By JOE FERRARO
It’s a battle of heavyweights – literally.
Kealakehe will host Farrington at 7 p.m. today in a Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I first-round state playoff game that pits two of the state’s largest offensive lines.
Behind a line that averages 308 pounds per man, the Waveriders (10-1) kept the ball almost exclusively on the ground during the second half of the regular season and in the playoffs, grinding their way to their seventh Big Island Interscholastic Federation title in nine years.
Now the Waveriders want to accomplish something they’ve never done during that nine-year span: win a state playoff game.
“This is the best team we’ve had here, and this is the team that we’ll take the next step with,’’ Papalii said. “ We’re inching closer. We can taste it.”
Kealakehe must knock off the Governors (9-2), who are accustomed to trotting out 300-pounders on its offensive line, and Randall Okimoto calls the senior group of Michael Boyd, Mitchell Boyd, A.J. White, Colin Kaalele and Charles Sataraka “definitely the heaviest line across the board’’ during his 11-year stint as Farrington’s coach.
The line averages 320 pounds per man, but Okimoto places more emphasis on his linemen’s commitment in the classroom and the fact that they have played as a unit since they were sophomores.
The 6-foot-1, 333-pound Sataraka takes advanced placement courses and has received a scholarship offer from Colorado while Saint Francis University has offered scholarships to brothers Mitchell (6-1, 303) and Michael Boyd (6-1, 291).
“The experience playing with each other – that’s their strength,’’ Okimoto said.
The line has paved the way for two 1,000-yard rushers in seniors Abraham Silva and Tyler Taumua.
Okimoto said the 5-10, 212-pound Silva, who has rushed for 1,460 yards and 16 touchdowns, gets most of his yardage in between the tackles.
“He runs with a lot of passion,’’ Okimoto said. “His style is to hit the hole real hard – not dance around the hole. He provides a spark.”
Hawaii has offered a scholarship to the 200-pound Taumua, who gives the Governors explosiveness outside the tackles. He has rushed for 1,127 yards and 14 TDs.
“He’ll use his vision, and he’ll cut back and bring some power,’’ Okimoto said. “I don’t know how many times he’s hurdled a defender. He shows his athleticism.’’
Okimoto said his team only passes between 10 and 12 times per game but credits receivers Joshua Teixeira and James Hashimoto and tight end Tyler Liana for the role they take on as blockers.
Because Kealakehe has its own beefy offensive line, Papalii said.
Farrington’s size won’t intimidate his defense.
Seniors Manase Hungalu and Kyler O’Halloran provide good pursuit from the linebacking corps, while seniors Travis Lualemaga and Jerone Moege give the Waveriders a solid push on the defensive line.
“They’re used to going up against big bodies,’’ Papalii said.
Papalii, who began his second stint as Kealakehe coach this season, admits the Waveriders face a tough task in stopping the Governors’ ground game but maintains his team will also present a challenge for Farrington.
“(Silva and Taumua) are two of the best, most violent runners we’re going to face all year,’’ Papalii said. “But I believe it’s going to be a test for their defense to stop our offense. So we’re looking forward to it.”
Running counters with shifty senior running back Lennox Jones (980 rushing yards, nine touchdowns), Kealakehe gets opposing defenses flowing in one direction while the 5-foot-6 Jones finds room to run the opposite direction.
Bruising 348-pound senior fullback David Fangupo (508 yards, nine touchdowns) complements Jones with some powerful, straight-ahead running behind a line that includes Feke Sopoaga-Kioa (6-2, 290), Tui Eli (6-3, 305), Prince Samoa (6-0, 340), Siosaia Kalavi (6-5, 335) and Giovanni Chanes-Rodriguez (6-1, 270).
Kealakehe will operate against a defense Okimoto said feeds off the emotion of its senior co-captains, linebacker Aisea Tavae (5-10, 224) and defensive end Vaoatea Sagapolu (6-1, 227).
“(Tavae) is a hard hitter,’’ Okimoto said. “(Sagapolu) is a good pass rusher. … an inspirational leader – very passionate for the game.’’
Historically, OIA Red teams defend the run very well, but Papalii said his team gained some confidence in a 10-3 win at OIA Red school Kailua on Aug. 11. The contest marked the first time the Waveriders defeated an OIA Red opponent on the road as Jones ran for 98 yards on 25 carries while Fangupo rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s hard to run the ball (against the OIA), but you have to do what brought you here,’’ Papaplii said.
At the same time, Papalii pointed out the Waveriders can run the ball out of a spread formation normally effective in passing offenses and that Kealakehe won’t hesitate to go to the air if the Governors put eight or nine defenders near the line of scrimmage.
Kealakehe senior quarterback Jordan Cristobal has flourished running the ball (580 yards, six TDs), but he has also passed for 962 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“If you’re going to crowd us too much, we’re going to throw the ball,’’ Papalii said. “That’s why we run the spread. We hope that keeps them off-balance.”
Farrington brought a similar team to Kealakehe in 2009, and the Governors ran past Honokaa 48-16 in a first-round playoff game before falling to OIA powerhouse Kahuku 9-6 in the semifinals.
The winner of today’s game will take on Kahuku (10-0), this year’s top seed, at either 4:30 or 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
Okimoto said his team badly wants to play Kahuku after losing to the Red Raiders 31-6 at Aloha Stadium on Sept. 29. But the Farrington coach hopes the Governors don’t overlook Kealakehe.
“We’ve got our hands full, and by no means do we want to be distracted by travel,’’ he said. “Kealakehe has a good interest in advancing as we do.
“They need to take care of Kealakehe first.”