Castle, Kahuku Hopes Hanging On Weekend Football Playoffs

Every game seemed like a playoff game this season for teams in the OIA Red and Blue conferences, given the balance throughout the league. Now the “second season” starts for real as OIA Division I playoffs begin this weekend. (Matchups for first-round football games were to be finalized after press time.) Previews for Castle and Kahuku are below.

Castle Knights

Record: 1-5 in OIA Red, heading into last weekend’s finale against McKinley

Wins: Waipahu at home (44-9) Aug. 16

Losses: Campbell at home (35-13) Sept. 15, Leilehua on the road (41-28) Sept. 5, Kahuku at home (56-19) Sept. 12, Waianae on the road (21-13) Sept. 19, Kaiser at home (28-23) Sept. 26

What to watch: The Knights are plainly the best 1-5 team in the state, given the strength of their schedule and a handful of games that could have gone the other way. While wins have been hard to come by, head coach Nelson Maeda and the Knights have been improving week to week and figure to be a tough first-round matchup in the playoffs.

Offensive outlook: The Willie Ewaliko-led offense is averaging 23.3 points per game, with its highest output in week two, when Castle put up 44 in a win over Waipahu. The team is averaging 229 total yards per outing, with 167 coming via the air.

Ewaliko has emerged as a dual-threat quarterback with 723 passing yards (and seven touchdowns) to his credit to go with three rushing touchdowns. He is the Knights’ second-leading rusher behind running back Ryan Mohira (4.6 yards per carry).

The cast of play makers also includes Chad Figueora, Isaiah Lewis, Sione Pikula and Taylor Bee. The foursome has combined for eight touchdown receptions to date.

Defensive outlook: Castle’s prospects for moving on in the OIA playoffs and perhaps earning one of the league’s state tournament berths could hinge on how well it can stop the run. In its last three games heading into last weekend, it surrendered 191 rushing yards to Kaiser, 211 to Waianae and 234 to Kahuku. Castle will look to improve on those numbers as well as generate a pass rush. First down will be huge for the defense in the post-season, as it will look to improve the odds by putting opposing teams into second-and-long and third-and-long situations.

Kahuku Red Raiders

Record: 5-1 in the OIA

Red Division, heading into last weekend’s finale against Waianae

Wins: Kapolei at home (33-19) Aug. 15, Waipahu at home (51-10) Aug. 22, McKinley (41-7 on a neutral field) Aug. 29, Castle (56-19) on the road Sept. 12, Leilehua at home (21-14) Sept. 26

Losses: Kaiser (20-19) on the road Sept. 19

Signature wins: Kapolei, Leilehua

What to watch: Past championship teams at Kahuku have typically shared two characteristics — the ability to stop the run game, defensively, and the ability to run the ball on offense. The Red Raiders’ 2014 edition has been proficient at both, which is a good sign as they begin the post-season.

If Kahuku can continue the trend and limit turnovers, it looks poised to be playing into November.

Offensive outlook: The offense has been on fire in the first halves of its games, averaging a whopping 27.6 points. As such, Kahuku has mostly been on cruise control in the second halves with most games in hand, save for the road loss at Kaiser and the home finale against Leilehua when it escaped with a 21-14 win. Quarterback Tuli Wily-Matagi is having a solid senior season with 600 yards passing to go with four touchdown passes. On the ground, he’s also averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has three rushing touch-downs.

As the Red Raiders progress through the playoffs, where they will see better defenses, look for Kahuku’s passing game to come more into play. Receivers Kesi Ah Hoy, Chance Maghanoy and Alohi Gilman have balanced out the offense nicely when afforded the opportunity. The run game remains Kahuku’s strength, as it averages 168 yards per game on the ground. Ah Hoy, Wily-Matagi, and backs Salanoa-Alo Wily and Reupena Fitisemanu all are averaging better than 3.9 yards per rushing attempt.

Defensive outlook: Only defending OIA Red champion Mililani had given up fewer points than Kahuku (14.8) entering last weekend, which was the final round of season games. Only Kaiser reached the 20-point plateau against the Red Raiders in their lone defeat to the Cougars. Kahuku is giving up 204 total yards per game, including just 57.3 on the ground.