Struggling Kahuku Team Still Aiming At State Football Crown

While the Red Raider Nation looks to leave Kahuku’s season-ending loss to Farrington behind, the OIA playoffs and Division I state tournament offer an opportunity for the team to finish 2013 the right way. MidWeek‘s Windward Islander breaks down Kahuku’s prospects as it prepares for the post-season.

Kahuku at a glance: Record: 5-3 overall, 5-1 in the OIA Red East (second place)

2013 results: Week 1: Lost to Saint Louis 45-24; Week 2: Beat Kaimuki 40-14; Week 3: Lost to East (Utah) High 38-15; Week 4: Beat Moanalua 33-19; Week 5: Beat Castle 48-13; Week 6: Beat McKinley 44-28; Week 7: Beat Kailua 49-17; Week 8: Lost to Farrington 21-7.

Signature wins: Over Moanalua Sept. 7; Over McKinley Sept. 20

Summation: With only four starters returning from last year’s Division I state title team, the 2013 Red Raiders were expected to be in “regroup mode.”

Given those circumstances, an early inter-league loss to Saint Louis was understandable, and the trip to East High in Utah was a tough assignment for any Red Raider team in any year. A four-game win streak renewed hope that Kahuku was shaping up to be a prototypical Kahuku team by the time the post-season arrived, but a loss to Farrington in the final week of the season was not the springboard into the playoffs the fans expected. The result of this week’s second-round OIA playoff game is huge for the program.

Did you know? Since the state tournament separated into two divisions in 2003, Kahuku has appeared in the Division I title game six times and has a 5-1 record to show for it.

Breaking down the defense: The defense looks pretty good on paper, especially in that Kahuku is relinquishing only 49 rushing yards per game and 249 yards overall per outing. What’s unusual is that the team enters the post-season giving up 24.4 points per game. Kahuku gave up 127 yards on the ground to Farrington – well above its average – and the Governors were able to hold onto the ball far too long, keeping the Red Raider offense on the sideline for long stretches. If Kahuku’s run-defense can recapture the stinginess it showed in September, the team will be in prime position to win against any team they play in the post-season.

Unit to keep an eye on: Kahuku’s defensive front, anchored by linemen Salanoa Wily, Taliauli Vaifoou and Lamone Williams, sets the tone for the defense. The play of this group figures to go a long way in determining the fate of the post-season.

Breaking down the offense: You wouldn’t necessarily know it just looking at their 5-3 record, but this is a highly productive Red Raider offense that has shown the ability to score in a variety of ways. Turnovers and self-inflicted mistakes have undermined offensive momentum at times, but it’s still averaging 32.5 points per game. That output is good enough to win every week. If Kahuku can get out of its own way and avoid mistakes, the offense should continue to provide the scoring needed. An improving passing game, although shut down versus Farrington, could figure big in the post-season.

Unit to keep an eye on: As on the defensive side, it all begins up front on the offensive side as well, but you have to hand it to the stable of Kahuku running backs, which includes Polikapo Liua Jr. (team-leading nine rushing touchdowns), Soli Afalava, Hiapo McCandless and Pupi Siilata. All four are averaging better than 4.1 yards per carry, and quarterback Tuli Wily-Matagi is always a threat with his feet as well.

Make plans for the state tournament if: The team will be part of the state tournament – the only question is whether it will have enough to win it all again.