The brackets are officially out and the matchups set for the Hawaii High School Athletic Association football championship tournaments, which begin this weekend.
After an undefeated 8-0 season and their 10th conference championship in 11 years, the Kauai Red Raiders are the No. 3 seed in the Division II bracket and will have to play a quarterfinal game Saturday at Vidinha Stadium. Kauai, Iolani (7-4, 3-3 Interscholastic League of Honolulu) and Lahainaluna (10-0, 8-0 Maui Interscholastic League) were the three likely candidates for the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, which would earn them a bye into the semifinals, but Kauai ended up the odd team out. Lahainaluna earned the top spot and Iolani took the 2-seed.
That sets up a home date for the Red Raiders this weekend as Pearl City comes to Kauai for a 2 p.m. tilt in Lihue. Pearl City (7-4, 6-2 Oahu Interscholastic Association White) finished in second place in the OIA White division, dropping its only two conference games to Kaiser (10-1, 8-0), who earned the No. 4 seed in the Div. II tournament.
For Pearl City, this is the Chargers’ first season under head coach Robin Kami. In his inaugural campaign, Coach Kami has certainly instilled a game plan of balance. According the ScoringLive.com season statistics, the Chargers are averaging 266.3 yards per game, getting 144.5 through the air and 121.7 on the ground. Four players on the team have run the ball at least 26 times and nobody has carried it more than 81 times.
It’s been different players stepping up on different occasions. Running back Justin Dupio has the most touches, totaling 274 yards on his 81 carries, including six rushing touchdowns. Reno Abero has been more explosive out of the backfield (7.7 yards per carry), but has received 10 carries in a single game just once all season. Then it was linebacker/running back Blake Cooper who had a monster day in Pearl City’s biggest game of the year, as Cooper carried 14 times for 189 yards and two scores in a 28-14 win over Kalani on Oct. 18 to clinch a playoff berth.
Quarterback Jordan Taamu also calls his own number on occasion, carrying 49 times for 181 yards and one touchdown on the season. Through the air, Taamu totaled 1,540 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while completing 48 percent of his passes. He had maybe his best game of the season in that huge win over Kalani, going 17 for 23 for 185 yards, a touchdown and no picks.
The Chargers’ top two receivers dominate the squad’s production through the air. Timothy Rivera is Taamu’s security blanket, hauling in 39 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns. Kierren McGhee has become the team’s big-play threat. His 21 receptions have gone for 441 yards (21.0 yards per catch) and five touchdowns.
This Pearl City team is good, as well as resilient. The win over Kalani in the OIA White semifinals was the second time the two teams played this season. In the first meeting, Kalani crushed Pearl City, 40-8. Being able to have such a dramatic turnaround is a rare feat and says a lot about the Chargers and their coaching staff.
I would expect this week’s game to be close and low scoring. These Red Raiders are battle tested in that regard and have been successful. Kauai’s three wins over Kapaa this season look a lot more like a tennis match than football scores – 6-3, 7-6 and 6-3. Kauai has the home-field advantage and has shown the ability to grind out wins, so Saturday will be a test the Red Raiders certainly have the ability to pass.
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