Filikitonga Has TD Streak to Match LHS’ Record
By Rodney S. Yap
OK, so they started off slow.
In fact, Baldwin High School led 3-0 after the first quarter.
As good as the Lahainaluna High School football team played Friday night, it wasn’t perfect. But it was darn close and perhaps as good as we’ve seen a Maui Interscholastic League team play in October.
A War Memorial Stadium crowd of more than 6,000 watched the Lunas squash any future debate about their place in next month’s postseason picture by posting a 48-3 drubbing of MIL perennial Division I champion Baldwin.
Regardless of what happens to this Lahainaluna team the rest of the season, 2013 will be remembered as the year Lahainaluna swept Baldwin on OC16 television in its first-ever neighbor island regular-season football broadcast.
Lahainaluna certainly strengthened its No. 1 position in the Division II ScoringLive/OC 16 Football Power Rankings, improving to 9-0 overall and 7-0 in the MIL, clinching the MIL overall title for the first time since 2004.
“This is Baldwin, our biggest rival, and the game’s on TV and we’re playing to preserve our No. 1 ranking,” said Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada about the pressure that comes with playing a big game. “We told the boys we want them to feel pressure. We wanted to see how we handle pressure as a team. Because if we do what we are supposed to do, the pressure we are going to feel at the end of the season will be nothing compared to tonight.
“And our kids came out and looked a little tense in the beginning. We really weren’t playing our game. I thought Baldwin did a good job defensively taking us out of our game, but once we settled down and got our confidence, the kids really responded.”
Lahainaluna exploded for five touchdowns, 35 unanswered points in the second quarter to go ahead 35-3 at halftime. The Lunas’ scoring spree included two defensive touchdowns — one on a 29-yard fumble return for touchdown by Peni Taufa and one on a 32-yard interception return for touchdown by Scott-Isaac Medeiros-Tangatailoa — and the unofficial Play of the Game when Jeffery Ancog ran under a 58-yard rainbow from quarterback Makoa Filikitonga on the final play of the first half.
The outburst on the Lunas’ sideline extended to the team’s cheering section and faithful fans who showed up in force for the early-start time, many proudly waving posters of their favorite players, dressed in red or just painted red.
“It was amazing,” said Tihada of the championship atmosphere. “We travel well, but I know there were plenty of people who stayed home and watched it. Some of the bars in town had the game on and of course the Plantation Days had a big screen. So I know we would have had a lot more fans at the game had it not been televised.”
Besides its nine-game winning streak, another significant mark was extended as a result of Filikitonga’s 57-yard run with 64 seconds left in the second quarter.
“He’s had at least one long touchdown run in every game this year,” said Tihada of his 5-foot, 10-inch, 170-pound junior quarterback, who currently ranks fourth in the MIL scoring category with 42 points.
Not surprising, Filikitonga’s rushing touchdown streak of nine matches the team’s current record, beginning with his longest score of 68 yards in the season’s opener here against Kapaa. He has four other touchdown runs of more than 50 yards, the shortest score was 21 yards against King Kekaulike.
According to Tihada, all but one of Filikitonga’s touchdowns this year were designed runs and not read-option runs. His scores have come in every quarter He has also scored at least once in each quarter and three times in the second and third quarters, respectively.
“Every game it has been a different type of running play. Friday night was just a straight lead and he’s scored a lot of times on trap plays. But our traps weren’t working to well, so it was just a straight isolation and they (the Bears) were playing a little soft. I was just looking to get a first down on that play, I think it was a third-and-two, so we were just trying to get the first down.”
This particular Lahainaluna team boast big-play ability on both sides of the ball, demonstrating its flair for the game-changing touchdown when defensive end Hercules Mata’afa kicked off the Lunas’ 2013 season with a 34-yard fumble return for touchdown against Kapaa on the first play from scrimmage. Strong safety Kiko Kolher-Fonohema added an 81-yard interception return for touchdown later in the same game, which remains the team’s longest scoring play of the season.
“A lot of it is just his athletic ability, strength and speed,” said Tihada of his offensive leader. “He’s not the fastest, but he’s fast enough. He has very good football speed and certainly fast enough to break away. He has a nice burst. Like most of our kids, he’s put in a lot of time in the weight room and it’s helped improve his balance, his speed, and his strength.”
Filikitonga is currently the league’s No. 2 rusher with 658 yards on 62 carries (10.6 yard average), trailing teammate Jared Rocha-Islas, who leads with 674 yards (12.5 avg.) and 118 points (MIL best 13 TDs and 40 PATS).
The Lunas cap the MIL regular-season on Saturday, Oct. 26, against Maui High. Lahainaluna will be celebrating its homecoming and working on closing out a perfect 8-0 MIL run. After all, the team’s success is predicated on the team’s ability to run the ball.
Against the Sabers in the first round, the Lunas scored five touchdowns en route to a 37-7 win — all from 30 yards or more and three from Rocha-Islas. The team’s longest score from scrimmage was an 80-yard run by Christian Whitehead against Kamehameha Maui.
“I hope our passing game gets a little more respect,” said Tihada, who watched his team score via the pass in its last three games. “But if it doesn’t, it’s OK because teams still have to deal with our running backs and anyone of them can break one.”
And the quarterback is pretty good, too.