Friday, November 27, 2015         


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Kahuku's ground attack vs. Mililani's passing game

By Paul Honda


East to West.

Smashmouth to run-and-shoot.

Over the past several seasons, the tide has shifted as the population base of Oahu has changed locale, generally. With that increase in the talent pool, West side football teams tried to embrace the wide-open offenses, even if they returned to more conservative, run-first philosophies along the way.

That's what makes tonight's OIA Red title clash between defending state champion Kahuku and Mililani compelling. While the Red Raiders ride tradition and simplicity on offense with considerable success -- another unbeaten season so far -- the Trojans have mastered what was once unthinkable. They control games by virtue of a pure passing attack.

There's more to it than that, of course. Here's a look at this weekend's matchups:

Friday, November 2

No. 1 Kahuku (9-0) vs. No. 3 Mililani (9-1), Aloha Stadium: Never mind that each team has already clinched spots in the state tournament. There's a lot more at stake. Kahuku has a long memory, and running back Aofaga Wily still remembers the eve of the OIA Red championship game against Mililani two years ago.

In a feature story in Tuesday's Star-Advertiser, the 6-foot, 202-pound senior said that forfeit loss is what he remembers most about life in football and the proud North Shore community. Wily, who ran for 190 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 41 carries against Leilehua last week, is prepared for any workload.

After suffering and playing through an ankle injury last year -- surgery came after the season -- he's had a lighter load through midseason as the Red Raiders saved him for the stretch run. After just 61 carries in the first four games of the regular season, Wily has accumulated 129 attempts in his past four contests.

This time, the Kahuku-Mililani title tilt will happen. Instead of facing mobile, play-making quarterback Trent McKinney, Big Red will line up against the state's hottest slinger, Jarin Morikawa. What began as a short-passing, quick-tempo, ball-control offense has morphed into one of the greatest aerial shows in OIA history.

The 6-foot, 170-pound senior pierced Farrington's formidable defense for 357 yards and five touchdowns in a surprisingly easy 42-21 semifinal win last week. It was a Governors' defense that had seen prolific passers before in a 39-33 nonconference win over Saint Louis.

Kahuku? The Red Raiders faced Punahou in Week 2 and gave up 13 first-half points. Then they shut out Buffanblu quarterback Larry Tuileta for a 21-13 win. As much as Kahuku keeps everything simple and basic offensively, the Red Raiders invest heavily on defense, where hybrid defenders can both cover and stop the run. Like last year, much of the secondary employs basketball players who have range, skill and closing speed.

Kahuku limited Tuileta to "only" 251 yards on 17-for-38 passing with a season-low one touchdown pass. Can the Red Raiders do the same to Morikawa? He is, after all, one of the best-protected passers in the state.

"Their offensive-line coach (Tommy Heffernan) has been around for years. Everybody's scared of their passing game, so they drop into zone," Kahuku coach Reggie Torres said.

Heffernan and Trask Iosefa, the former Punahou lineman, have adapted their smaller but mobile linemen to coach Rod York's specifications: a hurry-up, no-huddle, death-by-a-thousand-cuts attack.

"It starts with protection and Jarin will call some series," York said of Morikawa, who called every play in wins over Kapolei and Aiea. "Any time it's an empty set, that's Jarin calling the plays. It changes the tempo."

Like Tuileta, Morikawa has become more and more of a distributor as the weeks have passed. Last week, he connected with seven different teammates. With 2,889 yards, 31 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, he seems unstoppable. But he has struggled on those few instances when pass protection breaks down. Two of his incompletions last week were dropped pick-6 opportunities by Farrington.

With Kahuku bolstered by strong special teams play -- place-kicker Jake Samsel is a touchback-on-the-kickoff machine -- it could come down to a handful of plays. That's where two-way standouts Kawehena Johnson of Kahuku and Dakota Turner of Mililani have measured up.

Johnson's versatility as arguably the top defensive back in the state and a game-changing factor in kick returns and pass catching is key. He is, by far, the most experienced and utilized of Kahuku's receivers, even if he plays just a dozen snaps on offense. As a quarterback, he can run the option, too.

Turner has been a huge target for Morikawa in the red zone, a natural for a lineup that doesn't have another starting receiver above 6 feet. But Kahuku, which has run a tight-end set for decades, is ready for what Mililani has to offer.

The Trojans will be tested severely if they can build a lead. Whether they can incorporate linebacker Dayton Furuta (6-0, 215), their most effective running back, without wearing him out is another major key. York has insisted on using Furuta and Turner both ways. He has taken the run-and-shoot and blended it with his "elephant" package in the red zone.

That's why Morikawa has taken few shots deep this year, but he has remained efficient. With Turner at slotback in the five-wide set, then at tight end in short yardage, defenses will usually show signs of cracking at some point.

