They’re not exactly strangers in the night, exchanging glances, wondering in the night, what were the chances.
When Saint Louis’ Darnell Arceneaux and Leilehua’s Nolan Tokuda bring their teams to Aloha Stadium tomorrow night, it will be, as it always has been, a duel of minds. A meeting of football nerds.
There are coaches who study the game and love the competition and camaraderie. Then there’s Tokuda, a coach who spends his off-nights on weekends traveling around the island with his wife to shoot video. Sometimes, it means sitting in the bleachers. Other times, it requires innovation, like sitting atop a 25-foot high platform on a scoreboard.
Arceneaux? Eating, drinking and breathing the game is embedded into his lifeblood. One early morning, he’s dissecting video while the rest of Hawaii sleeps. The same night, he might be on another island, scouting up close.
It’s no wonder these two former quarterbacks, devotees and disciples of the sport will be on opposing sidelines when the 7 p.m. semifinal of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I State Football Championships kick off.
» On paper: Ex-passers rarely settle for conservative game plans. Under Arceneaux, who is in the first year of his second go-round at Kalaepohaku, the Crusaders have been a juggernaut. Though he learned the run-and-shoot as an all-state signal caller at Saint Louis, he teaches a more balanced approach, utilizing the flex option and under-center formations.
During Arceneaux’s four seasons as coach at Mililani (2006-09), battles between the Trojans and Leilehua were epic, but often decided by a young, clutch passer in green and yellow named Andrew Manley.
Now that Arceneaux is back at Saint Louis, Tokuda sees similarities.
"Darnell’s offensive concepts are still the same, but his team is more loaded. They’ve got (defensive end) Judah Parker and talent all over," he said. "It’s like playing Kahuku."
Leilehua’s experimental tendencies have been highly successful during Tokuda’s seven-year reign. Borrowing from the San Francisco 49ers’ West Coast scheme, UH’s four-wide sets and many other pro and college offenses, this year’s production may have surprised even the most optimistic of Mules fans.
That might even include Tokuda, who noted from the start that the Mules’ stellar, stand-up style defense would carry the team. The progress of junior quarterback Kenan Sadanaga, as well as former starter Jordan Kalaau, was steady, and then explosive. Sadanaga passed for 474 yards and five touchdowns in last week’s 35-26 win over Baldwin.
Third-ranked Leilehua (8-3) is enjoying offensive production at its highest level of the season, averaging more than 30 points a game against its last six opponents not named Kahuku. (The Mules lost to the Red Raiders 46-16 in the league playoffs, a result that was removed from the official record due to Kahuku’s disqualification.)
Sadanaga has passed for 2,178 yards and 22 touchdowns on 65 percent accuracy. Kalaau, with 769 yards and nine touchdown tosses, is one of the top backups in the state.
An excess of riches is one way to look at Leilehua’s tradition of play-making pass catchers. Feisty Fred Padrones (59 receptions, 953 yards, 13 touchdowns) and understated Darrien Shealy (66, 808, seven) are deep threats, while Jeremiah Andrade (47, 620, five) and Allen Racette (21, 283, four) have developed into a sometimes-spectacular group of yards-after-catch producers.
"They’re the best four I’ve had. They’re unselfish and know it’s about reading the defense," Tokuda said. "Skill-wise, I like the matchups whether (Saint Louis) is in a 4-2 or 3-3."
Top-ranked Saint Louis (9-1) is, of course, no slouch when it comes to offensive proficiency. Marcus Mariota’s combination of arm strength and flat-out speed (sub 4.4 in the 40) is matched by no other quarterback in the islands. His best asset, however, may be his brain. In 210 pass attempts, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior has thrown four picks to go with 27 touchdowns and 2,018 yards. He has also run for six scores (363 yards, 7.9 per attempt).
Mariota’s passer rating is an almost-unheard-of 181.72. Sadanaga, who has thrown 13 picks, has an elite rating of 152.30.
"He reminds me of a (young) Darnell Arceneaux," Tokuda said of Mariota. "We’ve faced our share of running quarterbacks like Puletua Wilson (Waianae), (Christian) Akana (Kamehameha)."
Mariota’s stats, as well as those of his receivers, would be much more gaudy in a pass-only attack. Arceneaux plays it closer to the vest, going to his stable of running backs to close out games. Derek Nakasato and Keanu Mook-Garcia combined for 982 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Duke Bukoski (41 catches, 794 yards, 11 touchdowns) may be the best deep target in the state, but is also a nimble ballhandler out of the occasional wildcat formation. Joshua Tupua (29, 419, seven) and two-sport standout Kaeo Aliviado (25, 267, four) also know the pressure points of any defense.
» The skinny: In Saint Louis’ lone loss, at Kahuku, Arceneaux appeared to pull in the reins on Mariota after the Oregon-bound player sprinted past defenders for an easy 51-yard keeper early on. Mariota didn’t run an option again the rest of the night.
"Darnell used that game as a situational test," Tokuda said. "He’ll use (Mariota) when he needs to."
Leilehua has other concerns, as well. A few weeks ago, the Mules were whistled for 191 yards in penalties against Castle. Last week, against Baldwin, they drew 19 yellow flags and turned the ball over six times.
But to fend off a fierce Saints’ pass rush led by Parker, the Mules offensive line will have to raise the bar.
"If we can get any kind of protection, at least 2.5 seconds, I like our chances," Tokuda noted.
Saint Louis has played one game since Oct. 15, a win over Kamehameha three weeks ago.
» X factor: Mules placekicker Timothy Momiyama has a 55-yard field-goal range. Saint Louis’ Jesse Correa, who has made nine field goals, has been consistent. He remains a vital weapon in the battle for field position thanks to his touchbacks on kickoffs.
Aug. 21: Kamehameha L, 21-7
Aug. 27: Kapolei W, 21-7
Sept. 3: at Campbell W, 36-20
Sept. 17: at Aiea W, 16-7
Sept. 24: at Radford W, 24-17
Oct. 2: Waianae W, 30-26
Oct. 8: Mililani L, 42-35
Oct. 23: Castle W, 26-13
Oct. 29: Kahuku L, 46-16
Nov. 6: Waianae W, 28-20
Nov. 12: Baldwin W, 35-26
Saint Louis (9-1)
Aug. 13: at Roosevelt W, 48-8
Aug. 21: Waianae W, 42-3
Aug. 27: at Kahuku L, 49-27
Sept. 4: Kamehameha W, 41-17
Sept. 11: Damien W, 66-0
Sept. 17: Punahou W, 35-17
Sept. 24: Pac-Five W, 35-6
Oct. 8: Iolani W, 41-14
Oct. 15: Punahou W, 42-7
Oct. 28: Kamehameha W, 34-12
STATE TOURNAMENT HISTORY
Leilehua: 8-3 (1-1 Prep Bowl)
Saint Louis: 14-5 (14-3 Prep bowl)
BEST STATE PERFORMANCES
Leilehua single game
» Passing yards: 474, Kenan Sadanaga, 2010 win over Baldwin
» Rushing yards: 87, Justin Lawelawe, 2004 win over Kealakehe
Saint Louis single game
» Passing yards: 329, John Hao, 1989 Prep Bowl win over Kahuku
» Rush yards: 188, Damien Cole, 1999 win over Waimea