Kahuku's dynamic D finishes a win short

Kahuku’s Kesi Ah-Hoy (26), left, offensive lineman Vili Fisiiahi (55), defensive back Kekaula Kaniho (1), and defensive lineman Aliki Vimahi (91) prepared for the State Championship game against Saint Louis. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser

Kahuku went 24-2 overall in the past two seasons, thanks in large part to a suffocating defense led by its secondary.

Starting cornerbacks Kekaula Kaniho and Stokes Nihipali-Bothelho, both seniors, ended their high school careers with a 30-14 loss to Saint Louis in the HHSAA Open division championship game.

Though it’s not the way either wanted to end their prep careers, both took it in stride.

“They earned that win. Any team can win on any given night and they won tonight,” Kaniho said. “They were really good. We just didn’t come out and execute.”

Both lifted the Red Raiders with their big-play ability on defense and special teams over the past two seasons.

Each also made their own bid for state defensive player of the year.

Nihipali-Bothelo picked off Saint Louis quarterback Tua Tagovailoa twice in last year’s state title game, a 39-14 victory for Kahuku. He carried that momentum over to this season, where he scored on defense and special teams eight times. Additionally, he emerged as a steady and reliable kicker, handling placekicking and kickoff duties for the Red Raiders.

“It was a good season,” Nihipali-Bothelho said. “Having only two losses in two years is unbelievable.”

Kaniho’s stellar season was highlighted by a hot streak in the postseason in which he recorded a pick-6 in four consecutive weeks against Leilehua, Waianae, Farrington and Kapolei, respectively.

He played his first two seasons of high school ball at Kamehameha and holds scholarship offers from Army, Boise State, Colorado, Hawaii, UNLV, San Diego State, Vanderbilt and Washington State.

“It’s been a great ride with the guys,” Kaniho said. “All the memories we made here will carry on forever and friends for life, you know? That’s the thing to take away from this.”

Nihipali-Bothelho currently holds no offers but has a plan in place.

“Just gotta keep working and get ready for the next level and do what I do,” he said. “Somewhere on the West Coast. I have to get off this island. I love home, it will always be with me, but yeah.”