Kahuku beats St. Louis for second state football title
"It feels good," said Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai. "I don't feel all of it right now, but I know I will later."
Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser
In a high school football game living up to its enormous hype, Kahuku retained its state championship last night with a pulsating 21-14 victory over St. Louis.
An energized Aloha Stadium crowd of 24,841 watched the Red Raiders (14-0) return to their vaunted running game in knocking off the perennial powerhouse Crusaders (10-1-1) for the second straight year.
"It feels good," Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai said. "I don't feel all of it right now, but I know I will later."
The Red Raiders, who passed for over 2,500 yards and 29 touchdowns in the previous 13 games, went back to their old "Power I" formation to start the game and proceeded to rack up 337 yards rushing on 53 carries. Tailback Mulivai Pula finished with 209 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, and quarterback Inoke Funaki added 114 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries.
"Sometimes, you gotta go with what you know best," Funaki said. "We saw what they were giving and we figured we'd take it straight at them."
Said Livai: "They gave us seven (men) in the box, so we run. If they gave us eight, we would pass."
The strategy worked, but it took a fake punt run of three yards with 1:48 remaining to seal it.
Two electrifying touchdown runs — one by Funaki and the other by Pula — gave Kahuku a 21-7 lead after three quarters. Funaki scored on a 77-yard option keeper three minutes into the half, cutting upfield and speeding past three defenders down the right side.
With 3:11 remaining in the third quarter, Pula took an inside handoff and burst into the secondary, out-running three Crusaders down the right sideline for an 81-yard touchdown sprint.
"Great players make great plays," Livai said. "I wanted them to make more, but they each got one."
St. Louis got the break it was looking for midway through the fourth quarter, when Jonah Lakatani recovered a fumbled punt snap on the Kahuku 1 yard line. Two penalties pushed the Crusaders back to the 10, but quarterback Bobby George connected with Jason Rivers in the corner of the end zone with 7:05 left, and Michael Houar's extra point made it 21-14.
St. Louis' final drive ended on a fourth-and-10 play which came up two yards short on the Kahuku 14 with 4:26 left.
The Red Raiders tried to run the clock out, but faced a fourth-and-2 on its own 34. That's where Ferron Fonoimoana ran three yards on the fake punt for the first down with 1:48 remaining. With St. Louis out of timeouts, Kahuku ran out the clock from there.
"If we make the first down, the game is over," Livai explained. "If we don't make it, then we gotta play defense with a little time left. But that's how much confidence we had in our defense. Our defense did it for us all year long."
The first half alone was a classic.
Kahuku struck first with 9:31 remaining in the second quarter on Pula's 3-yard touchdown run, which capped a 12-play, 91-yard drive. The series gobbled four minutes, 57 seconds off the clock.
The Red Raiders stopped St. Louis on the ensuing possession and managed to move the ball near midfield. But a 39-yard punt with no return was called back because of clipping, and then Kahuku was whistled for a false start. By the time the Red Raiders punted again, they did it from their own 25, and the shanked kick traveled only eight yards. St. Louis thus took over at the Kahuku 33.
The Crusaders advanced to the 14, but were stopped on fourth-and-3 on an incomplete pass broken up in the end zone by Kyle Juliano. George was leveled after releasing the ball, and had to be helped off the field.
Kahuku went three-and-out on its next series, and again was hurt by a short punt, giving St. Louis possession at the Red Raiders' 43. This time the Saints capitalized.
Backup quarterback Chris Sokugawa completed a 9-yard swing pass to Tito Sallas, then found Jason Rivers on a post pattern from 34 yards out for a touchdown. Michael Houar's extra point made it 7-7 with 1:29 left in the half.
Both teams exhibited their explosive offenses in the first quarter, the Red Raiders on the ground and the Crusaders through the air. Kahuku went 59 yards on nine plays on the game's opening drive, but was stopped on fourth-and-6 from the 10.
St. Louis took over and went 78 yards in 13 plays, only to be denied on fourth-and-3 from the 7.
Although both teams moved the ball, Kahuku appeared to establish line superiority. The Red Raiders out-gained the Crusaders 170 yards to 129 and had a big advantage in time of possession, 15:05 to 8:55.
Pula finished the half with 107 yards on 14 carries. But Funaki completed only 1 of 6 passes for nine yards. He missed on his first five attempts. Kahuku had six penalties for 50 yards in the first half.