Trio of pick-6s help Red Raiders rebuff Sabers, return to title game


Fri, Nov 18, 2022 @ Mililani [ 4:00 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
Campbell (7-4-0) 0 0 0 77
Kahuku (12-2-0) 7 10 7 832

MILILANI — Spurred by its defense, No. 1 Kahuku made easy work of fourth-ranked Campbell, 32-7, in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships Friday afternoon. 

The Red Raiders (11-2) scored 22 points off of four interceptions, including three interception returns for touchdowns, to down the Sabers (7-4) and secure a spot in next Friday's Open Division championship game. 

Falealii Atuaia, Madden Soliai and Aiden Manutai each came up with a pick-six for Kahuku, which was out-gained by Campbell in total yardage, 202 to 146. 

"I mean, it's always that way: our defense is the strength of our team," Red Raiders coach Sterling Carvalho said. "A lot of our athletes are on that side of the ball and tonight you could see, they just made plays when we needed them to make plays."

Maximum Fonoimoana tallied three of Kahuku's nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage and two of its eight sacks. Campbell was limited to minus-29 rushing yards on 19 carries. 

"We did OK," defensive coordinator Nihoa Pule assesed. "We came out kinda sluggish, but once we got our footing the kids actually came to play and they showed up, so it was, you know, assignment football."

After the Red Raiders took a 10-0 lead on Kainoa Carvalho's 33-yard field goal with three minutes and 43 seconds left in the second quarter, Atuaia came up with the first defensive score of the night. Cornerback Shaun Niu came up with a deflection of a Jaron Sagapolutele pass that found the hands of Atuaia, who raced down the left sideline for a 55-yard touchdown return. 

"So at practice we've just been practicing run to the ball, finish through the play until the whistle blows, so I was just lucky my teammate, Shaun Niu, tipped it up to me," said Atuaia, a sophomore linebacker. 

Kainoa Carvalho tacked on the extra point to stretch it to a 17-0 lead with 1:43 left until halftime. 

"Oh, that helped us out tremendously," Pule said of Atuaia's pick-six. "You know, our offense was a little sluggish coming out as well, but our kids did what we worked on for the past 18 days, right, so hopefully we get at least one (interception)."

The Sabers first five possessions resulted in two punts, a turnover on downs and two interceptions. Three of their drives resulted in negative yardage. They put together an 11-play drive that penetrated the Kahuku 32-yard line, but turned it over on downs following three consecutive Sagapolutele incompletions. 

"I think it gave us a lot of momentum, but not only me, once we got comfortable then our defense just kept rolling from there," Atuaia said. 

Campbell orchestrated another 11-play drive to open the second half, but was forced to punt away. Its second drive out of the intermission saw Sagapolutele intercepted on a third down by Soliai, who undercut the route of the intended receiver at midfield and went untouched 50 yards the other way for a touchdown. 

Following the Carvalho PAT, the Red Raiders held a 24-0 lead with 3:50 left in the third quarter. A few minutes into the fourth quarter, Manutai got in on the action with a 15-yard pick-six off of Sagapolutele. Kaimana Carvalho ran in the ensuing two-point conversion to extend it to a 32-0 cushion. 

Atuaia said he and his teammates gained momentum with each big defensive play they made. 

"It's nothing new. We've been used to it this whole year, we just gotta trust in each other, like we've been doing this whole year and it should take us far," he said. "Once we get that one sack, that one pick, one fumble, it just gets our energy rolling and from there we just got the momentum to go far."

Sagapolutele finished 23-of-46 passing for 231 yards. Jonah Togafau-Tavui caught seven passes for 55 yards and Mason Muaau and Rowen Bucao added four grabs for 53 yards apiece. Dallas Fonseca-Juan chipped in with four receptions for 44 yards in the loss. 

Kahuku was held to 74 rushing yards, well below its per-game average of 129. It averaged only 2.2 yards per rush. Quarterback Waika Crawford completed 11 of his 20 passes with one interception for a season-low 71 yards. 

The Red Raiders were 1 of 11 on third downs. They committed six penalties for 72 yards — which accounted for three of Campbell's 16 total first downs. 

Kahuku had just 11 first downs all night, including only two through the air. 

"To be honest, it's not anything that Campbell did, it's what we didn't do offensively and we just gotta make sure we take care of that and dropped passes, the penalties impeded our drives, so we cannot have that, especially next week in the championship game," Sterling Carvalho said. 

Kahuku got on the board with with about four minutes left in the first quarter on Kingsley Ah You's 30-yard run on an end around to cap a nine-play, 74-yard drive. 

Campbell's lone score came on a 2-yard Chauncee Lopez touchdown run with 6:26 to play. 

The Sabers were 4 of 13 on third downs. They were flagged nine times for 73 yards. 

It was a season-low scoring output for Campbell, which entered the game averaging nearly 40 points per game. 

The Sabers were seeking their first appearance in a state title game since 2004, when they beat Iolani, 28-7, for the Division II championship. 

Kahuku also won the regular season meeting between the teams back on Oct. 1 by a score of 16-6. 

The Red Raiders will face No. 2 Punahou in Friday's state final, 7 p.m. at Mililani's John Kauinana Stadium. 

Kahuku will be playing in its 16th state championship game. It has won nine state titles and will be trying for its second straight under Sterling Carvalho. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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