Balance is key to Kahuku offense
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
Developing a defensive game plan against the Kahuku High School football team this season has been a weekly exercise in "choose your poison."
Stack the box and try to stop the run? Then be prepared for a passing attack that averaged 187 yards per outing with 27 touchdowns in 13 games.
Drop your linebackers into coverage to help in pass defense? Then don't be surprised when the Red Raiders come after you with tailback Mulivai Pula (1,271 yards, 18 touchdowns) or fullback Earvin Atuaia (377 yards, 5 TDs) ushered by an offensive line that averages 293 pounds per man.
But the Kahuku offense offers more than just overall balance. Each individual presents a unique challenge for defensive coordinators, and the combined result is a juggernaut that has averaged 450 yards and 41 points per game.
Here is a closer look at the biggest weapons in what could be the Red Raiders' greatest offense:
Some observers regard senior quarterback Inoke Funaki as the finest passing quarterback in Kahuku history. The numbers support that claim.
In 13 games this season, he has completed 123 of 211 passes (58 percent) for 2,418 yards and 29 touchdowns, against eight interceptions. Those kinds of statistics previously were unheard of at Kahuku, which for generations was primarily known as a running team.
The numbers become even more impressive after considering Funaki was pulled from most of those games in the third or fourth quarter after the Red Raiders had built big leads.
"They've made a concerted effort to develop a passing game," Castle coach Nelson Maeda said. "We didn't see that in years past."
The key to stopping most quarterbacks is applying a heavy pass rush and not giving them time to throw, but Funaki also happens to be one of the state's top open field runners.
He has rushed for 390 yards and seven touchdowns on 75 carries, an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
Skyline of Salt Lake City was the Utah runner-up in the big school division last year and lost to Kahuku 19-14 this preseason. Funaki completed 14 of 21 passes for 295 yards and one touchdown against Skyline, and rushed for 43 yards on six carries despite a pass rush designed to stop him.
Against Waimea in last week's state semifinals, Funaki completed 8 of 19 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown, and rushed for 123 yards on 11 carries.
"Their quarterback is outstanding," Skyline coach Roger Dupaix said. "It was really hard to get any kind of pressure on him, because he can run. He's got talent."
Meet the modern-day Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis: 5-foot-11, 250-pound fullback Earvin Atuaia and 5-11, 215-pound tailback Mulivai Pula, both seniors.
Atuaia outweighs most of the state's defensive linemen, and he can outrun most of them, too. He can get Kahuku the needed yard or two in those situations, but he also can break off longer runs because it often takes two or three tacklers to bring him down.
Against Castle's undersized line, Atuaia broke through for 51 yards and one touchdown on only six carries, all in the first half. The Red Raiders led 37-3 at intermission.
Pula, a first-team all-state selection last year, is perhaps the state's most feared running back. That's because of his blinding speed which enables him to beat defensive backs around the corner or explode past them downfield even when they have a good angle.
How fast is Pula? He finished second in the O'ahu Interscholastic Association 100-meter finals two years ago, crossing the finish line in 11.31 seconds. Oh, and he was second in the state long jump competition that year, leaping 21 feet, 1 inch.
This past spring he played baseball, and in the winter he played soccer.
In football, he seems to be peaking at just the right time. He shredded 'Aiea's defense for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the OIA co-championship game two weeks ago, and tossed in a 91-yard kickoff return for good measure.
Against Waimea last week, Pula rushed for 64 yards and one touchdown on nine carries, all in the second half.
Livai said he was "resting" him for Friday's state championship game against St. Louis.
Pula's cousin, senior Ferron "Loga" Fonoimoana, is a receiver/all-purpose back who doesn't touch the ball often.
But when he does, something big usually happens in dazzling fashion.
Of Fonoimoana's 35 catches this season, 12 went for touchdowns. In a 34-19 victory over Mililani, Fonoimoana caught three touchdown passes and scored on a 74-yard punt return.
The last three touchdowns came in the first seven minutes of the second half, helping turn a 7-5 lead into a 28-5 advantage.
"He beat us," Mililani coach James Millwood said.
Fonoimoana, Funaki's backup, also is a threat to throw the ball on halfback options. He'll also carry the ball on reverses or counters.
He is the Red Raiders' best return threat on punts and kickoffs, except for one problem: Teams rarely kick to him anymore.
Senior receiver James Kammerer won't draw many comparisons to Randy Moss or Ashley Lelie.
At 6-3, 184, he's a big target used mostly as a possession receiver. But he's dangerous just the same.
Kammerer caught 15 passes for 291 yards during the regular season, averaging 19.4 yards per catch. He finally got to showcase his ability against Lahainaluna in the quarterfinals, when he caught five passes for 136 yards and a tournament-record three touchdowns.
"Kammerer is one of the best in the state," Kailua coach Darren Johnson said. "He can run, and he's got great hands."
Great depth at every position
Together, these five seniors give Kahuku an arsenal most teams are not prepared to face.
'Aiea coach Wendell Say, whose team recently played Kahuku and St. Louis in consecutive weeks, said the Red Raiders were tougher to prepare for because of the different threats.
"They've got a lot of good personnel," Say said. "They can run, they can pass, they can do a lot of things."
Maeda said Kahuku has had great athletes before, but maybe never so many on one unit.
"They have great depth at every position," Maeda said. "It's hard to imagine a class with that much talent, especially at a public school. That's what's really impressive it's all homegrown from their own community."