Before ‘Iolani and Waipahu square off today in the semifinal round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football Division I State Championships, there will be no living in the past.
Playing at Eddie Hamada Field two months ago, the Raiders (8-2) routed the Marauders 55-14 in week 2, a miserable memory for the visitors. It was hot. Humid. Steamy. Sunny. No wind. Roughly 20 players sat out with academic probation.
But in two months since, each team emerged as the cream of the crop in their respective leagues. Both have become defensive terrors.
At ‘Iolani, it begins with a football lifer named Delbert Tengan, who won a state title as head coach at Saint Louis in 2002. Wind the tape back, and Tengan always made it a point to exercise his right to acquire knowledge, often traveling to coaching clinics. In the years since, Tengan settled in at ‘Iolani as defensive coordinator. With a largely undersized unit, the Raiders often took their lumps, hoping to bend without breaking defensively against Division I competition.
After winning eight D-II titles between 2005 and ’14, the Raiders are finding their niche in D-I. ‘Iolani lost to Mililani for the D-I state title in ’16. This season, the Raiders have taken their innovative creations to a new level.
Only one team, Leilehua, has scored more than 14 points on ‘Iolani. In their last four games, the Raiders have surrendered only 23 points. Between linebackers Kyler Mento and Lanakila Pei, there is a balance of vision and physicality that is contagious.
“They’re kind of interchangeable in their positions. Kyler’s been kind of the vocal leader on defense, especially making sure everyone knows what they’re doing,” ‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said. “Lanakila brings that positive energy to everybody, and everybody feeds off that.”
‘Iolani has stonewallers in Kala Chong and Liam Harbottle in the trenches, but after that, Look said there is no pure lineman.
“Everyone else just fits in place, and they’re all hybrid kind of guys that have bought into Del’s system. They do their job and they do it well together. Del has done a tremendous job of putting in this package. It’s kind of a hybrid package that hopefully plays to our strengths and hides our weaknesses,” Look said.
OIA champion Waipahu (8-4) goes all out with scout-team preparation, but replicating ‘Iolani’s defensive twists isn’t easy.
“They run a very different defense,” Marauders coach Bryson Carvalho said. “It’s not your typical four-man front. It’s a three-man, but they run it almost like a 5-man. Linebackers playing in the gap between the end and the nose. A lot of looping. You have to treat it like a five-man front. Nobody runs it like that.”
The Marauders will be challenged to seal off tacklers in a chaotic sea. Standout running back Alfred Failauga (852 yards, eight TDs) is healthy and productive again, but it was not so easy against ‘Iolani the first time.
“Watching the film, we left a lot of guys unblocked. Alfred was getting hit in the backfield almost every play,” Carvalho recalled.
Four weeks have passed since ‘Iolani last played. The Raiders had two weeks to prep for Waipahu. Look insists there won’t be any looking past the Marauders.
“I think our kids know the Waipahu team that we played early on is a very different and much-improved and better team now,” Look said. “We played them early. They had some of their players out, so they weren’t at full strength. (Our players) have watched them on TV and I think they know for themselves that Waipahu is so much better, so much improved. They’re at full strength now and they’re peaking at the right time. I don’t think our kids are coming into the game overconfident or looking ahead. They know they’re having a tough test ahead.”
Waipahu’s defense has been no pushover, for sure. They allowed just nine total points to Leilehua and Castle in the OIA playoffs, marking the first time the program has won D-II and D-I league titles in consecutive years.
Safety Deacon Kapea is relentless and never seems to tire, even when he has double duty on offense. Kapea (5-10, 200) and Zeondre Benjamin (6-1, 215) have six interceptions apiece.
“We never had the full team until we played Leilehua,” Carvalho noted. “It was amazing to see what they could do when they all played together.”
The turnaround came a week earlier, a 12-6 overtime win at Kailua to close the regular season, soon after a decisive home loss to Moanalua.
