Cougars Should Play Keep-away With Stubborn Mules

There are some things you guess at, some you assume and others you just know.

A breakdown of Friday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup between host Leilehua and Kaiser is below.

Setting the stage — why watch: As the new kid on the block in Division I, Kaiser made a huge statement with its riveting upset win over Kahuku two weeks ago. The win was the first for the Cougars over Kahuku since 1989 and their biggest of 2014 after being promoted from DII to DI in the off-season.

Moreover, Kaiser has the look of a team playing its best football when it counts the most — which brings us to this game, the season finale for both schools.

Leilehua still was undefeated going into last weekend, so it figures to be playing for the OIA division title Friday night. For Kaiser’s part, it can improve its seeding for the OIA playoffs.

Offensive key to victory for Leilehua: Get quarterback Kalanimoku Pauole (21 touchdown passes) into a throwing rhythm. The Mules always are best when ahead of the chains and gaining a lot of yards on first down — something they’ve made a living off of in 2014. With a myriad of play makers in running back Ikaika Piceno (7.6 yards per rush) and receivers Lauriano Lucas, Toma Savea, Tyreek Keough and Randy Neverson, the Mules have as much quick strike ability as any team in the state. They will likely need a few big plays along the way if they are to keep the Cougars at arm’s length.

Defensive key to victory for Leilehua: Stop the Kaiser run game and generate a pass rush against quarterback Kalawaia Judd. Balance has been Kaiser’s offensive forte to date, along with its ability to take what the defense gives it and get into the right play call. That same balance is what makes the Cougar passing game click, so look for Leilehua to make stuffing the run a priority, in order to put the Cougars into obvious passing situations.

The Mules’ defense also could use another solid start against the Cougars. Leilehua has yet to give up a touchdown in the first quarter in 2014.

Defensive key to victory for Kaiser: Tackle in space. While the Mules are capable of running the ball, this is a team that plainly wants to throw first and foremost and one that sets up the run by way of the pass. Leilehua’s short passing game is basically its run game. The Mules average 305 passing yards per outing and are finding the end zone often, as they average 42 points per game.

Running back Ikaika Piceno (7.6 yards per rush) and receivers Lucas, Savea, Keough and Neverson have the ability to turn a short gain into a huge play, so the Cougars will look to avoid giving up a quick score and focus on making Leilehua go the long hard route instead.

Offensive key to victory for Kaiser: Control the ball and the clock and finish scoring drives. With Leilehua’s ability to strike quickly, the Cougars’ best bet may be to play keep-away with their offense, by mounting long drives, thus keeping Leilehua’s offense on the sidelines for long periods. To that end, Kaiser will count on its balance. The Cougars entered last weekend averaging 415 yards of total offense per game — 214 rushing and 201 in the air.

Key matchup: Kaiser’s defensive front versus the Leilehua offensive line.