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Falcons not looking past Golden Hawks as D2 teams make playoff push in OIA race


Playoff season is here, at least as far as the Kalani football team is concerned. 

With three weekends left in the eight-game Oahu Interscholastic Association Division II regular season, teams are jockeying for position as the race for the postseason tightens and the Falcons (3-2) are among them. 

Undefeated Kaiser (6-0) sits atop the league standings and has a bye this Thanksgiving weekend before closing with games against one-win Kaimuki (1-4) and winless McKinley (0-5). Radford (5-1), which is in sole possession of second place, will host Kalaheo (1-5) Saturday then Iolani next Friday in a non-league matchup, before a big end-of-season showdown at Nanakuli on Dec. 10. 

The Golden Hawks are among a trio of teams — along with Kalani and Pearl City — in a logjam for third place with identical 3-2 records. 

With only the top two teams from the final standings qualifying for the OIA championship game — slated for Dec. 18 at a site to be determined — a cloudy playoff picture will clear-up with pivotal head-to-head matchups between contenders over the next few weeks. 

Not that the Falcons are spending much time on the postseason scenarios. 

"Because there's only two teams making it to the OIA championship, I think we're seeing each game as our own little championship and as our own little opportunity to enjoy the game of football, especially because of COVID, it's good for the kids and just make the most of it," said Melemai, whose team will face Nanakuli at Kaiser Stadium Friday night. 

"We're probably out of the playoffs already, so that's probably something the kids had to understand, but because it was taken away (previously), at least they have three more games in the regular season to play high school football," Melemai conveyed.  

Well, not entirely. 

Kalani has a glimmer of hope to make the postseason. It would need to win its last three games (against Nanakuli, Kalaheo and Pearl City) to finish 6-2 and need Radford to lose its final two games (against Kalaheo and Nanakuli) to finish 5-3. 

The Rams hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Falcons by virtue of their 28-13 win nearly two weeks ago. 

Melemai's squad had a bye last weekend, which came at an opportune time, he said. 

"Yeah, it was good. We needed some time to rest and kind of review everything. It was good for us in the middle of the season to recover from the five games and fix some things that we needed help on," he said. 

Melemai also noted with the end of the junior varsity season two weeks ago, it provided a boost in numbers to his team with about 20 players added to the roster. 

"Now the JV kids are with us to bring a little more depth to our roster on offense and defense," he said. 

Melemai pointed to the defensive side of the ball as being the most improved part of the team since a season-opening 28-6 loss to Kaiser back on Oct. 16. 

"I would say our defense, preparing each week for the teams that we're facing and trying our best to minimize their plays and the things that they're doing on us, I think that's one of the things we take pride in and as the year went on we're improving each week and the intensity that we play with on both sides of the ball," Melemai said. 

During a three-game win streak, the Falcons held their opponents to 16 combined points. For the season, they allow just over 14 points and 181 yards per game. Among those who have stepped up on defense is senior linebacker Seti Taualupe, who recorded a pair of interceptions and two tackles for losses against Radford. 

"He's a leader on defense and he's one of our playmakers. He's one that we're looking to keep our defense in the games and keep us sound in what we do," Melemai said of the 5-foot-11, 235-pound Taualupe. 

On the other side of the ball, Melemai praised the play of second-year starting quarterback Logan Lim, who is 23 passing yards away from 1,000 on the season. The 6-foot-180-pound senior has 10 touchdown passes on the year and has been intercepted just once in his last three games. His 257 rushing yards are second on the team to running back Josh Oh, who has run for 473 yards and three touchdowns. 

"Logan Lim on the offensive side has really stepped up as the quarterback, the field general in leading us to try to do what we do: move the ball and control the clock," Melemai said. 

Nanakuli coach Kili Watson has also been impressed from afar by Lim's work this season.

"The quarterback is a weapon out there, through the air and on the ground," said Watson, who will get a close-up look at Lim and the Falcons Friday night. 

"I think they've made a lot of growth from what I've seen. In the beginning of the season they had that TV game against Kaiser and from the film we've been watching, the team is definitely growing. They're a well-coached team and they've got a lot of athletes," Watson said. 

Nanakuli has recorded lopsided wins over Kalaheo, Kaimuki and McKinley, while both of its losses have been tightly-contested ones. It dropped a 14-13 decision to Pearl City two weeks ago and last Friday night came up just short in a 38-32 defeat at the hands of Kaiser. 

The game came down to the final play; Nanakuli had a chance to tie it with a touchdown — and potentially win it with an extra point — but quarterback Keahi Ah Sui's pass was just out of the reach of an open Hansen Salausa-Kaawa in the end zone and the Cougars escaped with a hard-fought win. 

"At the end of that Kaiser game the locker room mentality was different," Watson said. "What I mean is, of course we were disappointed with the loss, but I think it definitely helped build the team chemistry and bond because I think that game was just a good illustration of playing as a team and having each other's back on the field."

Nanakuli trailed 24-7 at halftime, but got back in it with a 25-point second half. 

"The defense played tough, the offense came back in the second half, so yeah, I mean, it was something different as far as the emotions in the locker room following that Kaiser game. The team was disappointed with the loss, but they knew what they needed to fix and took away some valuable lessons from that night," Watson added. 

Nanakuli is averaging a gaudy 41 points and 447 yards per game offensively, while holding opponents to under 17 points and 225 yards each time out. 

Ah Sui ranks second in the division with 1,316 passing yards and 14 touchdowns against five interceptions. David Kalili's 413 receiving yards is fourth among OIA D2 players and Christian Asinsin is third with 394 rushing yards on the year. 

Melemai knows the Golden Hawks are playing some inspired football as of late. 

"Right now they look like one of the best teams. They're balanced, both passing and running, their defense flies to the ball, they play a lot of man (coverage) and they put up a hard fight against Kaiser and Pearl City," he said. "At the beginning of the season we didn't know what to make of all the teams, but I think they're one of the top teams in our division; they're well coached and they have a lot of heart."

Watson wasn't sure about the different playoff scenarios involving the top five teams contending for the two postseason spots, but this much he does know: A loss Friday knocks his team out of it. 

"It's gonna be in our thoughts because you want to make some sort of postseason run and yeah, it's unfortunate that only the top two go this year, but you know, it is what it is and the same thing as I tell all my coaching staff and that we share with the team every day, it's just about taking it one day at a time and one game at a time," Watson said. "We don't want to be looking forward to the championship game and we trip over something in front of us, so right now the goal is just to win Friday night."

Kickoff between the Golden Hawks and Falcons is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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