Kahuku no longer run-dimensional

FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARADVERTISER.COM Kahuku, armed with quarterback Evan Moe, a usually strong running game and an unusually strong passing game, is the team to beat.

Every year, count on Kahuku to produce its share of Division I-level prospects.

Defensive linemen Kona Schwenke (Notre Dame) and Hauoli Jamora (Washington) led the way last season. Hawaii sophomores Aulola Tonga and Paipai Falemalu were focal points of Kahuku’s defense in 2008. Defensive end Nai Fotu (Utah), linebacker B.J. Beatty (Colorado) and defensive backs Suaesi Tuimaunei (Oregon State) and Richard Torres (Hawaii) are all making impacts on their respective teams.

Notice a connection? All of them are on the defensive side of the ball.

It’s no secret Kahuku’s bread and butter is a stingy defense and a punishing rushing attack.

This season might finally be the year Kahuku breaks out in the one area it has been most vulnerable.

Senior quarterback Evan Moe and receivers Punga Vea and Shairone Thompson are the men behind a passing game that could separate this year’s squad from those before it.

The two receivers combined for 222 receiving yards in a 27-7 win over Waianae on Saturday to start the season.

As a result, the team with the most (seven) appearances in 11 Division I state championship games checks in as the No. 1 team in the Star-Advertiser’s Preseason Top 10.

Mid-August is usually when Kahuku is trying to come up with some type of semblance of an air attack.

This year, the passing game was already in full form against a Waianae team that had no answer for Vea and Thompson.

"Coach (Walter) Santiago and the entire offensive staff has done a great job implementing a good passing scheme," Kahuku coach Reggie Torres said after Saturday’s win. "Preseason allowed us to try some things and it shows that we’re confident now that we can throw the ball to get that first down."

At 6-foot-5, Thompson is the big guy in the middle of the field that Moe will have no trouble finding. The faster Vea is a guy that can stretch the defense and get behind opposing secondaries for big plays.

"I think we can do a lot of (different) things," Vea said about the offense.

On paper: As easy as it is to get excited about its passing game, Kahuku is still going to pound the ball down opponents’ throats.

An offensive line is filled with talent, highlighted by seniors Jamal Napeahi (6-1, 283) and Steven Siilata (6-0, 265).

Sophomore tailback-Aofaga Wily (6-0, 185) got the most carries in Kahuku’s first game, but expect senior Tyrone Brown (5-11, 195) to be the Red Raiders’ big-play guy in the backfield. On short-yardage situations, fullback Fonoivasa Mataafa (5-9, 212) will be tough for anyone to bring down.

Defensively, it won’t be easy replacing talented ends Schwenke and Jamora, but senior Dallin Muti (6-0, 256) will play a big role in plugging up the middle. Senior linebacker Ben Mamea (6-0, 217) is the top returning defensive starter, anchoring a linebacker corps Torres was most proud of after Saturday’s win.

Junior Benetton Fonua (6-1, 203) and Tolovae Tito (5-11, 226) are two guys that made good first impressions.

In the secondary, senior safety Tigi Hill (6-3, 215) could be this year’s breakout star by the end of the season. Hill has the speed to cover the field and the strength to come up to the line of scrimmage and put big hits on opposing running backs.

The skinny: Picking a preseason top 10 isn’t easy, but the Red Raiders made a strong case with the way they played against Waianae. The offense played well in every phase and the defense completely shut down talented quarterback Puletua Wilson.

Junior Josh Sorensen missed a short field goal, but showed a strong leg on kickoffs and extra points that might make the loss of Cameron Mercado a bit easier to handle.

Kahuku will need to find a pair of bookends on the defensive line to get after the quarterback, but finding linemen that can play usually isn’t a problem for the Red Raiders.

X factor: Moe. The 6-foot, 210-pound quarterback has an offensive line that can run and pass block, a trio of running backs that are all talented, and multiple receivers that are big-play threats.

Everything is there for the Red Raiders to put up one of their best offensive seasons to date. How Moe executes in crunch time could be the difference for a Kahuku team searching for its sixth state championship since 2000.


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