were coming off our mistakes because that team is good and they were making plays. Each team is going to make plays, but it matters when it happens in the game," said Lefau.
"I was dropping back and reading the quarterback and he opened up. We stuck to our assignments and prevent those big plays from happening," said Santiago, who has seven interceptions on the season.
Last year, the Red Raiders fell in the semifinals, but this year they return to the title game for the first time since 2012.
"It's going to be emotional and we are looking forward to it," said Santiago.
"It feels great and awesome, but we have a lot to work on and we still have to face one of these two teams," said Lefau.