Hawaiian Electric Game of the Week
Kapolei faces toughest test against defending champ Kahuku

They meet again.

Kapolei and defending state champion Kahuku will face off in the postseason for the third straight year Friday night when the two teams meet at Hawaiian Tel Federal Credit Union Field at Aloha Stadium – only this time it will be in the semifinals of the inaugural Open Division state tournament.

The victor of the matchup will take on the winner between Waianae and Saint Louis in the title game of the First Hawaiian Bank/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Open Division Football Championships on Nov. 19.

The Hurricanes (10-2) and Red Raiders (10-1) were expected to play each other in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I championship game after claiming the top seeds in their respective conferences during the regular season. However, Kapolei dropped a 33-27 stunner to Farrington in the league semifinals and the anticipated postseason matchup was postponed.

While Kahuku enjoyed a first round bye in the state tournament, Kapolei had to go through Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division I runner-up Punahou in the opening round. The Hurricanes ultimately defeated the Buffanblu, 33-21, which set up Friday's big game.

Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez acknowledged the tall task that he and his team will face against the Red Raiders.

"We think they're the best team that we're going to play without a doubt," he said. "They have an impenetrable defense and they're good on all three levels."

Hernandez added that although beating Kahuku is improbable, it isn't impossible.

"There are stranger things that have happened. The Cavaliers were down 3-1, and the Cubs won, and even Trump won. 

"We think hard that we're an underdog. If we play a perfect game Friday, things can turn our way. It's going to be very very tough. No team on Oahu has been able to exploit any of their weaknesses, because there are none."

And he isn't wrong. 

In fact, the only team that has been able to defeat Kahuku in the last two years — let alone score more than 15 points — were the Bishop Gorman Gaels of Las Vegas, the top-ranked team in the country. Since Kahuku coach Vavae Tata took over the program, the Red Raiders have won 23 straight games over Hawaii opponents.

For anyone wondering if the Red Raiders still think about that loss, Tata said: "it's been in the rear view mirror.

"It's a lesson learn," he said after an OIA quarterfinal win over Leilehua. "There's a lot of things that you can take from that game, and the kids have done the same. We know where we're at and we know where they're (Bishop Gorman) at, and that's where we need to come to. Just to close the gap between them and us."

While the Red Raiders have the resume (25 OIA titles, eight state titles) to be in the discussion of the top teams in the nation, the Hurricanes are in uncharted territory. 2016 marked the first year that Kapolei made it to the state tournament on the Division I level.

"For our community, it means a lot because its the first time that they get to experience this type of success," said Hernandez. "I'm hoping the community comes out to support us and we'll go full tilt and see what happens on Friday."

Still, the game is played between the lines, something that prep football fans across the state can't wait to see.

The biggest matchup that everyone will be watching is Kapolei's high-flying offense against the Red Raiders' stout defense. The Hurricanes made headlines in the offseason when former University of Hawaii coach and run-and-shoot expert June Jones was named as their offensive coordinator, while the Kahuku defense has pitched six shutouts this year.

"Their DBs are sensational," Hernandez said of the Red Raiders' defense. "They jump routes, they take picks to the house. They're athletic and they can all hit and run. Their linebackers are very rangy and can get off blocks quickly and run to the ball. Their DL is stout and they can rush the passer.

"We've been watching the film over the past few days and it's difficult to find any kind of weaknesses. That's probably the most well coached, well disciplined, well athletic defense that we'll ever face."

Hernandez said winning the battle at the line of scrimmage is critical if his team hopes to have any success against the defending champs.

"I wouldn't point to one particular guy, but I would have to say the two units that have to step up is our offensive and defensive. Both the trench guys have to come up big on Friday. If they can do that, they can give us a chance."

Regardless of what happens on Friday, the 2016 season has been a special ride for Hernandez and the Hurricanes.

"There's a big time spiritual feeling on our team because the boys really love going to church and love God, and it's a beautiful thing," said Hernandez. "Everyone is accountable for each other and they do the right thing. Every day, that team bond and love that they have for each other is pretty unbelievable."

Kickoff is slated for 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Waianae and Saint Louis semifinal, which begins at 4:30 p.m.

Reach Michael Lasquero at [email protected].

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