Campbell, Leilehua square off in battle of unbeatens

Aug. 24—Campbell's aerial pyrotechnics go beyond the eye-popping fireworks in the Ewa Beach neighborhood.

Quarterback Jaron-Keawe Sagapolutele has been on point, spreading the ball to every open receiver, including Tana Togafau-Tavui.

"We played with Ewa Beach Sabers. We played flag, 6-and-under," Togafau-Tavui said. 'He was a receiver. I was the quarterback. Then we switched the following year. I feel like quarterback is too complicated for me. It was a good move."

It certainly has been. Tofagau-Tavui was superb as a sophomore and has continued to spark the receiving corps. Leilehua will have something to say and do when the Sabers visit on Saturday.

For coach Mark Kurisu, defense is the way. The former defensive coordinator brought his defense-first mentality to the war room when he took the mantle six years ago. So far, Leilehua is 2-0 with a 19-7 win over Kailua (non-counting) and a 21-7 victory over Moanalua (counting). That's 1-0 in OIA D-I, pool A.

"I like the growth that we've made since we started training. They're learning how to play together and trust each other," Kurisu said. "Learning how to carry their own load so we don't put too much on a player or a specific side of the ball."

The D-I Mules have relied on a ground attack led by Cole Northington (31 attempts, 177 yards, two TDs) and Camren Flemister (20, 166, two). The efficiency of the running game has kept pressure off QB Hanohano Plunkett (321 passing yards, two TDs, two interceptions). Timothy Arnold has been elite with 17 receptions for 188 yard and two TDs.

Fourth-ranked Campbell (2-0, 1-0 OIA) isn't just an Open Division member, but one of the elite. Keawe Sagapolutele has been splendid to begin his senior year. The southpaw has completed 43 of 64 pass attempts (67 percent) for 647 yards, seven TDs and zero picks.

Take away Campbell's running game and deep routes and Sagapolutele can still go to his deep-out receivers. Take that away, and he is patient enough to chip away. The Sabers outscored Waipahu and Aiea 123-34 while Sagapolutele resembles Hall of Fame southpaw Kenny Stabler.

"It's going great so far. I'm on the same page with my receivers and O-line. It's even better than last season. Our O-line, definitely better. I've only been sacked one time. (In the) Waipahu game, no sacks. I'm getting more protection," now 6 feet, 3 inches and 210 pounds.

Togafau-Tavui (13 receptions, 177 yards, two TDs) has been prolific again, but is not a sole target machine. Ten Sabers have at least one reception, and five of them, besides Togafau-Tavui, have scored at least one TD.

Togafau-Tavui (6-3, 175) credits Campbell's trench men.

"Our linemen this year are way more connected. They have chemistry together. I feel like we have way more running backs. Our skills, I feel like our slots can play receivers, our receivers can play slots. With Jaron in the back, it makes us way more flexible," he said.

Campbell has averaged 25 carries per game, a number that could increase as defenses get conservative against Sagapolutele and his fleet of receivers.

James Steffany-Flame (14 carries, 159 yards, TD) leads the crowded RB room. The depth chart is at least five deep for coach Darren Johnson, who loves a balanced approach. But it all comes down to the front five.

"Our left tackle is Jordan Kernaghan (6-4, 265). MJ (Galuega) (5-10, 255) is at left guard. Josh (Tavai) (6-4, 305) is our center. Enos Atuaia (6-3, 305) at right guard and Lautaimi (Falaniko) (6-3, 270) at right tackle," Sagapolutele said. "Josh, MJ and Enos started last year."

Campbell has won four straight against Leilehua, which last beat the Sabers in 2013, 28-21. Leilehua leads the all-time series, 20-11.

"Leilehua is better this year. I watched their games. They have a solid D-line with Sonny (Tagaloa) (6-2, 330) and Gabe (Liua) (6-1, 220)," Sagapolutele said. "Their offense has a good running game and they can pass when they need to. They're a more polished team.

Campbell has diligently invested in film study every week.

"I know the corner. They don't ever press. They always sit back," Togafau-Tavui said. "Gabe, the defensive end, if we manage him, then everything will fall apart (for Leilehua). They're more of a cover-four type of defense and send the blitz here and there. I feel like our offensive coaches are well prepared for what they'll bring."

Kurisu credits the offensive brainpower of Campbell.

"Their offensive coordinator does a great job. Their OC adjusting in the pre-snap read. He knows certain things will be open and they execute it. That's what makes them a good team, kind of what Mililani does," he said.

The atmopshere on Saturday night is always welcome at Hugh Yoshida Stadium.

"An opportunity to play at a high level again. The kids get to learn how to handle their emotions, handle the moment, good crowd size and mimics what we'll have for a playoff game," Kurisu said.

Yet, as a game that doesn't count in Leilehua's standings, the Mules will manage accordingly.

"It's basically another preseason game for us. Another opportunity to play more guys against Campbell, see where we're at and get reps in," he said. "We're going to compete, but we're going to be smart about how we compete and taking care of our division."

Kurisu noted games during the interleague years that wound up having less impact than he expected.

"In 2019, we played 'Iolani and Damien, and beat them both, and it still didn't help when it came to the (OIA playoffs) and the state seedings. We learned off past experiences. Knowing that, we're going to take care of our division," he said.