Well-rounded Red Raiders Ready To Defend Football Title

A football team’s playoff prospects always are greatly enhanced if it can stop the run on defense and run the ball on offense.

Kahuku has strengths in both areas as it prepares for OIA Red conference playoffs. What may make a real difference, however, is the team’s ability to move the ball through the air behind junior quarterback Tuli Wily-Matagi.

Through his first seven games, Wily-Matagi had completed 53 percent of his passes for 651 yards and 10 touchdowns against just two interceptions. His team averages 109 yards through the air per game to go with its usual dominant rushing attack, which is producing 246 yards on the ground per outing.

“Tuli has a grasp of our offense now,” head coach Reggie Torres said. “Against McKinley (in a 44-28 Kahuku win Sept. 20), he gave us some big scores. Some of them were called from the sideline (by the coaches), and some were called by him on audibles. He allows us to make changes (in the play) at the line of scrimmage, and his accuracy has made us two-dimensional.”

In addition to Wily-Matagi, the team also features a versatile receiving corps of Kuuliko Carvalho, Huleia Naeole and Douglas Napaa. Running back Polikapo Liua Jr. also has averaged 24 yards a catch on his five receptions out of the backfield.

Running the ball is still Kahuku’s forte, of course. Wily-Matagi is averaging six yards a rush, and running back Soli Afalava already has logged 50 carries – only nine less than Liua Jr., who is Kahuku’s leading rusher with 398 yards in his first seven games to go with eight scores.

Overall, Torres is pleased with Kahuku’s progress. The two-time defending state champions, had won four straight games, heading into last Thursday night’s finale against Farrington. “We’ve been hitting our stride, and we’re getting better, which is the key,” Torres said. “We’re playing well just in time, but we haven’t peaked yet.”

Kahuku’s game with Farrington last Thursday night was to determine whether Kahuku earned the top seed out of the OIA East for the league playoffs, which begin this weekend. The Red Raiders will have a bye this week and will host a game on either Oct. 18 or 19.

Regardless of the opponent, Torres anticipates a tough game to begin the OIA playoffs. “Either way, with the parity you see in the West, it will be a scary game for us. It could be Campbell, Kapolei or a team like Leilehua, and they’re all capable of beating anyone.”

Like the offense, the Kahuku defense also has made big strides since August. After yielding more than 200 yards on the ground to Saint Louis in week one, the team now is giving up only 36 yards per game rushing. Torres praised the play of linemen Salanoa Wily, Taliauli Vaifoou and Lamone Williams on the defensive side.

“(Salanoa) Wily has been a stud up front – he’s come around. Lamone is always solid, and Tali has been pretty consistent for us. We’ve been improving against the run, and that’s key.”

The top three finishers in the OIA playoffs earn the league’s berths for the Division I state football championships, which begin Nov. 8.