POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 9, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 1:49 a.m. HST, Nov 9, 2011
A dynasty like Kealakehe isn’t exactly familiar with the role of underdog.
This time, it’s more than that. With their top playmaker out for the season, the Waveriders might be the longest of long shots as the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships kick off this week.
Kealakehe (10-1) will host perennial state title contender Leilehua on Friday at the Waveriders’ scenic home field on the slopes of Hualalai summit. In just about every way, the ’Riders are at a disadvantage except for one: home field.
The winner will meet top-seeded Kahuku in the semifinals at Aloha Stadium on Nov. 18.
On paper: Leilehua (8-1-1) is coming off an elimination battle with Oahu Interscholastic Association Red West rival Campbell, winning handily, 34-14, in rainy conditions. Kenan Sadanaga’s massive statistics — nearly 2,800 yards passing with 37 touchdowns — are matched only by his savvy and leadership.
2010: Lost to Waianae in first round
2009: Did not qualify
2008: Lost to Farrington in first round
2007: Lost to Waianae in first round
LEILEHUA (8-1-1)State championships or Prep Bowl wins: 2007, 1984
2010: Lost to Saint Louis in semis
2009: Lost to Kamehameha in semis
2008: Lost to Punahou in championship
2007: State champion
With all of its might, Leilehua’s offense has largely overshadowed one of the top defensive units in the state. The Mules are stout up front with defensive tackle Roger Luafalemana (5-10, 220) and have swarming linebackers, led by Reece Acohido (6-0, 190). Defensive end Penitito Melei (6-2, 210) continues to make big plays, including a leaping pick of a screen pass against Campbell. Chris Bell, another linebacker, has stepped up as a late-season factor.
Defensively, the Mules allow just 14 points per game. Only two teams — Service (Alaska) and Mililani — have scored more than 20 on Leilehua. That includes No. 1 Kahuku, which won a semifinal matchup 9-7 two weeks ago. Interim head coach Mark Kurisu believes the entire team learned from that loss.
“As a coaching staff we learned we need to do a better job, not make it so difficult for our players. We’re not going to change anything, keep it simple so our players can execute well,” Kurisu said. “They’re a great passing team. They lost their quarterback, but they still have a great running attack and aggressive defense.”
Kealakehe’s offense was heavily dependent on quarterback Tyler Yates, a gifted ballcarrier and passer. After a nonconference loss to Kamehameha-Hawaii, the Waveriders (10-1) dropped their four-wide attack in favor of a two-back set and Yates thrived, often racking up more than 100 yards rushing and another 100-plus passing.
However, he suffered a leg injury in a 60-18 win over Keaau on Friday. Gone are more than 2,100 total yards from the Kealakehe offense, just like that. Without him, two-way standout Psalm Wooching (8 yards per carry, 14 touchdowns) and John Kamoku (7.3 per attempt, nine touchdowns) will likely face stacked defenses and eight men in the box. Wooching (6-4, 210), who has orally committed to UCLA, has good hands and is effective on swing routes.
Jacob Ontiveros, a 6-1, 190-pound senior, moves to quarterback from wide receiver. He is the team’s leading receiver (19 receptions, three touchdowns), which costs Kealakehe again.
“Jacob knows the system very well. He’s an athlete, he’s actually our kick return guy,” coach Sam Kekuaokalani said.
Kealakehe’s defense is anchored by junior Manase Hungalu (6-2, 225), senior Jerone Moeoge (6-1, 275), Tamatasi Paogofie-Buyen
(6-3, 225) and Maake Teutau (6-0, 225).
The skinny: Kealakehe is athletic defensively, and has a swagger that was missing in recent years, Kekuaokalani said. Bringing former head coach Sam Papalii into the fold is a big plus.
“A lot of his drills, the leveraging, the Oklahoma drills, have helped us,” Kekuaokalani said.
“It’s all about basic fundamentals, staying low, engaging the contact, hand placement, pad level and finishing the play,” Papalii said. “You gotta see what you hit.”
Sometimes, however, it’s hard to hit a blur.
“Speed kills,” Kekuaokalani said of Leilehua’s receiver corps.
The last time the ’Riders faced a similar aerial scheme, they lost to Division II Kamehameha-Hawaii 16-13.
With Yates, they had a recipe to disrupt an opposing air attack. Without him, moving the chains might be a major challenge.
“They’re quick and they swarm to the ball,” Papalii said. “They’re not big, but they gang tackle. They’re built for speed.”
X factor: Leilehua is as familiar as any team to the traveling aspect of state-tournament play, though normally the route goes through the Maui Interscholastic League. If the Waveriders can’t consistently force Sadanaga out of his comfort zone, the secondary will be under immense pressure against receivers who read coverages.