By: Paul Brecht

KALIHI – It was a rainy Friday evening as Kahuku and Mililani faced off for the second time in three weeks, this time at Farrington High School for the OIA Open Division championship.

Kahuku won the opening coin toss and elected to defer, showing continued confidence in the Red Raider defensive unit led by four-star linebacker and University of Texas commit Liona Lefou, to hold down a powerful Mililani offense first.

The vote of confidence was rewarded.

The Red Raiders, assisted by the steady rain, forced Mililani backup quarterback Mana Tarape and the Trojans into punting following a three-and-out and took over at their own 48 for the first Kahuku possession of the evening.

Kahuku’s offense wouldn’t fare much better, as the Mililani defense answered the call on the next possesion on fourth-and-3, forcing a turnover on downs.

The two normally high scoring units would continue to struggle throughout the opening period, trading punts back and forth and ending the first quarter the same place it started; 0-0.

The scoring action began in the second quarter, as Kahuku used senior Shaun Niu’s interception of Tarape to get set at the Mililani 19-yard line. Red Raiders quarterback Waika Crawford then took care of the rest, taking a read option 19 yards to the endzone to give Kahuku the lead, 7-0.

Looking to answer back, Mililani picked up a pair of first downs on the ensuing possession.

Then, the penalty woes for the Trojans began to appear.

Mililani would overcome a facemask penalty to set themselves up on the Kahuku 22-yard line, but a sack followed by a false start would set up a fourth-and-9 for the Trojans offense.

Tarape would try to force a pass down towards the end zone, but Lefou jumped the pass and set up Kahuku on the 20-yard line with just over two minutes to play in the half.

The Mililani defense would hold strong to end the half, despite Kahuku using a defensive pass interference to threaten one more score before halftime. The teams headed out of the rain and into the locker rooms with the Red Raiders leading, 7-0.

As the second half kicked off, the rain began to slow and the Kahuku offense turned on the jets.

Using a huge 35-yard catch by wideout Mana Carvalho on fourth down to set up the Red Raiders inside the Mililani 5, Kahuku would punch in their second rushing touchdown of the night once again by Crawford and take a 14-0 lead.

Flags continued to hurt the Trojans on the next possession, as Mililani was pinned back on fourth-and-2 inside its own territory.

Kahuku freshman defensive back Madden Soliai would then make his presence known with a blocked punt, setting up the Red Raiders on the Mililani 38.

From there, Kahuku would rely on lead running back Malae Fonoti to help chew up the clock.

Opening the fourth quarter, Fonoti would run right up the middle for a four-yard score to make it a three possession game with Kahuku leading 21-0.

Following another blocked punt by Kahuku, Crawford would connect with wide receiver Kache Kaio for a five-yard touchdown to put the game on ice with over eight minutes remaining.

The scoring would be capped following a 28-yard connection between Kahuku backup quarterback Sitani Suguturaga and wideout Gemini Vendiola with just over four minutes remaining, giving the Red Raiders a 35-0 lead.

Mililani quarterback Mana Tarape, filling in for the injured Kini McMillan, finished the night 13-for-24 passing with 92 yards and his first three interceptions of the season in the first shutout loss of the season for the Trojans.

Kahuku quarterback Waika Crawford compiled a strong overall game, finishing the night with three total touchdowns (1 passing, 2 rushing) to go along with 157 yards passing.

When asked if tonight’s winning result was a standard and expectation for this season, Kahuku head coach Sterling Carvalho said, “We’ve been preaching all year long that we don’t set the standard, we are the standard”.

In reference to the Red Raiders’ momentum following Niu’s interception in the second quarter coach Carvalho added, “We’re very optimistic. We just need a play and once we make that play there’s no stopping the big red machine.”

It was the fifth consecutive meeting in the OIA Open Division championship between the two schools with Kahuku winning the past three meetings.

Both schools have already clinched a spot in the state playoffs, beginning in two weeks.

Click here for First Hawaiian Bank State Football Championships brackets and schedules.