Red Raiders, Crusaders to meet in rubber match
Second-ranked Kahuku and top-ranked Saint Louis will face off in the nightcap of Saturday's championship triple-header at Aloha Stadium in the Division I-Open final at 8 p.m. ScoringLive photo illustration
Cal Lee and Makoa Freitas are two men on opposing ends of the coaching spectrum.
The 71-year-old Lee has collected more wins than any other individual in state history over his 25-year prep coaching career. He has led Saint Louis to Prep Bowl victories 15 times and two state championships, including last year's 30-14 win over Kahuku in the inaugural Open Division state final.
The Crusaders (9-0), No. 1 in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Division I Power Rankings, will try to hold their position atop the prep football hierarchy when they meet the second-ranked Red Raiders (11-1) Saturday night.
Kickoff between Saint Louis and Kahuku in the D1-Open final is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Aloha Stadium. The game will be preceded by the D2 championship with Konawaena and Lahainaluna at 2 p.m., and the D1 final featuring Damien and Hilo at 5 p.m.
It will be the third consecutive season that the Crusaders and Red Raiders have met in a championship game, but for Lee — who has a career coaching record of 273 wins against 39 losses — Saturday's showdown is no different than any other game.
"We're just approaching it as a new ball game," Lee said. "New players, not everybody is returning from last year, so it's a different ball game."
Kahuku came away with a 39-14 win when the teams met in the D1 title game (pre-Open Division) in 2015. It did so with a first-year coach in Vavae Tata.
Saturday's rubber match will also feature a first-year coach in Freitas, who ascended from offensive line coach to become the Red Raiders' fourth coach in less than six years.
Lee had complimentary things about the job the 37-year-old Freitas has done thus far this year.
"You can't take anything away from him," Lee said. "It's a great coaching staff and it starts with the head coach. The season that he and his staff and that team have put together, it doesn't happen by chance. They've done a nice job and they've competed. They'd had some tough games, but they just persevere and keep going and never give up. You gotta give them credit for that."
Freitas said he hopes his players will draw from the experience they gained in the previous two meetings.
"The first time we got down 14-0 early, we had to battle back and we did," Freitas recalled. "Last year we got the ball — I believe it was on the 1 — we couldn't punch it in and then they marched on us and scored, so we know there's going to be adversity. We've just got to keep our heads up and play and battle through it."
Over the course of his first season at the helm, Freitas has guided the transformation of the Kahuku offense from its traditional run-between-the-tackles tendencies to more of a balanced attack.
Per game, the Red Raiders average 167.6 rushing yards to 154.1 through the air. This, while still averaging 28 points.
"I know last year they ran the ball and this year they're throwing ball a lot more, and a lot better. So there's a lot more to think about, a lot more to focus in on. Now you've got to worry about the run and the pass because they're throwing the ball a lot, but they can run the ball as well," Lee said.
At the controls is sophomore quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava (1,305 pass yards, 15 total TDs), but he was noticeably hampered in last week's come-from-behind 10-7 state semifinal victory over Waianae by a right foot injury he sustained in a win over Mililani two weeks ago.
Defensively, Kahuku has allowed more than seven points in a game just twice this season. It has held opposing offenses to just under seven points and 130 yards per game.
However, two starters on that side of the ball — cornerback Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu and linebacker Miki Ah You — were also mostly sidelined last week while nursing injuries. Fonoimoana-Vaomu had his left arm in a sling in the second half last week, and Ah You was limited to just a handful of snaps one week after a 15-tackle effort against Mililani.
Freitas said all three are expected to play Saturday.
"Everybody is good to go," Freitas said. "They'll all be playing."
Lee said depth is surely not a concern for the Kahuku defense.
"They've got a lot of good players," Lee said. "Their front seven? Shoot, we got a real big challenge ahead of us. Mentally, you gotta expect that. They didn't get there on a wish. They got there because they deserved it."
The same could be said for the Crusaders' prolific offense, which is averaging over 42 points and 444 yards per game.
Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro has put together an off-the-charts senior season highlighted by 2,717 pass yards with 26 TDs against six interceptions. He boasts a 67.1 completion percentage and leads the team in rushing with 435 yards and 10 more TDs.
"It's definitely a daunting task," Freitas said. "I feel that if you drop everybody back in coverage, their quarterback can run the ball pretty well, and then if you bring pressure, he's a good passer, so we've got to mix it up. It's going to be a big challenge for us."
On defense, Saint Louis has surrendered just under 14 points and 228 yards per game. After giving up 23 first-half points to Mililani last week, the unit pitched a shut out after halftime in the 24-point semifinal win.
Lee said his team will have to play a complete game against the Red Raiders Saturday.
"As a player, you have to understand that you have to come out and compete right off the bat. Not wait until the second half to get going," Lee said. "All I'll tell them is that we have four quarters left in the season."
Saint Louis is seeking its fifth state championship — third under Lee — while Kahuku is trying for its ninth title under its fourth different coach.