Defenses loaded in state’s championship trilogy
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
Kahuku and Saint Louis at Aloha Stadium for the 2016 HHSAA Open Division State Championship. Tonight, they face off again. No two programs have brought stone-walling defense to the title game over the decades quite like them.
There is no tale of Kahuku’s rise to prominence in recent years simply because the Red Raiders have seemingly never left the mountain top.
Saint Louis? There has been success and dips, not quite like the dynasty under Cal Lee in the late 1980s until he departed in the early aughts. Then the guru most high in Hawaii prep football returned to Kalaepohaku in 2014.
When top-seeded Saint Louis (9-0) and second-seeded Kahuku (11-1) meet today in the Open Division final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships at Aloha Stadium, it will be a collision of two old frenemies, though this is the first football chess match between the head coaches.
Lee, in his 25th season as a head coach, is the winningest football coach in state history (272-39-5). His winning percentage may be untouchable: .869. Makoa Freitas is in his first season as head coach at Kahuku, bringing the knowledge of his years as an NFL lineman.
“Coach Cal has been there a long time,” Freitas said. “He has to be the winningest coach in the state, maybe in the nation. I don’t know anybody else who ran off 15 or 16 Prep Bowl and state championship wins. I don’t think anybody else compares to Coach Cal. We’ll have our best 11 and he’ll have his and we’ll compete. I think we’ll be OK.”
No two programs have brought stone-walling defense to the title game over the decades quite like the Red Raiders and Crusaders. This fall, no team has turned fortunes around with defensive adjustments quite like Saint Louis.
The latest chapter: Mililani’s offense was on fire with a 23-10 lead in the second quarter of the semifinal matchup last weekend. Saint Louis didn’t allow another point, containing a dangerous offense with a swarming defense.
It also gets deep in the clutch category with Kahuku. Sophomore quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava gutted his way through a leg injury to lead the Red Raiders to a 10-7 comeback win over Waianae. In a season of tremendous two-minute drill work by the Kahuku offense, his scramble-drill TD toss to Duke Heffernan in the final minute would be a fitting conclusion to a season of grit for Maiava, who had a shoulder injury earlier in the year, and the Red Raiders. Will Maiava still be at peak level despite injury?
The other question that looms is whether his counterpart, Chevan Cordeiro, can stay off the turf. While passing for 528 yards and five TDs — and rushing for 112 yards and another TD — against Mililani, the senior also took seven sacks.
“Saint Louis is loaded with guys and has superior coaching,” said Mililani coach Rod York, whose team faced both title finalists. “But you can never measure the heart of a champion, and Kahuku has heart. It all depends on how Kahuku plays while banged up.”
With the heavy formation, Kahuku smash-mouthed defenses into oblivion during the 2015 title run. In ’16, that one-dimensional approach netted an 0-for-3 passing performance against Saint Louis in the final, which the Crusaders won 30-14.
This year’s front five, led by heavily recruited Enokk Vimahi, did not allow a sack in the win over Waianae last week. QB Sol-Jay Maiava (1,528 total yards, 15 total TDs) has grown and thrived in this year’s three- and four-wide sets. The sophomore has been brilliant in two-minute-drill situations, even though he is playing with an injury. He had a 54 percent completion rate before the semifinal game against Waianae, and despite being hampered (10-for-37), he still made key plays, including the winning TD pass to Duke Heffernan.
Enoch Nawahine (908 yards, 11 TDs) and Sione Mahe (289, five) lead a deep corps of RBs. Toalei Lefau and J.L. Lavea are also reliable. Two-way threat Wes Alo-Maiava is healthy and has gotten more touches with each week.
Peter John Mataira (24 receptions, 311 yards, two TDs), WR/QB Thorton Alapa (16, 182, one) and Sitaleki Tongi (14, 163) got the most targets this season, but Heffernan (18, 302, four) has emerged as a sneaky playmaker with sure hands.
QB— #6 Sol-Jay Maiava, 6-1, 175, So.
RB— #22 Enoch Nawahine, 6-0, 185, Sr.
WR— #2 Duke Heffernan, 5-9, 152, So.
