Lunas Host Warriors in Div. II Semifinal Today
By Rodney S. Yap
Four years ago, Lahainaluna High School kept six freshmen on its 44-player varsity roster.
All six contributed to the Lunas’ championship run in 2011 and four of them — Connor Mowat, Jared Rocha-Islas, Scott Isaac Medeiros-Tangatailoa, and Justin Hong — are fourth-year seniors today.
In a lot of ways, the foundation of the Lunas’ recent success was laid down by the current senior class who’s only unfinished business is a Division II state football championship.
“Like I’ve told the seniors, you’ve worked four years for this, we’ve been in the playoffs all four years with this senior class since they were freshmen,” co-head coach Bobby Watson said. “Look at it this way, Saturday night can be your last game or we can continue. But you are going to have to go out there and take it away from them. They are not going to lay down. Nanakuli thought they were going to lay down and they got the biggest surprise of their life.”
“They” are the Warriors from Kamehameha Hawaii, ranked No. 6 by ScoringLive.com, winner’s last week at home against Oahu Interscholastic Association champion Nanakuli, 42-20.
Today’s game between top-ranked Lahainaluna (9-0) and Kamehameha Hawaii (8-2) is the second of two semifinals in the First Hawaiian Bank/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II State Championships.
Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium and can be heard live on ESPN 900AM radio.
Third-ranked Kapaa (7-1) will be at No. 2 Iolani (6-3) in the other semifinal today, beginning at 2:30 p.m.
“I thought we look pretty decent yesterday,” Watson said on Friday. “I know the kids are excited and they can’t wait to get on the field again.”
A win tonight would guarantee the Lunas a trip to the Division II state championship game next Friday, Nov. 21, at Aloha Stadium.
The Warriors are fresh off winning their first Big Island Interscholastic Federation title since 2010 and come to the Valley Isle having won their last five games, including that lopsided upset against the previously unbeaten and fourth-ranked Golden Eagles (10-1).
Last week’s win was just the third by a BIIF school in the 12-year history of the Div. II state tournament.
“Hopefully things go well for us. Kamehameha looks good. They have a nice passing game, their quarterback is good and they have a decent running back. But throwing the ball, that’s their bread and butter.”
Third-year quarterback Micah Kanehailua is the triggerman in the Warriors’ no-huddle spread offense. The 5-foot, 10-inch, 160-pound senior likes to handoff the ball to running backs Kaeo Batacan or Chase Peneku, and his favorite targets are Bayley Manliguis and Alapaki Iaea.
Kamehameha Hawaii’s offense averaged more than 35 points and 317 yards per game during the regular season. Kanehailua threw three touchdown passes last week against Nanakuli, including two to Manliguis and Batacan rushed for two scores.
The Lunas’ front three in their 3-4 defense are very active pass rushers starting with Mowat in the middle and ends Peni Taufa and Nau Filiai.
“We’re banking on Peni (Taufa) and Connor and those guys getting in there. If we can get a decent pass rush with three guys we’ll be ok. All season long we’ve used three kids and it has been good for us.”
Four others Luna players have three years of varsity experience, including Ansen Cabanilla, who made the team as a 9th-grader but did not play his sophomore season. Current quarterback Makoa Sione Filikitonga-Lukela moved up to varsity at the end of the 2012 regular season and led the team to the state championship against Iolani. The other two veterans are offensive lineman Danniel Sulunga-Kahaialii and inside linebacker Brandon Kaina.
Joining Kaina at linebacker are Ken Brito, Thomas Rosen St. John, and Ryan Delatori — all classmates from the 25-member senior class.
The Lunas are certainly more battled tested and experienced then Kamehameha Hawaii when it comes to postseason tournament football.
“Yeah I would say so and I think that’s our advantage,” said Watson, who is the Maui Interscholastic League’s winningest coach at 162-95-6.
The Lunas know more about playing football in November than any other MIL team, making their 10th postseason appearance in 12 years. In addition to owning a 17-game MIL win streak, Lahainaluna is 19-1 over the last two seasons and 35-8 overall since 2011.
Lahainaluna has loss two semifinals and one championship in the last three years of the Div. II state tournament. The Warriors are 1-4 in the state tournament and playing in the semifinals for the first time.
“Defensively they run lateral real well. They use a basic 4-4 alignment and they like to bring an outside linebacker on the tight end side of the line. So they’ll come with some pressure,” Watson said.
“Offensively we’re going to be patient and see what they give us and try to take advantage of whatever they give us. Hopefully our boy (Filikitonga-Lukela) will be able to audible off what he sees.”
Lahainaluna topped the MIL team statistics on both sides of the ball for the third straight year. Defensively, the Lunas allowed an average of one touchdown per game and 122 yards. Offensively they average 332 yards and 35 points per game.
The Lunas’ Wing-T offense is anchored by center Junior Moala, guards Kaina and Hong, and tackles Mowat and Sulunga-Kahaialii. Rocha-Islas is the team’s No. 1 rusher with 606 yards and nine touchdowns. Filikitonga-Lukela ran for 494 yards and nine touchdowns, and passed for 583 yards and 12 touchdowns. With only two interceptions this season, Filikitonga-Lukela led all MIL quarterbacks with a passer rating of 151.79.
In three seasons, Rocha-Islas has 24 touchdowns and 1,636 yards rushing for the Lunas.
In two seasons, Filikitonga-Lukela has 1,283 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns on 151 carries (8.5 yards per carry). He has also passed for another 1,026 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The team’s top receiver is Medeiros-Tangatailoa who has six touchdowns in 14 catches (177 yards/12.6 avg.)
“Our big question is how physical are they and how physical are we?” Watson concluded.
Lahainaluna State Tournament History
2001 (0-1) Loss 53-8 to Kahuku in quarterfinals of state tournament at Aloha Stadium.
2003 (1-1) Won 21-14 against HPA in Div. II first-round game at War Memorial; Loss 24-14 to Aiea at Kamehameha Kapalama in semifinals.
2004 (1-1) Won 41-34 against Mililani in Div. I first-round game at War Memorial; Loss 21-6 to Kamehameha Kapalama in semifinals.
2007 (1-1) Won 52-20 against Kaimuki in Div. II semifinals at War Memorial Stadium; Loss 28-21 to Iolani in championship game at Aloha Stadium.
2008 (0-1) Loss 33-27 to Radford in Div. II semifinals at War Memorial Stadium.
2009 (0-1) Loss 20-12 to Aiea in Div. II first-round game at Aiea High School.
2010 (0-1) Loss 28-27 to Kaimuki in Div. II semifinals at War Memorial Stadium.
2011 (1-1) Won 23-6 against Konawaena in Div. II first-round game at War Memorial; Loss 19-14 to Waipahu at Waipahu High School in semifinals.
2012 (1-1) Won 28-0 against Nanakuli in Div. II semifinals at Aloha Stadium; Loss 36-33 to Iolani in championship game at Aloha Stadium.
2013 (0-1) Loss 20-9 to Kaiser in Div. II semifinals at War Memorial Stadium.