State football previews: No. 2 Kahuku will re-focus; No. 3 Punahou getting healthy

Nov. 16—Nothing, though, teaches like pain. Nearly two weeks have passed since the aura of invincibility was dismantled, when Mililani stunned Kahuku, 28-21, to take the OIA Open Division championship.

Wisdom is a fine teacher.

Nothing, though, teaches like pain. Nearly two weeks have passed since the aura of invincibility was dismantled, when Mililani stunned Kahuku, 28-21, to take the OIA Open Division championship.

"For us, the biggest lesson learned is we cannot make mistakes and expect to win. Ugly as it was, we had a chance to win, " Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho said.

It wasn't Kahuku's first loss, but Mililani brought destruction to a seemingly predictable ecosystem with the then-nationally ranked, two-time defending state champions at the top. When the First Hawaiian Bank /HHSAA Football State Championships kick off Friday, Kahuku (10-2 ) has a chance to rebuild, to be reborn. ILH champion Punahou (7-2 ) has been unstoppable since losing to Campbell, winning all four of its league games by at least 14 points.

Punahou and Kahuku take the field at John Kauinana Stadium at 7 p.m., following the Mililani-Campbell matchup.

What Kahuku won't mention is this : Standout playmaker Kaimana Carvalho got injured during the OIA title game. It wasn't enough to sideline him, but the hyper-explosive receiver, defensive back, returner and punter was not his usual self.

"I was just banged up here and there, " the junior said. "We've definitely become a better team. That was one of our worst games, and it was only a one-touchdown (deficit ) game. I'll dial it down and we'll be able to play better. Going into this game, I'll be 100 percent (healthy ). I'll get with my trainers, do my recovery."

Punahou's highly productive offense is healthy. Running back Ala 'i Williams brings power and speed, and he is shaping back into form since returning from injury recently. Unlike Mililani's Kini McMillan, Punahou QB Ty McCutcheon likely will not run an endless number of draws. His touch and precision makes coverage for defenders an arduous task from sideline to sideline. Senior Astin Hange is one of the beneficiaries. He also knows that while Kahuku will likely focus on limiting his big plays, the field opens up for his talented teammates.

"We didn't show it early in the season, but we're in full momentum now. We have multiple playmakers in Noah (Macapulay ), Zion (White ) and our two versatile running backs. Ala 'i and Iosepa (Lyman ), " Hange said.

Kahuku and Punahou were able to transform this year, filling the holes left by talented seniors who graduated in June.

"It's a whole different team, " Hange added. "New leaders, new mindset. We're just trying to put the pieces together."

"Kahuku has some really good athletes and they play hard, the same as last year, " Punahou coach Nate Kia said. "Despite graduating a stellar senior class, they reloaded their roster with very capable transfers. It should be a great game."

Offensively, Kahuku has depended more on the ground game. Va 'aimalae Fonoti struggled to get going against Mililani, but has still supplied a super senior season. Defensively, Punahou defensive lineman Kekai Burnett and linebackers Ko 'o Kia and Alika Cavaco-Amoy often finish off a relentless pass rush.

The recent return of senior nose tackle Faiafua Ioane (5-11, 265 ) from injury is a plus.

"Fua is ready to play. He could have played last game, but it was unnecessary, " Kia said.

The expectations and hopes of two powerhouse programs are mighty.

"Regardless of outcome, this has definitely been a successful season. There have been many trials throughout the journey, but each has forced us to adapt and grow and better ourselves in different ways, " Kia said.

For Kahuku, there may be no greater fans—and expectations.

"Obviously, the end goal is to always finish what you started. Winning states, that's been the goal at the beginning of the season and that's what we're playing for now, " Carvalho said. "These kids. I have great kids. Humble kids. No one is saying anything. They just continue to work. They're young and it's strictly business."

No. 4 Campbell (9-3 ) at No. 1 Mililani (10-1 ), Friday, 4 p.m.

The Trojans won the Division I state title in 2014 during the pre-Open Division era, outscoring Punahou, 53-45, in the final. They also won a D-I state title in'16 after falling short of the Open bracket.