WR— #19 Thorton Alapa, 5-11, 176, Jr.
WR— #23 Peter John Mataira, 5-7, 145, So.
FB— #44 Toalei Lefau, 5-10, 220, Jr.
OL— #51 Trycen Mau, 6-0, 235, Jr.
OL— #54 Siaosi Lauhingoa, 6-2, 300, Sr.
OL— #71 Inoke Vimahi, 6-5, 270, Jr.
OL— #77 Micah Mariteragi, 6-5, 255, Sr.
OL— #79 Siliva Toelupe, 5-11, 290, Sr.
SAINT LOUIS OFFENSE
The Crusaders have scored 407 points — 45.2 per game — despite the graduation of Tua Tagovailoa. Chevan Cordeiro is arguably one of the finest first-year-starting senior QBs in state history, and possibly the best in that category since Marcus Mariota (2010). With 2,690 passing yards, 437 passing yards and a combined 36 TDs, his efficiency might be even better: a completion rate of 67.3 percent.
Like his predecessor, Cordeiro may control the game by being a maestro, going hurry-up, no-huddle to milk the play clock. His O-line has been depleted by injuries, but veterans Eliki Tanuvasa and Arasi Mose have provided key leadership.
RB Kainalu Tumpap has been a spark plug when called upon. Much of the key first-down converting has been by Cordeiro and his receivers. Defenses have not consistently closed off Jonah Panoke and Mitchell Quinn simultaneously. Panoke (34 receptions, 500 yards, one TD) has a rare combination of size and good hands, and that opened up opportunities for fellow senior Quinn (36 catches, 967 yards, 15 TDs). Quinn’s 307 yards and five TDs against Mililani are state-tourney records.
QB— #12 Chevan Cordeiro, 6-1, 175, Sr.
RB— #33 Dominic Tominiko, 5-9, 230, Sr.
WR— #15 Mitchell Quinn, 5-11, 150, Sr.
WR— #11 Jonah Panoke, 6-0, 183, Sr.
SB— #23 Koali Nishigaya, 5-5, 136, So.
SB— #5 Kainalu Reyes-Hackney, 5-7, 157, Sr.
LT— #65 Justice Mills, 6-0, 277, Jr.
LG— #77 Arasi Mose, 6-4, 344, Jr.
C— #55 Eliki Tanuvasa, 6-1, 287, Sr.
RG— #69 Jonah Kea, 5-9, 230, Jr.
RT— #66 Ben Scott, 6-4, 260, Jr.
The tradition of Kahuku defense goes beyond individual glory, and the results are proof that defense wins championships: eight state crowns.
The Red Raiders permitted just 3.4 yards per rush by Waianae. They have permitted seven points or fewer nine times (including a forfeit win), and three of those were shutouts. The only two teams to post double-digit points were Bingham (17) and Mililani (31). Saint Louis brings a similar quick-strike passing game and a QB in Chevan Cordeiro who is a threat as a big-gain scrambler.
“If we have to spy, we might, but we’ll stick with our game plan,” Kahuku coach Makoa Freitas said.
Safety Lauina Falatea was active against run-heavy Waianae with a team-high nine tackles, but the pass-first Crusaders will keep the Red Raiders covering from sideline to sideline.
Defensive end Samson Reed leads Big Red in the trenches, while the secondary has playmakers like Kaonohi Kaniho.
The sterling crew of LBs, from Fatu Atuaia to Draeton Thompson to Feso Malufau to Nalu Emerson (two picks against Waianae), will be tested by Saint Louis’ four-wide sets. Miki Ah You is in the center of traffic and will spend a lot of energy keeping the slippery Cordeiro contained.
LB— #10 Miki Ah You, 6-1, 200, Jr.
LB— #11 Laga Thompson, 6-3, 225, Sr.
LB/S— #8 Nalu Emerson, 6-1, 185, Jr.
S— #16 Lauina Falatea, 6-0, 190, Sr.
DB— #1 Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu, 5-10, 160, So.
DB— #7 Kaonohi Kaniho, 6-0, 157, So.
DB— #40 Thomas Nihipali, 5-10, 180, Sr.
