Chase for the Championship
No. 2 Kahuku, No. 6 Waianae to keep game grounded

No surprises here.

In what is expected to be football game at its most basic form, Waianae and Kahuku will meet in Friday's semifinal of the First Hawaiian Bank Division I state football tournament, 4:30 p.m. at Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium.

Offensively, the Seariders and Red Raiders know what will be coming from the other:  a steady dose of the running game. No surprises, just old-fashion execution of smashball.

"The team that executes the best is going to be the team that comes out on top," Waianae coach Walter Young said.

"It all comes down to who's playing at the highest level," Kahuku coach Vavae Tata said.

Both Oahu Interscholastic Association teams are among the four survivors in Division I because of the run.  The quarterbacks in the other semifinal – Mililani's McKenzie Milton and Saint Louis' Tua Tagovailoa – are dynamic because of their combination of running and passing. Waianae QB Jaren Ulu primarily hands off the ball, or deftly faking it. Kahuku? It doesn't even use a QB. Most of the time, it's Kesi Ah-Hoy, or otherwise Harmon Brown and Sefa Ameperosa, serving as wildcats.

The No. 2 Red Raiders (11-0) beat the No. 6 Seariders (9-3), 30-0, during the regular season. Kahuku rushed the ball 42 times for 259 yards and passed the ball three times for 25 yards. Waianae rushed 33 times for 48 yards. It threw the ball 14 times for 22 yards.

"They were successful with their game plan against us so, you know what they're going to do," Young said. "I'm sure they're going to come out and adjust as needed.

We have to make sure we cover all our bases. If they're not successful with what they're doing, they're going to adjust, so we have to be ready to adjust just as they adjust."

Despite, the lopsided win, Tata said that was the past.

"We approach this week like it's a brand-new opponent, so we're not looking back to the game that we played three, four weeks ago," Tata said. "We're not looking at that team; we're looking a whole new team. At this stage of the season, everything is at stake. It's win or go home. We know Waianae is going to come with their ‘A' game, so we have to come with our ‘A' game. They're going to throw everything at us so we have to be ready for everything. Like I said, it's do or die."

Kahuku has numerous weapons on both sides of the ball, but its special teams might have an edge. Keala Santiago, who anchors the defensive secondary, is a threat on kick returns. Kekoa Sasaoka kicks off touchbacks, boots long field goals and punts with accuracy, giving opponents poor field position.

"Amazing, their special teams," Young said of Kahuku. "That kicker (Sasaoka) can change field position by himself. They have a lot of weapons, so we have to come out ready."

Although Kahuku's record is perfect, the Red Raiders have yet to play that "perfect game," or one with perfect execution and limited penalties. In its last meeting with Waianae, the Red Raiders were tagged 18 times for 154 yards.

"We've been hit with a lot of penalties," Tata said. "I'm looking for a game where we play a complete game in all three phases in the game."

As the top seed, Kahuku is coming off a bye and used the time to heal wounds.

WHAT: 17th Annual First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I Football State Championships, semifinals
WHO: Waianae Seariders (9-3/OIA third place) vs. Kahuku Red Raiders (11-0/OIA champion)
WHEN: Friday, 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium
TICKETS: Adults $9, students (grades K-12) $5, seniors (62-and-over w/ID) $5
PARKING: $3 (no tailgating permitted)
STATE TOURNAMENT HISTORY—Waianae: seventh appearance (1999–2000, 2005 2007,  2010, 2015) , 7-6 all-time, 1-4 semifinals. Kahuku: 13th appearance (1999 – 2001, 2003-2006, 2008–2009, 2011-2012, 2014-2015), 21-5 all-time, 9-3 in semifinals.

Waianae advanced to the semifinals by ousting Baldwin, 21-6, last week. 

Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at [email protected].

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