This time, they enter the semifinals as the top seed. There's no thought of the final.

"Campbell is a dangerous team. Probably the best third-place team in the last 10 years, " Mililani coach Rod York said. "It all depends on the momentum of the game. They scored 37 points the last time we played, and they score fast."

With a 55-37 win over Campbell, Mililani advanced to the OIA title game and knocked off Kahuku. Campbell regrouped and edged Kapolei, 30-27, to claim third place and the final berth in the state tournament.

The Sabers have done it for much of the season without game-breaking receiver and returner Tana Togafau-Tavui.

"I expect Tana to play, " York said. "That kid is a gamer and a difference-maker. They have great linemen, a couple of D-I guys on the defensive line. Really good O-line coach."

QB Jaron-Keawe Sagapolutele has passed for 3, 540 yards and 35 TDs with 11 interceptions.

"Their trigger man is leading the state in passing yards. They have dangerous receivers. Playmakers all over the place, " York said.

Campbell coach Darren Johnson said he is not sure whether Togafau-Tavui will play this weekend.

"We actually don't know, we don't know, we don't know yet. We're trying to get everybody healthy, " Johnson said. "We'll play with whatever hand we're dealt. Everything is a game-time decision."

Mililani is healthy and raring to go. Quarterback Kini McMillan has put together one of the most efficient seasons in recent memory by a QB. He now has 2, 623 passing yards and 35 TDs with only three picks in 265 attempts. Five Trojan receivers have at least three TD hauls. Adding his speed and effectiveness on the QB draw makes the offense nearly impossible to stop.

Division I semifinals Farrington (7-3 ) at No. 8 Waipahu (6-4 ), Saturday, 7 p.m.

Waipahu pulled away for a 48-26 win over Farrington in the OIA D-I title game two weeks ago. Doing it again is no easy task.

Farrington dominated a young Damien squad in the opening round last week, also by a score of 48-26. Senior running back Sitani Mikaele wore down the Monarchs with his 238-pound frame, amassing 205 rushing yards despite a sore ankle.

"Everybody's banged up and hurting. Sitani had that little injury and he was sick. The flu was going around our team, " Farrington coach Daniel Sanchez said. "I think this week he's probably the healthiest he's been in a month."

Waipahu's offense was about potential early in the season, with a flourish early in games, and a wobbly finish. That 0-3 start against Top-10 competition—Campbell, Kapolei and Kamehameha—left a lasting imprint. The Marauders have won five of their last six games, scoring at least 43 points in the five victories.

Eric Stephens has 55 receptions for 1, 081 yards and 13 TDs. When defenses shade to his side of the field, Jayden Chanel and Tai Aipia-Barrett thrive in single coverage. RB Faafetai Failauga's versatility brings balance to the attack. Sophomore Elijah Mendoza (2, 121 passing yards, 28 TDs ) stepped in, again, to keep the offense in constant growth mode.

The question is : Will Waipahu be able to keep Farrington's pass rush at bay ? Anelu Lafaele has been a force all season long.

Kapaa at Konawaena Saturday, 7 :30 p.m.

Looking at the stats, quarterback Kapono Na-O might seem an easy choice for the game ball when he accounted for four touchdowns and the game-deciding two-point conversion for Kapaa in its 29-28 first-round victory at Lahainaluna on Saturday.

But coach Mike Tresler said everybody deserves one, including the team moms.

The Warriors support staff and volunteers were crucial, Tresler said, as Kapaa had to make sure all pregame logistics were in order, especially because there were no direct flights from Kauai to Maui, and the Warriors had to plan for a stop on Oahu. They arrived, along with all of their equipment three hours before kickoff.

"We didn't travel (previously ) this year. Our kids did really well, keeping their mental focus on the game, " Tresler said. "Everyone did a great job, from the athletic director to our team moms. We got all our bags. If a bag doesn't make it, it probably means someone doesn't get to play."