DE/LB— #17 Feso Malufau, 6-0, 230, Sr.
LB— #42 Fatu Atuaia, 6-0, 225, Sr.
DL— #90 Samson Kapule-Si‘ilata, 6-3, 255, Sr.
DL— #92 Samson Reed, 6-3, 264, Sr.
SAINT LOUIS DEFENSE
CB Kama Moore has been quiet and effective. Mililani coach Rod York calls him the best corner in the state. Lee considers Moore vastly underappreciated.
“Kama is the kind of sleeper nobody knows about unless you play against him. We put him on an island and he does his thing, and he does it well,” Lee said.
Kahuku’s ground attack, mostly from the shotgun, will test the discipline of the front seven. Fa‘atui Tuitele leads the down linemen, while the linebacker corps is deep. Veteran Noa Purcell leads that charge, while Kila Kamakawiwo‘ole has come on strong of late. LBs Mason Taliulu, Isaiah Feary and Jordan Botelho will be on the chase of Kahuku QB Sol-Jay Maiava.
Safeties Isaiah Tufaga and Kai Kaneshiro have been resilient, and one test will be how the secondary handles Maiava’s deft play-action skills.
“Kahuku’s O-line is big, physical and strong. They do a great job of blocking and that’s a big challenge for us,” Lee said. “But that’s what you want. You want the challenge. You want to get better.”
The unit started slowly against Mililani, which had a 23-10 lead in the second quarter. Then the defense, once again, dominated the second half. Kahuku might not be so lenient.
DL— #91 Tui Tuitele, 6-4, 299, Jr.
DL— #49 Michael Malepeai, 6-0, 242, Sr.
DL— #92 Isaiah Filisi, 6-3, 277, Jr.
OLB— #9 Isaiah Feary, 6-2, 209, Sr.
OLB— #8 Isaiah Taliulu, 6-0, 180, Sr.
LB— #40 Noa Purcell, 5-11, 220, Sr.
LB— #10 Kila Kamakawiwo‘ole, 5-10, 208, Jr.
CB— #3 Kai Kaneshiro, 6-0, 162, Sr.
CB— #1 Kama Moore, 6-1, 158, Sr.
SS— #2 Isaiah Tufaga, 6-2, 196, Sr.
FS— #15 Kamo‘i Latu, 5-11, 166, So.
KAHUKU SPECIAL TEAMS
The return game is among the best. Kaonohi Kaniho has breakaway potential every time.
Duke Heffernan, the clutch pass catcher, is a reliable PAT converter. His range is moderate on field-goal tries; his 31-yard FG was the difference against Waianae.
Unlike recent seasons, Kahuku hasn’t boomed kickoffs for touchbacks very often. Sekope Latu was one of three kickers who did that with regularity last season, but his role is primarily on defense now.
P— #31 Sekope Latu, 6-3, 248, Sr.
PK— #2 Duke Heffernan, 5-9, 152, So.
KR— #43 Sione Mahe, 6-0, 178, Sr.
PR— #7 Kaonohi Kaniho, 6-0, 157, So.
LS— #10 Miki Ah You, 6-1, 200, Jr.
HO— #7 Kaonohi Kaniho, 6-0, 157, So.
SAINT LOUIS SPECIAL TEAMS
The Crusaders’ return game has been sound, though not often explosive. Playmaking speedster Mitchell Quinn would be a weapon here, but the risk of losing him to injury might not be worthwhile.
They do have a consistent 3-point man in long-time place-kicker Jacob Tobias, who had field goals of 31 and 36 yards against Mililani. He also has touchback range on kickoffs.
“When he came up, that was a long time ago. He does a great job. He works hard at it. He’s always trying to get better,” Lee said.
P/PK— #37 Matt Watkins, 5-7, 148, Sr.
KR— #16 Roman Wilson, 5-10, 160, So.
KR— #80 Keliam Brunn, 5-9, 182, Sr.
PR— #15 Mitchell Quinn, 5-11, 150, Sr.
LS— #39 Peyton Yanagi, 5-7, 190, Sr.
HO— #2 Isaiah Tufaga, 6-2, 196, Sr.