“After the loss, they realized maybe coach is right. We’ve got to put things together. We started seeing the change that Kailua week, then Leilehua,” Carvalho said. “We’re peaking at the right time, which is good. I just hope we can ride it to the state championship.”
BEST OF THE REST
DIVISION I SEMIFINAL
Seasonal change is real on the Big Island, where torrential downpours can occur in mere minutes and synthetic leather footballs often are replaced by the rubber kind.
“We’re used to the rain. Our game is on grass. It’ll be muddy,” Vikings coach Kaeo Drummondo said of the terrain at Keaau High School. “We kind of like to throw the ball a bit more this year. It may affect us a little bit, but you just got to deal with it.”
Hilo’s old-school, ground-and-pound offense and bone-crushing defense hasn’t changed. The Vikings (8-1) were unbeaten in Big Island Interscholastic Federation play and permitted just 36 points in seven games. It was tough enough that eventual D-II champion Kamehameha-Hawaii forfeited its final regular-season game against Hilo rather than risk injury.
The physicality is matched by superb IQ. Safety Kahiao Walker has been one of the many consistent leaders defensively.
“He doesn’t get the most attention, but when I put on the tape, he’s always in the right spot, always making plays,” Drummondo said.
Maui (5-5) emerged as the MIL’s D-I representative — the Hawaii High School Athletic Association does not consider a team a league champion unless there are at least three participating teams — after a win over Baldwin.
“Maui is very similar to last year. … If they have a preference, they want to keep the ball on the ground,” Drummondo said of their familiar foe.
DIVISION II SEMIFINAL
The disqualified status of unbeaten St. Francis opened this opportunity for Pac-Five (4-4), a team that has been in every game this season despite its .500 record.
Oahu Interscholastic Association Division II champion Roosevelt (11-1) won’t overlook the Wolfpack. When the teams played on Aug. 11, it took a last-second field goal by Mason Morishige for Roosevelt to pull out a 17-15 victory.
“We’re never going to take anybody cheap. To us, they’re a great team,” Roosevelt coach Kui Kahooilihala said. “They’re well coached. You never know what to expect. Those guys are well balanced with the run and the pass. We’ve got our work cut out for our defense.”
Roosevelt has not allowed more than 18 points in a game all season with the exception of a 20-14 loss to St. Francis that is now in the ledger as a forfeit win. The veer offense that Kahooilihala installed in 2016 has taken root. Sky Ogata has been masterful at the controls with 1,783 total yards and 20 TDs from scrimmage. Mitchell Camacho (689 yards, three TDs) and Mika Kukahiwa (366, five) are also primary ball carriers.
Unlike the Maui-Hilo game down the street at Keaau High School, the surface at KS-Hawaii’s field is synthetic.
“It’s beautiful,” Hilo coach Kaeo Drummondo said.
Kaimuki (9-2) finished second in OIA D-II after a 28-18 loss to Roosevelt two weeks ago. The Bulldogs began the season slinging the ball — Jonah Fa’asoa broke a school record with 435 yards against Kaiser — but with a declining roster, went to a clock-eating elephant attack late in the season. RBs Jonah Stevens and Naomus Asuega-Fualaau have combined for 1,660 yards and 22 TDs on the ground.
KS-Hawaii (6-2) is unbeaten against D-II competition, its only losses coming against Kealakehe and Hilo. The Warriors edged Konawaena 27-22 two weeks ago for the league title.
The Bulldogs will travel commando style, departing Honolulu on Saturday afternoon. They’ve travelled once already, playing Sierra Vista in Las Vegas in early September.
“Although this is a much shorter trip, we’ve gotten a good feel and understanding for our responsibilities,” Kaimuki coach David Tautofi said.
The visitors will have 27 players suited up, four more than they had for the first round of the OIA playoffs. KS-Hawaii has a formidable offense with Kaimialoha Like at QB (907 yards, 14 TDs from scrimmage) and Kilohana Haasenritter (536 yards, five TDs) at RB.
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