The last time Campbell’s defense faced Kahuku’s offense, the Red Raiders were embracing their heritage.
Prior to that Aug. 31 battle, they were tinkering heavily with four-wide looks. Kahuku wanted to balance its offense, but after a 32-0 loss at Mililani to kick off the OIA-ILH Open Division season, Big Red got back to big fundamentals. Smashmouth football has brought Kahuku a minimum of 28 points in five of its past seven games. The exceptions were a shutout loss to nationally ranked Saint Louis, and a 21-13 loss to No. 2 Punahou.
When No. 5 Campbell (5-4) visits No. 4 Kahuku (6-3) on Saturday in the semifinals of the OIA Open Division playoffs, the onus will be on the visiting Sabers to find a solution to an epic puzzle: How do you beat the Red Raiders on their home field? Kahuku has won the past four meetings with Campbell at Carleton E. Weimer Field. Campbell last won there in 1996.
Since 2000, Kahuku is 85-2 on its home field. The losses were to Mililani last year and Kapolei in ’07. The Kapolei loss was the last time the Red Raiders lost a playoff game at Weimer.
Kahuku posted one of its biggest wins against Campbell, a 35-7 rout at Weimer Field seven weeks ago. Keeping the ball on the ground, chewing up chunks of the clock and, most of all, keeping Campbell’s explosive offense on the sideline provided the victorious recipe.
Can the blueprint be duplicated? Campbell coach Darren Johnson put his trust into first-year defensive coordinator Blaze Soares to find the answer. Soares uses a lot of film study and even has a written test for his defense each week. At 31, he still roams the field sideline to sideline during practice.
“We really know what they’re going to do. It’s not about tricky plays. They’re going to try to out-physical us, but I truly believe if our alignments are right, our assignments will be right. Then there’s a true possibility we can stop the run,” Soares said. “If our kids embrace this type of physical game, I truly believe it’s going to be a very good game to watch.”
Kahuku averages roughly 260 pounds per man on the offensive line. Campbell tops out at around 220 in the trenches, led by defensive tackle Ivan Soriano. The recent return of linebacker Tyrese Tafai is a big boost. Hybrid linebacker/safety Peter Manuma rested last week to prepare for this playoff game.
“Our D-line plays with a lot of heart and shows a lot of grit,” Soares said. “I wouldn’t replace them with anybody.”
Kahuku’s statistics are a pure manifestation of its love for ground-and-pound offense. With sophomore Tiger Adolpho at the controls almost exclusively, Kahuku has passed the ball just 106 times for 579 yards, the lowest totals in the division. That’s on a 49% completion rate (52-for-106) with just five touchdowns in nine games. The key, though, is risk management. Kahuku quarterbacks have thrown only two picks, which ranks best in the Open Division.
The ground game has been reminiscent of glory years. Zealand Matagi has prospered with 985 yards and 14 touchdowns at 6.6 yards per carry. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound junior has hit the century mark in the past three games against stellar defenses — Kapolei, Punahou and Farrington — for 334 yards and six TDs on 61 attempts.
Matagi’s season best, however, was 261 yards and three TDs on just 17 rushes against Campbell. Conditions this week at the Red Raiders’ field are favorable for the smashmouth playbook. Wet weather is expected to make the surface at Weimer Field muddy and sloshy, Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho said.
“It’s been Kahuku football. These players we have, they’ve been doing it since Pop Warner, Big Boyz (and JPS). They’re very physical kids out on this side. They embrace it,” Carvalho said. “We would love balance, you know, but at the same time, we’ve got to go with what’s been working for us.”
With 334 rushes out of 440 offensive plays, Kahuku’s total run-pass ratio of more than 3-to-1 has been its most lopsided since the 2015 season, when injuries at QB tilted the Kahuku offense into sledgehammer mode. That was the last time Kahuku won a state title.
When it’s not Matagi with the ball, Lalio Kaluna (271 yards, TD), Mana Fonoimoana-Vaomu, Robert Chang, Jack Tito and Kelsyn Tangaro-Kanoa have gotten touches. In the first matchup, Kaluna rushed for a season-high 88 yards and a TD on 21 carries. Kahuku rushed the ball 53 times for 431 yards that night.
“The first game, we were very successful because, bottom line, defense was on point and did their assignments. Offensively, everyone did their blocks and hat’s off to Zealand. He ran wild,” Carvalho said. “Everyone did their job.”
In his first season as a full-time starter, Campbell sophomore Blaine Hipa has survived and often thrived in the rugged Open terrain. He has thrown for at least two TDs against every foe with two exceptions: Kamehameha and Kahuku. When the Sabers made that old-school, Rural OIA trek from Ewa Beach to the North Shore — 38 miles one way — Hipa had his lowest yardage output of the season with 137 passing yards, one TD and two picks.
Kahuku’s front seven limited Jonan Aina-Chaves to 11 yards on nine carries. The former St. Francis ballcarrier has since reeled off a superb five-game stretch: 609 yards, three TDs.
The Sabers have one of the state’s top receiving corps, led by junior Titus Mokiao-Atimalala. Like his teammates, the Kahuku game was a low point for the 6-1, 175-pound playmaker. He had just 51 receiving yards (six catches).
The return of stalwart skill-position ironman Poki‘i Adkins-Kupukaa (toe surgery) could be a game changer. Adkins-Kupukaa, a safety, was an All-State pass catcher two seasons ago. If he lines up on offense, that could open routes up for 6-foot-2 senior Zavier Ceruti and ironman Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala. Ceruti (22 receptions, 367 yards, eight TDs) is a crisp route runner.