Kahuku rallies by Mililani for Open title
Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho is dunked by a bucket of water after the Red Raiders defeated Mililani for the OIA Open title. CJ Caraang | SL
HALAWA — Special teams, defense, and offense in that order came together at the right time as No. 4 Kahuku rallied past No. 3 Mililani, 7-3, to win the Oahu Interscholastic Association Open Division title at Hawaiian Financial FCU Field at Aloha Stadium Saturday.
Kahuku (8-3 overall) wins their third-straight game and adds their first Open title in the two-year, three-tiered format to its collection of 27 overall league titles.
"This is a big one for us and knowing we can overcome whatever the regular season had for us and our play in the playoffs," Kaonohi Kaniho said.
"I'm so happy for them for sticking together, no matter what," Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho said. "It's a long season. We had a lot of ups and downs. Bottom line is the kids believed in each other, came together and as a unit in all three phases, we finished the job tonight."
The Trojans won the regular season matchup, 32-0 back on Aug. 16, but to the Red Raiders, it was a distant memory as the team grew week-to-week.
"Our boys are peaking at the right time. A grind-it-out, low scoring game favors us. We were talking about revenge and getting back what we lost the first time. They rose up and finished the job," Carvalho said.
After winning two straight after the Mililani loss, a trip to Utah and a victory over the Timpview Thunderbirds was something the team needed to right their season.
"It feels great. I'm so proud of my boys of how far they came. Looking at this, the turning point was the trip to Utah. We were able to reset, bond, and come out from that game on a high," Carvalho said, referring to the 34-14 non-league win.
Kahuku, who yielded 135 total yards of offense to Mililani in the first contest, held the Trojans to their lowest output of the season (101 yards).
"That was the main goal. To improve, improve, improve. Preparation is the big thing and we prepared well and the coaches set us up for success," Kaniho said.
"In the regular season we played as individuals," Kaniho added. "But came in tonight and like you said we played as a defense, 11-man football and if you your assignment and we'll be good."
Zion Ah You wrecked the Trojans with eight tackles, four for losses, forced and recovered a fumble and broke up a pass. The swarm of red and white jerseys continued as Joseph Taufa, Alan Talanoa, and Kana Fonoimoana-Vaomu each added two tackle for losses, and Kaonohi Kaniho had the game's only interception.
Jasiah Alcover jumpstarted the Mililani offense late in the third quarter going into the fourth with nine rushes for 32 yards to pace the Trojans down to the Kahuku 7. Mililani settled for a field goal and Kaulanaikaleoaukahiokala Navares nailed it from 24 yards out with 5:55 left in the fourth quarter for the game's first points.
The Trojans' lead was short-lived as Kelsyn Tangaro-Kanoa took the ensuing kickoff 93 yards along the Kahuku sideline to the delight of the crowd and team to give the Red Raiders their only points and ultimately made the difference on the scoreboard.
"All I could think, ‘I'm going to the end zone.' My head was pounding on the run and at the end, I'm free and I never knew I would make it," Tangaro-Kanoa said of the go-ahead return. "I got to make this for the team. These boys earned a lot and I had to earn it for them.
"We have a great defense and special teams. Our offense controls the ball and the clock. We knew our special teams was going to score tonight. All week our special team coaches were saying we're going to get one and we got one. It was having these kids believing and they did," Carvalho said.
Kahuku forced Mililani to go three and out and received the ball back with 5:04 remaining in the game. The Trojans' time of possession for that three-play, six yard drive was only 25 seconds.
The Red Raiders turned to Zealand Matagi, who finished with 78 yards on 21 carries, to get them through the final minutes. The Trojans called two timeouts prior to Matagi converting the first down on a six-yard gain. Two plays later the Red Raiders forced Mililani to call its final timeout with 3:39 left.
Matagi burst through with a 21-yard run to the Mililani 40 and added a seven-yard run. He was stopped for no gain and added a yard as Kahuku faced a fourth-and-2. A hard count made the Trojans jump offsides and the Red Raiders eventually took two knees to ice the game.
"It showed the heart of the team. That last drive. We couldn't do anything all game. We had too many turnovers, when the game was on the line, our offense and our running game iced it. It was a statement of how bad the kids wanted it tonight," Carvalho said.
Navares' 35-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright and his 40-yard attempt was wide right in the first half.
Both teams combined for 102 yards of net offense, seven punts, and each team turned it over on downs as the Trojans and Red Raiders were deadlocked at zero going into intermission.
With perfect timing, Kaniho leapt vertically to intercept the pass intended for Mystic-Josiah Sampaga to prevent Mililani from potentially scoring in the third quarter.
"Once I saw number 2 (Sampaga) come out, I knew I watched it on film. I played both routes and got the pick," Kaniho said.
Brendyn Agbayani who passed for two scores for 115 yards in the first meeting at John Kauinana Stadium was held scoreless and threw for 70 yards on 11-of-27 passing in the loss.
Bam Amina led the Trojans with eight tackles, broke up a pass, and forced and recovered a fumble, while Vaisen Viloria had the other two fumble recoveries.
The Red Raiders, Trojans, and Campbell Sabers represent the OIA in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football Open Division State Championships with the semifinals starting on Friday, Nov. 22.
The game started around 9:30 p.m. HST due to the Division I game running late and by the time teams shook hands it was about midnight before it was all said and done.