Kapaa, with dual-threat Na-O passing and rushing for huge plays, is 9-0. But the Warriors travel again for a tough game this week, taking on Konawaena. The defending state champion Wildcats are 10-1, but that lone loss was in preseason against national power Long Beach Poly.

Since then, Kona dominated the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, with a 28-19 victory over Leilehua as a bonus.

Ninth-year coach Brad Uemoto is a big reason for Kona's success, and so is Zedekiah Anahu-Ambrosio. Actually, you could say the junior do-it-all is several of the reasons, as he stars at receiver, in the secondary on defense, and as a punt returner. He also plays quarterback at times, and two of his 16 passes have gone for TDs. But his real strength is as a receiver, where he has caught 21 touchdown passes.

Anahu-Ambrosio has scored touchdowns almost every way imaginable : rushing, receiving, passing and returning kicks and picks.

He should be especially dangerous this week, as the top-seeded Wildcats are well-rested with a bye last week.

Division II semifinals Roosevelt (9-3 ) vs. Waimea (2-5 ) at Hanapepe Stadium, Saturday, 1 p.m.

The road has been bumpy for the defending state champion Menehune, who went 2-4 in league action.

"We've dealt with a lot of injuries. Our two best guys went down with knee injuries to start the season. We did OK during the season, " coach Kyle Linoz said.

Seniors Isaac Ulanday and Rhaz Taniguchi Tacub suffered non-contact knee injuries in preseason.

"We brought up some younger guys and picked up some of our hybrid linemen and moved them to stand-up linebacker. It was enough to get by Kauai and get into the (state ) tournament, " Linoz said QB Kameron Apilado was a key to last year's title run. RB Kaili Arakaki is back on the field. Junior Maika Bruhn (6-1, 175 ), is a safety and kick returner.

Roosevelt QB Ioane Kamanao has shown tremendous resilience, playing through injury late in the season. The Rough Riders ousted Kamehameha-Hawaii last week, 19-14, and now have the challenge of flying to Lihue, then driving to Hanapepe for the battle with Waimea.

"Roosevelt is very dangerous. Explosive on offense. They play a style we're not used to with the passing game, the fast pace and pressure on offense. Their quarterback and wide receivers are explosive. I'm not sleeping well right now, " Linoz said.

Pac-Five (5-2 ) at Kamehameha-Maui (6-1 ), Saturday, 6 p.m.

The Wolfpack knocked out Kaimuki last week, 32-7, to start the Division II bracket. Now they travel for the first time this season to face the hungry Warriors.

Two years ago, Kamehameha-Maui reached the D-II state final and lost in blowout fashion to Kapaa, 61-7. Last year, it was King Kekaulike in the final, losing to Waimea, 45-6.

The Warriors overwhelmed Baldwin, Maui and King Kekaulike, losing only to Lahainaluna. They have not played since Oct. 27.

"Just managing the amount of time you have off, the key is to schedule it so they peak at the right time, " Warriors coach Ulima Afoa said.

Having his team at nearly full health is the best part of three weeks without a game. The Kamehameha-Maui defensive line is led by Kaiwa Ho (5-11, 250 ), Kanekoa Maielua-Kekiwi (6-2, 215 ) and Joshua Kerr (5-9, 205 ). Rusty Ako-Nataniela, Robin Souza and Kamalei Cua lead the linebacking corps.

Pac-Five has stuck to basics with a power-based ground game. Seth Miller averages 110 rushing yards per game (seven TDs ), and a large number of the linemen play both ways, including left tackle Ghesiah Faleafine-Auwae. Afoa recognizes fundamental, old-school football when he sees it.

"They're big and athletic up front offensively. They have a really good running back. It's kind of opposite, they're not like the Pac-Five I used to know throwing the ball all over the field, " said Afoa, who coached on the Wolfpack staff several years ago. "You're going to ride that horse that got you there, and their horse is the running game."

Meanwhile, Pac-Five's defense has not surrendered more than seven points in a game since Oct. 14 in a 14-13 exhibition win over Molokai. The 'Pack is on a five-game win streak.