"We go to the strengths of our players. It's not just about the deep ball," said York, who spent the summer picking the brain of former UH quarterback Tim Chang. "Kahuku will bring pressure."

Kahuku might bring a little more than that. In a playoff win over Waianae, it finally unveiled a gadget play that had been drawn up for the Punahou game months before.

"We've always had at least three trick plays," Torres said.

Radford (9-1) vs. Nanakuli (6-3), Aloha Stadium: When they met during the regular season four weeks ago at John Velasco Stadium, coach Fred Salanoa's Rams had just come off a resounding loss at Kaiser. Radford had to struggle for a half, leading 14-7, before blowing the game open in the third quarter.

Radford's Cody Lui-Yuen had an up-and-down night in that 42-7 win over the Golden Hawks -- with more ups. He passed for 312 yards, three touchdowns and two picks. For the year, the 6-3, 205-pound junior now has 2,249 passing yards for 29 touchdowns and 12 picks in 10 games. Sophomore Jameson Pasigan (41 receptions, 641 yards, 10 touchdowns) has been relatively quiet in recent games, but he had two touchdown grabs in the win over Nanakuli.

Defensively, the Rams bent and rarely broke against Nanakuli's option attack. The Golden Hawks rushed for 253 yards in the loss, but quarterback Chazz Troutman was limited to 30 rushing yards and completed just one pass. The "Megatron" receiving tandem of Lansen Liki (6-4, 193) and Joseph Shelton (6-4, 205) were held without a single reception.

For Nanakuli, which is aglow with the prospect of playing in its first state tournament soon, an upset win over Kaiser two weeks ago could be the launching point to another surprise.

No. 9 Konawaena (8-1 BIIF D-II, 8-4) at Kamehameha-Hawaii (7-2 BIIF D-II, 10-2): The second-round Division II title is at stake in the BIIF. Not only does KS-Hawaii need to win and force a three-way tie (with Hawaii Prep and Konawaena) for first place, the Warriors have to score enough to snap the tiebreaker.

Konawaena, which won the first round, is coming off a pinball-machine, manic 56-49 win over Hawaii Prep. Kahoali'i Karratti now has 2,566 passing yards, 40 touchdowns and just five picks, but the junior now goes on the road -- a 2.5-hour ride each way -- to face his nemesis. KS-Hawaii shut down Karratti five weeks ago, limiting him to 33 yards on 3-for-16 passing as the Wildcats pulled out a 16-3 win.

The legs of running back Faaolaina Teofilo and do-everything Shaun Kagawa will be crucial for the Warriors. Teofilo, a rugby player, had a season-low 46 yards in the first meeting with Konawaena. Kagawa, who plays cornerback, linebacker and, when needed, running back, will have a busy schedule. As one of the top defensive backs in the state, he'll have to contain Konawaena deep threats Domonic Morris (32 receptions, 729 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Kenan Gaspar (22, 604, 10).

Saturday, November 3

No. 4 Farrington (8-2) vs. No. 6 Leilehua (7-3), Kaiser Stadium: Like the Kahuku-Mililani showdown, this is another classic matchup of brute power versus precision and finesse. The biggest question in this elimination game -- the winner takes third place in the OIA Red and a state berth, while the loser is done for the year -- is whether the Mules can overcome a slew of injuries.

Left tackle Siaosi Hunga, an integral part of the Mules' pass protection, is out. So is running back Keanu Kahele-Ferreira. The good news is that right tackle Epeli Natoko, running back Ikaika Piceno and backup quarterback Levi Castanares should be available.

For Mules coach Nolan Tokuda, it's been a rough three weeks with the flu, and now, bronchitis.

"We tell our kids to give their best. We call it competitive greatness, and it applies to us (coaches), too. I don't care if I'm sick or I die. I'm going to keep going," Tokuda said. "The kids want one more game if they can get past Farrington."

The Govs have their backs against the wall. Tyler Taumua (226 yards) and Abraham Silva (99) propelled the Govs' offense in the loss to Mililani, but too many third-and-long situations were detrimental.

A few of the same fans who cheered on through the regular season have been critical about coach Randall Okimoto's conservative play-calling. That puzzles Tokuda.

"They ran for more than 300 yards," he noted. "Coach Okimoto and his staff do a great job of character building. Those are the wins that count, building young men who are productive in society. They're winning the game of life, and they do it in a humble manner."

Honokaa (5-3 BIIF D-II, 6-4) at Hawaii Prep (5-4 BIIF D-II, 5-6): At HPA's bucolic, hillside campus, the district's oldest rivalry thrives. HPA is no longer that younger, somewhat inexperienced team that was trounced by Honokaa 55-7 five weeks ago.

Bobby Lum rushed for a career-high 221 yards in the loss to Konawaena last week.

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