Few teams are on the hot streak that Leilehua finds itself on going into the second week of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I tournament.
The Mules, No. 7 in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Power Rankings, will put a five-game win streak on the line Saturday night when they host ninth-ranked Campbell in a quarterfinal round matchup at Hugh Yoshida Stadium.
That hardly means they are resting on their laurels.
"All it means is we're doing our job, and we're doing it well as a whole, but I told the players that if you rely heavily on what people are saying about you to play better, to play harder, to do what you're supposed to do, you're not playing the right way," Leilehua coach Mark Kurisu said.
The lone losses for the Mules (6-2) came in back-to-back weeks early in the season in road losses at Kahuku (24-0) and Mililani (47-0).
"When we were 1-2, people were questioning what was going on — not necessarily us as a team, but people around the team — and I felt for the kids because we played hard and we played well in those two losses, but people just mentioned the scores," Kurisu said. "I told the kids to not put your worth on winning, to just trust what we're doing and that what matters is our program and when we start doing things better we're going to get the results. What we've experienced the last couple weeks is just the kids' trust in the process and what we're doing."
During their current win streak, Leilehua has outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 185 points to 59 — an average margin of victory of just over 25 points per game.
Along the way the Mules knocked off ranked teams in Kapolei (20-19) and Farrington (33-6), earning them a second-place finish in the OIA's D1 Red Conference and a first-round bye last weekend.
Kurisu is hoping the time off pays dividends come Saturday night.
"Anytime you can have two weeks to scout a team you have more time to clear up some things, but I feel we had an advantage just because coming out of that Farrington game we were actually really beat up," Kurisu said. "The biggest thing now that you're in the postseason is it's not necessarily who's the best team, but who's the healthiest. It doesn't matter what our record was in the regular season. We've got to be healthy now and we've got to continue the momentum that got us into the playoffs."
Offensively, Leilehua is averaging 24.8 points and 268.9 yards per game. The emergence of junior wide receiver-turned-running back James McGary (678 rush yards, 5 TDs, 8.7 yards per attempt) has provided a much needed boost to the run game.
Meanwhile, senior quarterback Konapiliahi Andres (1,061 pass yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs) has experienced a resurgence after some early-season struggles that pushed him into a backup role. His favorite target has been junior wideout Jeremy Evans (25 receptions, 407 yards, 8 TDs), who is tied for the team lead in scoring with junior placekicker Akoni Tom-Makue (9 field goals made, 21 extra points).
Defensively, the Mules allow an average of just 17.4 points and 253.5 yards per game. Among the standouts on that side of the ball has been senior linebacker Richard "RJ" Shimasaki, who sat out the 2016 season after transferring from Campbell.
"Leilehua is a very deceiving team," Campbell coach Darren Johnson said. "They started off against two really good teams — the two No. 1 seeds — and they played them right off the bat. They played good, and they had some mistakes that helped those two teams win, but they're a good football team. I think we're a good matchup, so I think it's going to be a really good game. The thing about Leilehua is they've got good momentum going and they're peeking real good, so we're just trying to make sure we've got our injuries right, our mentality right and get the kids playing on Saturday."
The Sabers (6-3) won five of six games during a six-week stretch of the regular season and finished third in the OIA D1 Blue Conference, behind Kahuku and Waianae, respectively. They opened their postseason with a 24-9 home win over Red sixth-seed Castle last Friday.
Junior quarterback Krenston Kaipo threw for 246 yards and two TDs and sophomore linebacker/running back Tyrese Tafai added 15 carries for 108 yards and a score against the Knights.
For the season, Kaipo has thrown for 1,872 yards with 17 TDs and 10 INTs. His favorite target in the passing game has been sophomore wide receiver Pokii Adkins-Kupukaa (39 receptions, 756 yards, 8 TDs), who has also logged seven interceptions and three TDs on defense from his safety position.
"Campbell is big, explosive and athletic and anytime you play a team like that, we just try to focus on us," Kurisu said. "I think that's the biggest thing we're learning as a team; If we just take care of us, it's going to take care of us in the game. We try not to key on one guy, because that would be disrespecting the other athletes on the team and we don't ever want to do that. I think that's really helped us out. As a whole, I'm telling our guys that every guy is an all-state player and if you need to make an attitude adjustment and pick up your level of play, then that's what you need to do. Campbell is playing at a high level; all we can do is make sure we handle ourselves at practice and bring it to the game."
Defensively, the Sabers allow 18 points and 190.6 yards per game. Senior defensive tackle Isaac Sevao has been among the standouts. He posted six tackles, including two sacks, against Castle and has 6 1/2 sacks on the year.
While the Mules will be well-rested, Campbell will be playing its third game in as many weeks, which includes a 45-6 loss to Kahuku on Sept. 29.
That's just fine for Johnson.
"For everybody there's always an advantage and a disadvantage, but the good thing is we're playing and hopefully our rhythm and all that is good," Johnson said. "I would rather have played anyway. I don't care for byes too much unless we're banged up and we have injuries, but it's a challenge no matter what and we're happy to be where we're at and hopefully we play our butts off."
Kickoff Saturday is slated for approximately 6:30 p.m.
The winner will advance to face either Kapolei or Kahuku in the semifinal round at Aloha Stadium on Oct. 20. The loser's season is over.
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