Kailua, Moanalua face off again - this time in the playoffs

Just as they did to start off the regular season, Kailua and Moanalua will face off this weekend to begin postseason play.

The Surfriders defeated Na Menehune, 44-0, to start the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I season but have looked like a shell of their former selves in recent weeks. After starting the year with three straight wins, Kailua dropped four of their next five games.

To make matters worse, the Surfriders (4-4) lost starting quarterback Aaron Mejia to a collarbone injury in a Sept. 23 contest against Leilehua, which the Mules won 38-14. Backup signal-caller Cole Weber made his first career start the following week, but had to do so in a 52-0 loss against third-ranked and unbeaten Mililani. 

Meanwhile, Moanalua (3-5) has rebounded nicely after starting the season with five straight losses. Na Menehune notched their first win of the season in a 31-27 win over Aiea and is riding three-game win streak thanks to a forfeit victory over Kaiser and a 21-20 nail-biter over Radford last weekend.

We caught up with the coaches of both teams a few days before their showdown.

ScoringLive: Describe your team's current situation.

Hauoli Wong, Kailua coach: "We lost Aaron in the Leilehua game, but we simplified our offense for our new quarterback. Now after looking at the film, and if you can understand our quarterback was getting his first start against a top three team in Mililani, he did some really good things, but at the same time, that's a tough opponent for a backup quarterback to get his first start. A lot of our receivers and linemen need to step up and do their job above and beyond so we can rally around Cole."

Savaii Eselu, Moanalua coach: "I would say obviously we have high spirits. For the most part, we're in good standing, we're all healthy and we pretty much have a grasp of the overall scheme and game plan. I think we feel good and I think we look good so far. We just have to finish out the week and perform well."

ScoringLive: Which player(s) have been the heart and soul of your team?

Wong: "I would have to say it's two players on the defensive side of the ball: Ralph Laurence Castillo and Taylor Tagupa. On the offensive side of the ball, I would say Aaron Mejia was the heart and soul of our team, but I (right now) I would have to go with running back Samson Rasay. It's hard to say offensively, because I can't pinpoint on person, but I'll say he's going to carry the majority of the load in this upcoming playoffs."

Eselu: "A couple of guys stand out. We have receiver Ezra Grace, Micah Kim, who is a guy that stands out on both sides of the ball, and defensive back Tre'quan Henderson, he showed up on the scene. Those guys are all work horses."

ScoringLive: Where has your team shown the most improvement over the course of the season?

Wong: "The most improvement I would said it would have to be defensively. We've played some really good games. I would have to say week in and week out, our defense does a helluva of a job trying to hold opponents in the red zone, just given the circumstances against Kapolei, Leilehua and Mililani. Offense has to do their part as far as scoring so the defense isn't held out on the field majority of the game. (The defense) has improved a lot, they do a helluva of a job out there."

Eselu: "I would say they're showing a sense of resiliency, continuing on when all the odds are against you. I think we had the odds stacked against us for five weeks in a row, but now we finished off (the regular season) well and are on a good skid with a three-game win streak. That's the best outlook. Everyone has a clean slate, we'll just see where we go from there."

ScoringLive: What has changed since you last played this week's opponent?

Wong: "I feel we've become more of a rounded team as far as our offense, defense and special teams. Our running game, our rushing attack is a lot better. We've taken care of the ball with the exception to the Kapolei game as far as turnover wise. We've protected the ball and we're just well rounded. On offense we're balanced, we're going to have to throw and run it. On defense, we've gotten a lot better than we were in the first encounter (against Moanalua."

Eselu: "The attitude, the mentality. I said it before and I'll say it again; coach Wong and his boys just hit us in the mouth, just straight up (last time we played). Our guys were stunned and surprised. Honestly, that running game that they have is straight up college level and higher in terms of the scheme and tenacity. That would be the best thing to pinpoint in terms of improvement is the attitude. The boys now know what Kailua is all about and what they're bringing."

ScoringLive: What is something that your opponent does well that you have to prepare for?

Wong: "Coach Savaii is always going to have a well-coached team. They're a good team both offensively and defensively, and it showed when they played Punahou and against Kahuku. It shows that they come to play. It's going to boil down to who makes the most mistakes offensively and defensively, is the one that's going to come out short. You just can't prepare for one thing with a Savaii Eselu-coached team. I think they're well rounded."

Eselu: "They can straight run the rock. Coach Wong has his boys running the ball like an NFL squad. They do an awesome job running the ball. Despite losing their key signal-caller in Mejia, they still have the ball rolling on the ground. That says a lot about Kailua football and their identity. We just have to be able to match their tenacity and just play some physical football right at them."

ScoringLive: Your team wins this weekend if what happens?

Wong: "I feel if our fronts, if our offensive line gets after their defensive line and our defensive line gets off the ball, we'll be OK. If we control the line of scrimmage, I feel we'll have a really good shot at winning the game."

Eselu: "If we can communicate. We had a huge communication break down (early) against Radford and it stuck around for majority of the game. If communication is consistent and solid, in accordance with the scheme and plan that we have set, I'd like to think we'll be successful that afternoon on Saturday."

Kickoff between Kailua and Moanalua is slated for 4 p.m. Saturday at Farrington's Edward 'Skippa' Diaz Stadium at Kusunoki Field. The winner will travel to face Mililani next Friday in the quarterfinals.

Reach Michael Lasquero at [email protected].



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