Red Raiders complete undefeated season with first state championship since 2015


Thu, Dec 23, 2021 @ Farrington [ 7:00 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
Saint Louis (6-4-0) 0 14 0 014
Kahuku (10-0-0) 21 7 14 749
Jason Mariteragi 186 yd 3 TD
Alexander Bianco 143 yd 1 TD
Kana Loa Kaluna 138 yd 3 TD
Boston Opetaia 13 yd 1 TD
Kainoa Carvalho 135 yd 2 TD
Trech Kekahuna 82 yd 1 TD

KALIHI — Call it Red Raider redemption. 

Top-ranked Kahuku laid claim to its first state football crown since 2015 with an emphatic 49-14 rout of four-time defending champion Saint Louis in the title game of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Open Division State Championships Thursday night. 

A capacity crowd of 3,659 fans at Farrington's Edward ‘Skippa' Diaz Stadium at Kusunoki Field saw the Red Raiders (10-0) complete an undefeated season that culminated with the ninth state championship in program history and first under fourth-year coach Sterling Carvalho. 

Carvalho was on the other side of the equation at the end of the previous prep football season that was completed, when Saint Louis beat Kahuku handily, 45-6, in the 2019 title game. 

But this wasn't about payback. 

"This is a different team," Carvalho said. "They believed in each other all year long and not just between our players but amongst our coaches as well the chemistry runs deep; they play for each other, they stayed here together to finish this and the outcome was state championship tonight."

Carvalho was alluding to the 11th-hour pact made back in the late summer between a number of standouts — including juniors Kainoa Carvalho, Liona Lefau, Leonard Ah You and Brock Fonoimoana — to remain at Kahuku rather than transfer to mainland schools while the state's public schools were hit with a pause of seven weeks two days before what was to be the start of the prep football season back on Aug. 6. 

But along the way, the Red Raiders were dealt several crushing blows with the unexpected passing of assistants Maui Kahalepuna, Matt Faga and David Vimahi all within the past year. 

"This was super satisfying because it's not only amongst themselves as players, but our coach Maui, coach Dave, coach Matt, dedicating the season to them and being able to finish what these coaches started with these players," Carvalho said. 

Kahuku's performance in Thursday's title game was quite the tribute to the trio of late coaches — and quite the celebration from nearly the opening kickoff. Outside of a couple of Saint Louis touchdowns in the second quarter, the rest of the night belonged to Big Red. 

CJ Caraang | SL    Purchase image

"Man, it's amazing," said Kainoa Carvalho, who caught six passes for 135 yards and was on the receiving end of two of quarterback Jason Mariteragi's three touchdown passes. 

"This one's for the community," he added. "This was all they wanted and we're bringing it back home."

As they have several times this season — and on so many occasions over the years — the Red Raiders got a kick start from their special teams unit. The Crusaders (6-4) had their punt blocked by Kahuku's Leonard Ah You to cap the game's first possession. 

"Leonard, he got in there he blocked it; that was huge," said Lefau, who scooped up the ball and returned it seven yards to the Saint Louis 24-yard line. "We got some big-time players, the least I could do was recover it for us."

Four plays after the change of possession, Kana Loa Kaluna ran in a 6-yard touchdown to open the scoring. 

"That gave us momentum," Kainoa Carvalho said of the blocked punt. "We came out firing with a hot start and we finished off strong."

Kahuku's defense forced another punt on Saint Louis's next drive. Kaluna and the offense marched 45 yards in seven plays, capped by his 4-yard TD run, to double-up their lead with three minutes and nine seconds left in the first quarter. 

The defense got involved in the scoring with Malosi Lefau's 29-yard interception return for touchdown just three plays later. 

CJ Caraang | SL    Purchase image

No one was more exuberant on the Kahuku sideline than his younger brother, Liona. 

"Ooh, I was excited; I was the most happy guy on the field," he exclaimed. 

Two plays into the second quarter, Kahuku made it a 28-0 lead with a 19-yard TD pass from Mariteragi to Liona Lefau. 

Saint Louis picked up some steam with scores on consecutive drives with Boston Opetaia's 2-yard TD run and AJ Bianco's 46-yard TD pass to Trech Kekahuna to pull to within 28-14 at the half. 

What momentum the Crusaders did generate, however, dissipated quickly after the start of the third quarter. Kahuku needed just two plays out of the intermission to find the end zone on Kainoa Carvalho's 61-yard TD reception from Mariteragi on a screen pass. 

"We knew it was big," Kainoa Carvalho said of the opening possession of the second half. "We knew we're a momentum team and with the community behind us, anything's possible and we did it."

Liona Lefau said the team had to reset its mindset at halftime. 

"Zero-zero. I mean, we told them, ‘We have two more quarters. For some of our seniors this is the last game of their lives, you know? It's all in.' We needed to start fast, so that was huge," he said. 

Saint Louis turned the ball over on downs on its ensuing possession and Kahuku further built on its lead with an efficient six-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a 16-yard TD pass from Mariteragi to Kainoa Carvalho, who pulled down the over-the-shoulder grab against one-on-one coverage. 

"At halftime we said if we can start off with a score on the opening drive, we'll be able to close them out and that's what we been doing all season: making the adjustments and executing," said Kainoa Carvalho, who recorded his sixth multi-touchdown game of the season. 

Liona Lefau halted the Crusaders' next drive three plays in, when he picked off a Bianco pass. The Red Raiders eventually recycled the takeaway into a 17-yard TD run by Kaluna to cap a 12-play, 82-yard drive that took more 7:33 off the clock. Kainoa Carvalho's extra point closed out the scoring. 

"We started fast and I mean, we build off of emotion, we build off of each other and so defense set the tone, offense came in, special teams came in, we all played like how we did all season in all three phases of the game," Sterling Carvalho said. 

Kahuku finished with 394 yards of total offense. Mariteragi completed 10 of 13 passes for 186 yards; he was sacked once and did not throw an interception. Kaluna carried 16 times for a season-high 138 yards and three TDs. 

Liona Lefau had a team-high five tackles, including one sack. Ah You recorded the Red Raiders' two other sacks. Viliamu Toilolo also had an interception late in the contest. 

"Hats off to them, you know, all year not knowing if we were gonna have a season or not, not being able to have official practices and they put on the practices, they decided to work out and get ready for this season and all their hard work, I'm so proud of them, it paid off," Sterling Carvalho said. 

Lefau wasn't on the 2019 Kahuku team that lost to Saint Louis, but it was certainly on his mind in the lead-up to Thursday's rematch. 

"I mean, I didn't play in that one, but we knew we had to bring it back, especially for this community. I mean, how can you not get fired up by this community when you walk in?," he said, as he gestured toward a red sea of supporters who stuck around to celebrate with the Pride of the North Shore. 

The Red Raiders had their season come to an end at the hands of the Crusaders every year since 2016 (in the title game three times and in the semifinal round once, in 2018).

"It was kind of like a revenge game for us," Kainoa Carvalho said. "They beat us for the past five years and this is all we wanted."

Saint Louis was held to a season-low 237 yards of total offense. Bianco threw for 143 yards on 11-of-20 passing with two picks. 

Joshua Sagapolutele led the Crusaders' defensively with six tackles and one for a loss. 

Saint Louis was seeking its fifth straight Open Division state title and eighth overall crown in the state championship-era. It had been the only school to win the Open Division since the HHSAA went to a three-tier classification system for football in 2016. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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