POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 7, 2011
They flew in from near and far, five days before the start of the state football championships.
No, by Friday, it will be all business, and with Kahuku and ‘Iolani seeded first in Division I and II, respectively, all teams are taking aim. The state tournament kicked off Sunday morning with a coaches meeting at Aloha Stadium.
In Division I, second-seeded Punahou will have a bye. Oahu Interscholastic Association members Farrington and Leilehua will board planes this week: Farrington visits Baldwin and Leilehua goes to Kealakehe.
In D-II, No. 2 seed Waipahu also rests this week. Konawaena, the surprise of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, will travel to Lahainaluna. In the other opening-round matchup, Pearl City will travel to Kauai, though the Kauai Interscholastic Federation champion has yet to be crowned. The deciding game between Kapaa and Waimea on Saturday was postponed due to lightning, so the teams will bring new meaning to Monday night football when they meet tonight.
Farrington, ranked No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Football Top 10 nearly the length of the regular season and playoffs, will need some bounce in its step. After a resounding 23-0 loss to Kahuku in the final of the OIA Red playoffs, the Govs have little time to dwell on the end of an unbeaten run. Baldwin's defense, one of the best in the program's history, will take no pity.
"I would've rather stayed home, but obviously Kahuku earned the right," Farrington coach Randall Okimoto said. "The traveling shouldn't be too bad, I think. Friday is a holiday, so we won't have the distraction of school."
There are bus rides far longer than the interisland flight.
"Maui is a 25-minute flight, so it's not as long as a drive to Kahuku," Okimoto added.
Baldwin's defensive unit has been a jewel, stacked with size and speed.
"The boys are excited. They're ready to go. They've gotten closer and we've gotten better as a whole," coach A.J. Roloos said. "Farrington's going to do what they do. They're going to run the ball and keep it inside the tackles. They've got the No. 1 running back in the state (Tyler Taumua) — why wouldn't you try and run?"
The teams last met in 2007 at War Memorial Stadium, when the Bears won with Jordan Helle at quarterback.
Kealakehe made strides after some tumultuous changes in the offseason. First-year head coach Sam Kekuaokalani, who is also the varsity boys basketball coach, has corralled a veteran staff. Defensive coordinator Sam Papalii, the former head coach, and the staff have done much of the heavy lifting.
"What's progressed the most is the mentality of the boys, the bigger goal, of what needs to be done," Kekuaokalani said. "We're a lot more physical this year and that comes from Coach Papalii."
With starting quarterback Tyler Yates done for the year due to a knee injury, the load is now squarely on the shoulders of the defense.
"Leilehua is well-coached, well-disciplined and they execute. They may not be the biggest, but speed kills," Kekuaokalani said.
Kahuku last won the state title in 2006 in Reggie Torres' first season as head coach.
"We're happy to be here in the state tournament," Torres said, noting that all the driving between the North Shore and town is worth every drop of gas. "I've been here three days straight."
The Red Raiders' title win was on Friday, and Torres' son, Richard, played in the University of Hawaii's game against Utah State on Saturday.
"It was a physical game against Farrington. We do have a lot of kids who are banged up. That's why we're so fortunate to get that bye," he said. "But we've got to clean up our practices so we're up-tempo and be ready for the game."
Punahou, like Kahuku, has an opening-round bye as the No. 2 seed.
"I think you could make a case for us this year, being first (seeded), but Kahuku beat a great Farrington team in the final of the OIA, so it's accurate," Punahou coach Kale Ane said.
"I'm sure it makes a difference to people, which is nice. But both teams (Kahuku, Punahou) get a bye, both will play difficult teams. The bye is critical for all of us. It's definitely an advantage."