Red Raiders, Crusaders set for rematch
The captains of the Kahuku and Saint Louis football teams meet for the coin toss for the 2017 Division I-Open state championship game. Greg Yamamoto | SL
Seize the moment.
That is the message that first-year coach Sterling Carvalho has been imparting on his second-ranked Kahuku football team this week in their preparations for Friday night's highly-anticipated showdown against reigning back-to-back Open Division state champion Saint Louis.
"This is a great opportunity, one that we don't usually have in the regular season," Carvalho said. "To have this opportunity this early in the regular season will help us build off this experience. We're excited for the challenge."
Neither the Red Raiders (3-0 overall, 1-0 OIA), nor the No. 1 Crusaders (2-0, 1-0 ILH) have played a game since Aug. 17 — a span of 21 days by the time the teams face off in Halawa Friday night.
For Kahuku the long layoff has stirred emotions for some, but Carvalho is always reiterating the big picture to his squad.
"I think how the break affected us kind of remains to be seen, but for a lot of our players on our team — especially those returning from last year — they have bad memories. They have revenge on their mind, but we're just trying to keep them grounded, one day at a time, making sure they understand that this is not the peak to our season, but a means to an end, so that regardless of the outcome this will be a great experience for our players," Carvalho said.
Saint Louis coach Cal Lee, the winningest prep coach in state history, said that while the three weeks between games isn't ideal, it comes with its benefits.
"I think it gives you a lot of time to prepare. You'd like to kind of get into the rhythm of things, but it is what it is and you just kinda go with it. You can rest a little bit and get the body back, so that's what you gotta do — make like it's a blessing. There's nothing else you can do, so prepare as much as you can. And it's coming shortly," Lee said.
The Crusaders are coming off a 47-7 rout of Narbonne (Harbor City, Calif.) and look to be firing on all cylinders thus far. Offensively, they average 58 points and 364.5 yards per game. Quarterback Jayden deLaura has thrown for 384 yards and six touchdowns against one interception in limited playing time.
"So far we like what he's doing. He's not perfect, he's still missed some reads and things like that, so it's not 100 percent no mistakes, but he's just gotta keep going and make the corrections as we're going and week by week cut down on the mistakes because when you play good teams can't make mistakes and that's what we're trying to do," Lee said.
While the passing game is averaging 222.5 yards through the air, Saint Louis is also averaging 142 rushing yards per game this season.
"They play fast, they have a lot of speed, but what also makes them scary this year is they're running the ball. Before they were more one-dimensional, now we gotta make sure we account for their running back," Carvalho said.
As much as the Crusaders' offensive proficiency is a concern for Carvalho, the Red Raiders' vaunted pass rush — which has produced 15 sacks this season, 14 of them in their last two games — is at the forefront of preparations for Lee this week.
"Absolutely. They come with five, six people at times and we gotta make sure we get our reads correct and we gotta block. We can't throw the ball without pass protection, so our O-line and our running backs gotta step up and fill the holes and make sure we give Jayden a chance to throw the ball," Lee said.
The Kahuku defense has been limiting opponents to 16.7 points and 224.7 yards per game.
The Crusaders have also been stingy, to say the least, on the defensive side of the ball. They have surrendered only two touchdowns this season; opponents are averaging a mere 105 yards of total offense per game.
"I think they matchup great with us because our strength (on offense) is our offensive line, but if you look at them, Tui (Tuitele) is right there in the middle too, so their strength is their defensive line, so it will be a battle of will and conditioning all the way to the end," Carvalho said.
Kahuku posted 61 points in a season-opening win over Konawaena and is coming off a 49-13 win at Waianae, in which it got 31 points from its defense and special teams. The offense accounted for only 180 yards that night, with 156 of them coming through the air.
The Red Raiders have used both Robbie Sauvao (423 pass yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT) and Thorton Alapa (71 pass yards, TD) at the quarterback position, which has been somewhat of an evolving position in the offense.
"That's still sorting itself out, but it's a good problem to have," Carvalho said. "I think most programs have no choice but to have one quarterback, but at least we have the luxury of having two great athletes that we can use at any given time."
Despite its offensive struggles against the Seariders, Kahuku is averaging 50.3 points and 382.3 yards per game.
Wesley Alo-Maiava (37 carries, 228 yards, 8 TDs) and Toalei Lefau (19 for 132, TD) have seen the bulk of the carries for the Red Raiders, who average better than 200 rushing yards per contest.
"They always concern me because they've always got a great running back. Their running game is what they're noted for, so I think we've got our hands full trying to stop their run," said Lee, whose team has not lost since Sept. 29, 2016, when it fell to Punahou, 33-20.
Two of the wins that make up the 17-game winning streak Saint Louis is on came at the expense of Kahuku in the past two Open Division state finals.
The Crusaders won 30-14 in 2016 and 31-28 in a thriller last year.
"Everybody is excited. It's been exciting for us this week getting ready for them because we're playing a real good football team this week, no question. We expect a great challenge and I hope that we can meet the challenge," Lee said.
Kickoff is scheduled for approximately 7:30 p.m. Friday at Aloha Stadium.
The result will count in the ILH standings for Saint Louis, but will not count in the OIA standings for Kahuku.