Kahuku silences Kapolei, 54-7

Kahuku freshman QB Sol-Jay Maiava puts a stiff arm on a Kapolei defender on a rush attempt. Jim LeBeau | SL

HALAWA — Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez perfectly summed up what happen to his team Friday night.

"We ran into a freight train tonight, and that freight train was Kahuku," he said.

Kahuku ended Kapolei's season for the third straight year with a 54-7 win in the semifinals of the inaugural Open Division football state tournament at Hawaiian Tel Federal Credit Union at Aloha Stadium.

The Red Raiders (11-1) scored 47 unanswered points after the first quarter to move on to next week's First Hawaiian Bank/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Open Division Football Championship against Saint Louis next Saturday on Nov. 19. It will be a rematch of last year's Division I title game, which Kahuku won, 39-14.

"It was our goal to go back to this game, and now that we're here, it feels so great," said senior defensive back Kekaula Kaniho.

Like in many of its wins, defense set the tone in Kahuku's victory. The Red Raiders recorded three interceptions and scored 37 points off of turnovers as they held the Hurricanes (10-3) to their lowest scoring output of the season.

"We always preach alignment, assignment, execution and finish. Tonight we didn't do any of those things," said Hernandez. "You have to give credit to Kahuku. They're an unbelievable ball club. They played tremendous football from start to finish and they really dominated the game."

The game was interesting for the first 12 minutes of the game as both teams were deadlocked at 7-all after the first quarter.

Then the sleeping giant woke up — and the rest was history.

The Red Raiders made the necessary adjustments needed and were able to shutout the Hurricanes the rest of the way as they cruised to their 24th consecutive win over an in-state opponent.

"We just had to settle down," said second-year Kahuku coach Vavae Tata. "Everyone's adrenaline, the energy (was high). Just settle down and let the dust settle."

Supplying most of the Red Raiders' scoring was senior running backs Elvis Vakapuna and Harmon Brown, who combined for five total touchdowns. Vakapuna rushed for two TDs and scored a third on a 70-yard TD pass from Sol-Jay Maiava, while Brown led with 106 yards rushing and two scoring runs on just 15 carries.

"Our running backs, they see the hole and they take it," said center Vili Fisiiahi. "We tell ourselves: ‘grind, grind, grind, don't stop, don't stop.' If we stop, we get a turnover and that's a loss for us. Our goals it to score every time we get the ball."

The Red Raiders scored first after Toalei Lefau recovered a loose ball that was set up by Kaniho's forced fumble. Kahuku recycled the turnover into a 2-yard TD run by Vakapuna to give itself a 7-0 lead five minutes into the game.

Kapolei responded with a 16-play drive that saw the Hurricanes convert two fourth downs en route to the end zone. Taulia Tagovailoa's 3-yard TD pass to Jaymin Sarono in the left flat knotted the score with 2:36 to play in the first quarter.

Kahuku regained the lead, 10-7, with a 25-yard field goal by Stokes Nihipali-Botelho on the first play of the second quarter.

The Red Raiders forced a punt on Kapolei's next series and reached the end zone on Maiava's long TD pass to Vakapuna down the left sideline. Touchdown runs by Brown and Vakapuna to close out the first half would give Kahuku a 31-7 lead at the break.

Tagovailoa, who did not throw more than one interception in a game all year, threw all three of his picks in the second half. His first interception of the night was tipped up behind the line of scrimmage by Codie Sauvao, and was brought down by nose guard George Lauhingnoa. The turnover set up Brown's 3-yard TD run on the final play of the third quarter.

Kahuku's defense got into the scoring column early in the final period of play when Kaluna Nihipali and Samson Reed forced Tagovailoa into an intentional grounding penalty inside of his end zone, which resulted in a safety to give Kahuku a 40-7 lead.

Backup quarterback Cameron Renaud threw a 9-yard TD pass to Pua Falemalu to give the Red Raiders the necessary score needed to incite the mercy rule with 7:01 left in regulation.

Kaniho returned a Tagovailoa interception 56 yards to the house late in the fourth quarter to cap Kahuku's scoring. It was the fourth consecutive game that Kaniho has recorded a pick-6, his fifth overall.

Tagovailoa finished with 260 yards through the air on 31-for-53 passing. The Hurricanes ran the ball just 11 times in the loss.


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