No. 2 Red Raiders, No. 3 Trojans to tussle for OIA D1 crown
Sol-Jay Maiava and the Kahuku Red Raiders will face off with Jalen Tuivaiave-Olomua and the Mililani Trojans with the OIA Division I title on the line Saturday night. ScoringLive photo illustration
The Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I title has belonged exclusively to two schools — Kahuku and Mililani — over the last nine seasons.
That will hold true for at least one more year as the powerhouses will face off at Aloha Stadium Saturday night in the culmination of the 12-team league tournament.
Kickoff between Red Raiders (9-1) and Trojans (10-0), ranked second and third, respectively, in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric D1 Power Rankings, is scheduled for 25 minutes after the completion of the third-place game between No. 6 Waianae and No. 7 Campbell, which gets underway at 4 p.m.
Both teams in the title game have punched their ticket to the four-team First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA D1-Open State Tournament, but the path to the Nov. 18 championship will be a much easier one for the winner, who will draw the winner of Waianae-Campbell in a semifinal bout next Friday. The loser will have to go through defending Open champion Saint Louis, winner of the last three Interscholastic League of Honolulu titles and the consensus top-ranked team in the state.
While the Trojans are seeking their fourth league crown — all three previous titles have come since 2010 — under eighth-year coach Rod York, the Red Raiders are trying for their league-record 26th OIA championship under a first-year coach in Makoa Freitas.
Freitas, a former all-state offensive lineman at Kamehameha, went on to play collegiately at the University of Arizona before being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He ascended to top job in the Red Raiders' storied program — arguably the toughest job in all of prep sports in Hawaii — after serving as an assistant to former coach Vavae Tata the last two seasons, both of which resulted in OIA championships.
The former offensive line coach has a no-nonsense approach to the job, which has transferred over to his players.
"We've discovered our identity," Freitas said. "We continue to improve, we've had guys step up and they've progressed and developed into pretty good players."
This year's Kahuku team is most notably different in one regard: its ability to pass the football.
The Red Raiders have developed a respectable passing game led by second-year starting quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore has thrown for 902 yards with eight touchdowns against three interceptions this season, an average of 129 yards per game.
Maiava's production doesn't end there. On a team with no shortage of capable ball carries, he ranks third with 170 rushing yards and three TDs. Maiava's ability to extend plays with his legs played a pivotal part in a 35-7 quarterfinal win over Kapolei and a 42-7 semifinal victory over Campbell.
"Everything goes through the quarterback," York said. "He's a much better thrower now and he's always dangerous because he can run with the ball."
York said Maiava's speed is deceptive.
"I compare him to (former Mililani quarterback) McKenzie Milton. You don't think he's that fast until he's blazing past the other guys and you can't catch him," York said. "Kenzie wasn't that fast in the (40-yard dash), but in the game nobody could catch him, and that's kind of like Sol-Jay."
The Red Raiders are averaging 34 points and 317 yards per game offensively, including 144 passing yards. The running game is hardly an afterthought, however. Senior Enoch Nawahine, a transfer from Punahou, has shouldered most of the load with 839 yards and 11 TDs on 110 attempts this season — an average of 7.6 yards per carry.
They'll line up against a Mililani defense allowing 11 points and 155 yards per game.
"Defensively they're aggressive, they play smart defense and they're disciplined," said Freitas, who noted Trojans' senior linebacker/running back Jalen Tuivaiave-Olomua as a difference-maker for the unit.
"What jumps out at me are their linebackers. Olomua plays both ways and he's tough on both sides of the ball."
Olomua, a three-year starter at linebacker, saw his workload on offense increase in a 42-6 win over Waianae in the semifinals two weeks ago. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior rushed for a season-high 67 yards and three touchdowns against the Seariders, despite just seven carries.
But the maestro of Mililani's high-powered offense is junior quarterback Dillon Gabriel. The 6-foot, 180-pound southpaw has thrown for a D1-best 2,290 yards with 24 TDs against six INTs and has completed 64.8 percent of his passes this season.
"They're explosive, high-scoring, they score fast and they also have those big backs that can weigh you down, too, so they bring a good, balanced attack," Freitas said.
The Trojans are averaging nearly 42 points and 450 yards of total offense per game, including 306 yards through the air.
Kahuku's defense, however, will pose a tough task, to say the least. Opponents are averaging just five points and fewer than 100 yards per game. It held Kapolei to 154 yards of total offense and Campbell to a mere 73.
Against the Hurricanes three different Red Raiders recorded an interception, while eight different players combined for 11 sacks against the Sabers.
"I think the Kahuku defense is the best it's ever been, and the only weakness is that they're young, but they don't play young," York said. "They just attack from all levels and they're athletic, so it's hard to get away from the rush."
York noted that despite the graduation of all four starting defensive backs from a season ago — all of whom earned first or second team All-Hawaii honors in 2016 — there has been little to no drop off.
"I think the most impressive thing about the defense — and you notice it on the film — is that they tackle well. All eleven tackle well, especially the DBs," York said. "You hardly see people breaking tackles. Their eyes are on-point and they just swarm to the ball. You can tell they're well coached."
Both coaches are hoping midseason trips to the mainland will pay dividends this time of year.
Mililani came away with a 49-30 win over Clayton Valley Charter (Concord, Calif.) back on Sept. 1. It was the most points allowed all season by the Ugly Eagles, who have won seven straight games since an 0-2 start.
"Clayton Valley was a wildcat, run-first team, and they play about ten linemen and about four running backs, so it's just relentless running and I think that's helped us get ready for all the run teams and hopefully that helps us out when we play Kahuku."
Kahuku's lone loss this season came on Sept. 9 in a 17-0 loss to Bingham (South Jordan, Utah) at Las Vegas' Sam Boyd Stadium. Maiava did not play in the game due to a shoulder injury.
Freitas hangs his hat on his team's defensive performance against the Miners, who are 11-0 and ranked 10th nationally by MaxPreps.
"Our defense held them to their lowest point total this season, so it was a good test for us because they're a good defense and our defense has been tested already against a good offense," Freitas said. "We know what to do, we've been in tough situations before and hopefully we can use those lessons and that experience if we are in a tight game."
Saturday will mark the fifth meeting between Mililani and Kahuku in an OIA championship game officially.
The Red Raiders won in 2004 (36-13), 2012 (50-13) and 2015 (20-7), while the Trojans won in 2014 (20-7).
The teams were slated to meet in the 2010 final, but Kahuku forfeited the morning of the title game due to the use of an ineligible player and no game was played.
Mililani will play without starting defensive lineman Tasi Malepeai, who was ejected for throwing a punch in the second half against Waianae two weeks ago. York said he filed an appeal with the OIA office, but it was denied. Malepeasi will be eligible for the state tournament.