Conference title on the line when Kahuku travels to face Campbell
Enoch Nawahine and the Red Raiders travel down Route 76 to take on Isaac Sevao and the Sabers Friday night.ScoringLive photo illustration
It's been a while since the Kahuku Red Raiders went down Route 76 for a football game.
Kahuku, ranked second in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Division I Football Power Rankings, will travel to Ewa Beach for the first time in 25 years Friday night to take on No. 7 Campbell to close out the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I-Blue Conference regular season.
To add to the fanfare, the two teams will also be fighting for the conference's title and top seed in the upcoming 12-team playoffs. The league's postseason tournament starts next week, but the top two teams from each conference will enjoy a week off before their next opponent.
The Red Raiders enter the matchup with a 6-1 overall and a 6-0 record in league play and can finish no lower than second in the conference standings.
Campbell on the other hand, has much more to lose. A win for the Sabers (5-2, 5-1) will put them in first place, but a loss will drop them down to third because Waianae (5-3, 5-2) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a 27-14 win over Campbell on Aug. 25.
First-year Kahuku coach Makoa Freitas is expecting nothing less than the best from the Sabers this weekend.
"They're a good team," he said. "It'll be a good environment and it'll be a good test."
While it will be the Red Raiders first trip to Ewa Beach since 1992, at least one North Shore resident knows the way really well: Campbell first-year coach Darren Johnson.
Johnson, a Kahuku alumnus, took over the Sabers in February when the school did not retain nine-year coach Amosa Amosa. Before stepping in at Campbell, Johnson was a head coach at Kailua from 1996 to 2003 and at Kaimuki from 2007 to 2008. He also spent time as an offensive coordinator at his alma mater under former Kahuku coach Reggie Torres.
Like Freitas, Johnson knows his team has its hands full with its upcoming opponent.
"Kahuku comes with an attitude no matter where they go," said Johnson. "They try to determine the outcome before the game.
"The way you look at it, you're playing the defending champions, you're playing a team that is rich in tradition. They come to play. Their kids know how to win and they play hard."
The biggest question heading into the contest is whether or not Kahuku sophomore quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava will play. Maiava, who received an offer from the University of Michigan before he played a down of high school football, injured his non-throwing shoulder in a 51-7 win over Aiea on Sept. 1. Thorton Alapa has played in his stead and has played admirably with a two touchdown performance against Radford last weekend.
While Freitas was non-committal on whether or not Maiava would play, Johnson said his team is prepared no matter who is behind center.
"What we're doing is we're preparing for Kahuku as if everyone of their starters is playing because Alapa plays good football," Johnson said. "He'd be starting on any other football team on the state if it was there."
Regardless of who is at quarterback, the Red Raiders can depend on senior running back Enoch Nawahine (6'0, 185) to carry the load. Nawahine, a transfer from Punahou, has rushed for 570 yards and eight touchdowns on just 69 carries. He is also coming off a four touchdown (one receiving) performance against Radford in where he just had 10 touches from scrimmage.
"He's a big boost for us," Freitas said of Nawahine. "He decided to come back to Kahuku so he can play in front of family. Given the chance, I'm sure he'll want to play collegiately here in Hawaii in front of his family as well."
Stopping the run and controlling the trenches will be key for the Sabers, Johnson said. He also added that the Sabers are trying to emulate the Red Raiders' in caliber of play.
"Kahuku is big and physical. We can't go into the game and get bullied. They come with that attitude and I understand that, and it's not a bad thing. They come with pride. We're building that.
"These Ewa Beach boys, we have a lot of pride. We actually have a good product. I think it's going to be a big game. We know what's at stake and our kids understand our opponent."
Johnson is hoping that defensive tackle Isaac Sevao (5'11, 250) and defensive end Nathaniel Thompson (6'1, 205) can have big games so that middle linebackers Dane Esprecion (5'7, 190) and Chanse Hoopai-Tofili (5'11, 195) can stuff the gaps.
Kickoff between the Red Raiders and Sabers will be 30 minutes following the conclusion of the junior varsity contest.