Red Raiders will retain title, 28-21
|||Payback time for Crusaders, 28-13|
|||Chart: Road to the title game|
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
(O'ahu private school graduate)
OK, the secret is out: I'm a Red Raider.
So I guess that makes us related.
But that is not the main reason I believe Kahuku will retain its state championship tonight against St. Louis, unlike my colleague Stacy Kaneshiro.
You see, now that only one game remains, we finally can speak the truth: Everything up to this point has been just one long preseason for Kahuku. It all has amounted to "live fire" preparation for longtime nemesis St. Louis.
It's the game the Red Raiders have eagerly anticipated since Week 1, although decorum prevented them from always admitting it.
Sure, there was a scare from Skyline of Salt Lake City in the opener, a 19-14 victory in which Kahuku out-gained its opponent 500 yards to 173. Mililani provided a challenge three weeks later, trailing only 7-5 at halftime before the Red Raiders won 34-19.
Wai'anae and Waimea fought valiantly and ended up with respectable defeats, 21-6 and 21-7, respectively.
But let's be honest: No team this season came even close to matching up to Kahuku in terms of strength, speed and depth. And no team summoned up the excitement the Red Raiders finally were fueled with this week leading into tonight's showdown.
Kahuku's wealth of talent is unquestioned and has been well-documented. But the Red Raiders' hunger and concentration flickered throughout the season, as evidenced by the familiar penalties and turnovers which unfortunately have become associated with the program.
It's those penalties and turnovers which have cast some doubt on Kahuku's previously assumed role as tonight's favorite.
The Red Raiders fumbled eight times against Waimea last week, losing four. They were penalized 13 times for 109 yards.
"That just shows you how unfocused we were," coach Siuaki Livai said.
Stacy and other doubters can bet focus will not be a problem tonight.
"We'll tighten things down and be ready to play," Livai said.
In past years, doubt was Kahuku's enemy, because it crept into the Red Raiders' confidence. This season, every time a shadow of a doubt fell upon Kahuku, the Red Raiders responded with fierce performances.
It happened in Week 4, when Castle came in looking for an upset after stunning Wai'anae, 55-35. The Knights, with a dynamic offense led by dazzling quarterback Joel Botelho, were supposed to offer a unique challenge.
Kahuku jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead and was up 37-3 by halftime.
A week later, unbeaten Kailua was expected to present problems with an offensive line to match the Red Raiders size-wise.
Kahuku outgained Kailua 251 yards to 76 in the first half, taking a 34-7 lead into intermission.
The Red Raiders' final "threat" came from 'Aiea, which was 10-0 and fresh off a 21-10 victory over Wai'anae.
Kahuku's Mulivai Pula took the opening kickoff and ran it back 91 yards for a touchdown to help give the Red Raiders a 7-0 lead just 17 seconds into the game. They led 41-0 at the half after Pula ran for four more scores.
That night, some Kahuku coaches donned black T-shirts with big white blocks letters on the back spelling out the phrase, "LEAVE NO DOUBT."
Livai said talk of the Red Raiders being knocked off by another O'ahu Interscholastic Association team was "irritating." Potential upsets turned out to be mere distractions toward the real showdown.
That is why, after the Waimea victory, Livai let out several huge sighs of relief.
"I'm so glad it's over," said Livai, wiping his forehead. "Now we finally can prepare all out."
Amazingly, the comment seems to suggest that as dominating as Kahuku has been, we have yet to see the Red Raiders at their best.
Livai, who said he likes challenges, wasn't being arrogant. Just brutally honest: By design or not, they've been saving something for St. Louis.
But doubt has reared its ugly head again, after Kahuku's less-than inspiring performance last week. Stacy and others are wondering if the Red Raiders will stumble, if all that talent could be wasted via butterfingers or yellow flags.
Might Kahuku lose?
That is exactly the kind of doubt the Red Raiders feast upon, Stace.
Kahuku 28, St. Louis 21.