No. 2 Kahuku hosts No. 4 Mililani in an OIA Open Division showdown
JAY METZGER / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER
Kahuku quarterback Robbie Sauvao has six touchdown passes with two interceptions this season.
The undefeateds are heading for a huge clash on Saturday at Carleton E. Weimer Field in a game that counts for so much in the OIA Open standings. Mililani is relatively healthy and is coming off a 35-0 homecoming victory over Waianae. Kahuku is adjusting to life without one of the state’s top defenders while getting familiar with an old friend and addition to the coaching staff.
Mililani has endured its ups and downs, and is a stronger unit for it.
“We learned a lot from the Punahou game,” Trojans coach Rod York said of a 43-21 loss three weeks ago. “We got greedy and tried to force things. We learned a lot and regrouped. Sometimes, it takes a butt whipping to wake you up from being complacent.”
Mililani bounced back with wins over then-unbeaten Campbell and Waianae.
“Now,” York said, “we have the ultimate test, playing at Kahuku.”
Playing Kahuku is never easy. But playing AT Kahuku? Life for visitors to Weimer Field has not been pleasant. The Red Raiders have 51 wins in a row on campus.
The success of Big Red is nearly unmatched in the islands. So is the spotlight and the drama. The departure of starting quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava during the offseason was a stunner.
Is Robbie Sauvao the starting QB? Or is it Thorton Alapa? The controversy, as first-year head coach Sterling Carvalho termed it, swirls more outside the campus than within. A 30-14 loss to No. 1 Saint Louis three weeks ago provided an opportunity to recharge. It also marked a turning point. Standout linebacker Miki Ah You suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the loss.
“Miki doesn’t usually go down. The injury, it was non-contact. When I saw the replay (on the scoreboard), watching the video at 3 o’clock in the morning, I felt bad,” Carvalho said. “We can’t replace Miki, but we’ll try to carry on with the intensity he always brings. He’s still our captain and a leader on our team whether he’s on or off the field.”
Ah You has already had surgery and is in rehab.
“He addressed the team when the MRI results came in the next day,” Carvalho said. “He said, ‘I’m just one person, one player. The next man up and we still play as a team. We win as a team, all 70 players.’ When he said he would be there to support them, our team rallied around him. It kind of showed in the Kamehameha game.”
Kahuku bounced back with a 24-7 win over Kamehameha and had a bye last week.
Carvalho made a change at the offensive coordinator position, reeling in former defensive coordinator Byron Beatty. Carvalho, as head coach, was not the OC this season, but his fingerprints are all over the current passing-game playbook. Carvalho’s penchant for wide-open formations and a balanced attack — he resumed the trend that Siuaki Livai ushered in years ago — may become a thing of the past (again). Or not.
“It’s not like we’re making a change. We’re making an addition to the current staff,” Carvalho said. “Byron is a knowledgeable, well-organized and detailed coordinator. Back to the days of Siuaki Livai, he was one of the best defensive coordinators in the state. This allows us to continue to get better as coaches, as players and as a program.”
The Livai-era Red Raiders featured a strong-armed slinger, Inoke Funaki. Livai would make consistent visits to chat with then-UH quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison. The then-Kahuku head coach incorporated some of Hawaii’s four-wide concepts, though the team rarely needed to throw the ball often. Livai was preparing Funaki for the postseason, when defenses would stack the box.
Beatty’s experience as a defensive guru doesn’t guarantee that Kahuku will lean more toward a conservative approach. Or maybe the injury to Ah You changes the offensive philosophy.
“The best part is, nobody knows,” Carvalho said. “The game is evolving and we all evolve. If we don’t, that means we aren’t learning. We go to clinics, we pick each other’s brains. There’s no wrong decision. As the head person, anything bad, I’ll take it. Anything good, it’s our players.”
Containing Mililani’s RPO offense will require discipline by Kahuku. Mililani quarterback Dillon Gabriel passed for 362 yards and five TDs against Waianae, passing Tua Tagovailoa and Timmy Chang to become Hawaii’s all-time career passing record holder with more than 8,200 yards.
“To me, Dillon is the best quarterback in the state. He’s a great ballplayer, and they’re always a well-coached team. Coach York always has them fired up,” Carvalho said. “We have to be ready, especially for our homecoming.”
NO. 4 MILILANI TROJANS AT NO. 2 KAHUKU RED RAIDERS
When: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Carlton Weimer Field
TV: Spectrum XCast (Ch. 1017)
All-time series record: Kahuku leads 12-2
First meeting: Kah 41, Mil 6, Sep. 23, 1977
Last meeting: Kah 35, Mil 31, Nov. 4, 2017
Memorable meeting: The Red Raiders claimed their 26th OIA championship on QB Sol-Jay Maiava’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Kaonohi Kaniho with 1:34 remaining for a 35-31 victory last year. Mililani had leads of 14-0 and 21-7 but couldn’t hang on against a Kahuku team which hasn’t lost to an Oahu opponent not named Saint Louis since 2014.
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