Kahuku wary of letdown after emotional OIA championship game

Kahuku’s Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu, bottom, and Miki Ah You upend Mililani’s Kilifi Malepeai in last week's OIA Championship game. STEVEN ERLER / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

The deeper in the season they go, the Kahuku Red Raiders are stretching, growing, expanding into a new creation. The OIA championship win over Mililani was an instant classic, an epic night that forced Big Red to dig deep. A resilient front seven of Mililani challenged Sol-Jay Maiava and his offensive unit to come up with big plays in new ways. One key result: Two-way skills player Kaonohi Kaniho hauled in the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes.

There’s no time to rest. Kahuku is now in a state semifinal against ancient nemesis Waianae. When the teams met in the league opener three months ago, Kahuku won 37-0, one of three losses for Waianae to start the year. Couple that fact with the emotion of the OIA title win, and the Red Raiders are aware of any potential slippage.

“Coming off a big game, we want to avoid a mental letdown,” Red Raiders coach Makoa Freitas said. “Waianae, when they run the ball, it’s kind of an option, so you have to know your assignments, stay in your lanes and be sharp mentally.”

The Seariders eked out a 29-21 overtime win over Campbell to claim third place in the OIA plus a state berth. Rico Rosario, playing on a sore ankle, entered the game in the second half and ran for 66 yards and two TDs. Whatever confidence Waianae gained from a clutch victory, Kahuku can probably match after outlasting Mililani.

“I think it showed other people that our team is mentally tough, and we have players who persevere through adversity,” Freitas said. “I’m glad everyone got to see it.”

Maiava was on crutches after the game, but Freitas expects him to be healthy enough to suit up for Waianae.

“We have some dings, but everybody will be fine,” he said.

Maiava’s post-touchdown celebration in the first half, a dance routine that is now fodder on Twitter with its mirror-image effects and funky techno music, wasn’t exactly what Freitas and his staff had drawn up.

“He plays with a lot of passion and a lot of intensity. He was excited and, you know, we got the penalty,” Freitas said. “He’s a young man and made a big play. I talked to him. It’s unsportsmanlike, so one more and you get disqualified.”

Waianae’s sturdy defense is led by hybrid linebacker/playmaker Kana’i Mauga, a commit to USC. A huge performance by junior defensive tackle Zefften Avilla-Thompson — three sacks — was a key factor last week. The front seven has to face a Kahuku offensive line led by Enokk Vimahi (12 scholarship offers) and a backfield that includes big bruiser Sione Mahe, shifty Enoch Nawahine and a posse of hungry ballcarriers that includes J.L. Lavea and Toalei Lefau.

Maiava had problems hanging on to the ball in the first half against Mililani, but settled in and finished with a career-high 248 passing yards, including the clutch TD toss to Kaniho. The sophomore now has 1,123 passing yards and 10 TD strikes with just three picks in eight games.

The Seariders, who didn’t complete a pass in the win over Campbell, will be tested. Kahuku’s defense, which has permitted just 81 points in 10 games, is led by DE Samson Reed (Virginia commit), DT Sedric Iafeta (offers from Hawaii, Navy) and DL/LB Sekope Latu (offer from BYU). LB Miki Ah You (four offers), LB/S Nalu Emerson (Hawaii offer), LB/RB Lavea and DB/WR Kaniho.

Kahuku wary of letdown after emotional OIA championship game

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