Lunas Sharp in Win, Face Iolani for D-II Title Next
By Rodney S. Yap
Lahainaluna High School co-head coach Bobby Watson had a good feeling about Saturday’s game with Kamehameha Hawaii.
In fact, Watson can not remember feeling more confident and prepared about a postseason playoff game since the Hawaii High School Athletic Association decided on a true state championship tournament in 1999.
“In all the years that we’ve been in the playoffs, and all the years that we’ve had byes, this is the first time that I’ve felt that our team is focused and ready. This is the first time that I’ve had this feeling,” said Watson on Friday. “I’ve had people come up and ask me if I feel ready, and I said, ‘I feel ready as a coach, so I am sure the kids feel ready too.’ ”
Call it coaching intuition, or — if you were one of the 4,500 spectators who watched the Division II semifinal game at War Memorial Stadium — the understatement of the year. Either way, Watson is no stranger to prep football or this particular team, the school’s ninth Maui Interscholastic League Division II champion in 11 years.
To the surprise of no one on the Lahainaluna sidelines, the home team converted three first-quarter interceptions into 17 points and then exploded for a season high 28 points in the second quarter en route to a 52-7 triumph over Kamehameha Hawaii, arguably one of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s best champions.
Now Lahainaluna will get its long-awaited rematch with Iolani for the First Hawaiian Bank State Football Division II Championship on Friday at Aloha Stadium. Two years ago the Lunas lost to Iolani 36-33 and in 2007 the Raiders turned back Lahainaluna 28-21.
Friday’s D-II championship kicks off at 4:30 p.m., and will be followed by the D-I championship between Mililani and Punahou at 7:30 p.m.
“I think we are at the point where we are just starting to gel,” Watson said when asked if the Lunas can play better. “We haven’t been at this point all year and I think we made good use of the last three weeks and tonight the kids came ready to play — they were waiting for this.”
The unbeaten and top-seeded Lunas improved to 10-0, while the sixth-ranked Warriors’ season ended at 8-3.
“In all due respect to Lahainaluna, they played a great game and they dominated us, but they didn’t do anything that we didn’t expect,” said Kamehameha Hawaii head coach Dan Lyons. “But they did what they do and they are very discipline. They know how to do it and we didn’t. We have to go back and figure out how we can be that disciplined in our own program.”
In addition to five interceptions, three coming on the first six pass attempts, Kamehameha Hawaii was also penalized 14 times for 121 yards on a night when its high-scoring spread offense was held to 81 yards passing and 46 yards rushing.
“Our kids prepared very, very well for this game,” said Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada. “They approached the two-week bye with the right mindset and they worked hard and this is the result of that.
“That’s a good team,” Tihada said of the Warriors. “But Coach Watson and the defensive staff did their homework on these guys and these kids came out and executed well.”
Watson said a lot of the credit has to go to his coaches.
“Everybody did their part getting the boys ready and the kids did their part, what can I say. We were hoping to get up on them early. Our game plan was to take away their running game and force them to pass. We wanted to force them into passing situations and hopefully things work in our favor and it did, we just got lucky.”
Lahainaluna defensive backs coach Kenui Watson was beaming with pride, watching his secondary shutdown the Warriors’ passing attack. Defensive backs Tyran Ku’u Palea had two interceptions, and Isaiah Biga-Rogers, Scott Isaac Medeiros-Tangatailoa and Makoa Sione Filikitonga-Lukela had one each.
Filikitonga-Lukela turned his interception of Warrior quarterback Micah Kanehailua into a 66-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter. The defensive score was the Lunas’ sixth of the season, coming 40 seconds after Filikitonga-Lukela connected on a 42-yard touchdown pass to streaking slotback Josten Saribay.
Saribay’s touchdown reception was his first of the year and Filikitonga-Lukela’s 13th scoring toss. The big play was set up on 2nd-and-23 after two holding penalties backed the Lunas to their own 15-yard line. Tihada called a timeout with 8 minutes, 35 seconds to set up a screen pass to running back Jared Rocha-Islas, who caught the ball in the flats and turned upfield for a 42-yard gain.
“It’s not something that we do a lot of, we don’t run too many screens,” Tihada noted. “We got lucky and our guys were in the right place and at the right time and they were in the wrong place at that time.”
Tihada said he noticed there were no defenders playing pass on the outside when he called timeout to set up the play.
“They had that defended very, very well actually. Sione had to scramble a little bit and that gave our slot some time to get open. We wanted to hit the wideout, but their secondary had it covered. It was Sione’s feet that made the play and our slotback (Saribay) who just kept working and never quit on the route.”
Rocha-Islas ran for three touchdowns and a team-high 79 yards on 12 carries. The MIL’s two-time scoring champion ran behind the blocking of Connor Mowat, Peni Taufa, Brandon Kaina, Junior Moala, and Thomas Rosen St. John.
Filikitonga-Lukela accounted for 174 all-purpose yards, completing 6 of 9 pass attempts for 100 yards. He also ran the ball like a man on a mission, picking up 74 yards on seven carries. His 4-yard touchdown run with 8:35 to play in the third quarter capped the game’s scoring and sent majority of the Lahainaluna starters to the bench.
“The reason for that is our linemen did such a great job tonight opening up holes that Sione didn’t have to dance or anything like that, he could just get up the hole and go. It was like that for Jared, too,” Tihada explained.
“They play team football, they have a strong defense and they all block and run hard on offense,” said Kamehameha Hawaii wide receiver Grant Shiroma, who had two catches for 35 yards. “We tried to stick with how we play and run our offense. Our defense did their best, but they were just on the field too long.”
Coach Lyons hopes the experience his players gained will help the Warriors’ program advance.
“Experience and discipline were the biggest differences between the two teams. I think there is a big difference between a team that has been here numerous times and has the experience versus a team making this trip for the first time in history, and from the Big Island there has been only three teams that have gotten this far.
“I’m a firm believer that it’s really hard to be successful the first time you do something — to me that was the biggest difference in the game.”
Saturday’s MIL Scoring Summary
At War Memorial Stadium
LUNAS 52, WARRIORS 7
Kamehameha ……….. 0 ……. 7 ….. 0 …… 0—7
Lahainaluna ….. 17 ….. 28 ….. 7 ….. 0—52
LH—Jared Rocha-Islas 11 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 11:02.
LH—Rocha-Islas 26 field goal, 5:42.
LH—Makoa Sione Filikitonga-Lukela 14 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 3:34.
LH—Rocha-Islas 5 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 11:55.
KH—Kainalu Whitney 11 pass from Micah Kanehailua (P. Kaiai kick), 9:42.
LH—Josten Saribay 42 pass from Filikitonga-Lukela (Rocha-Islas kick), 8:15.
LH—Filikitonga-Lukela 66 interception return (Rocha-Islas kick), 7:35.
LH—Rocha-Islas 6 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 5:08.
LH—Filikitonga-Lukela 4 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 8:35.
PASSING — KS-Hawaii: Micah Kanehailua 11-27-5-81. Lahainaluna: Makoa Sione Filikitonga-Lukea 6-9-0-100.
RUSHING — KS-Hawaii: Ahren Ah Chong 10-29, Kaeo Batacan 7-28, Chase Peneku 8-23, Micah Kanehailua 3-(-15), Team 1-(-19). Lahainaluna: Jared Rochas-Islas 12-79, Makoa Sione Filikitonga-Lukea 7-74, Josten Saribay 2-28, Donovan Defang 3-24, JD Rosario 3-19, David Kawabata 3-19, Ansen Cabanilla 1-15, Dylan Delatori 1-9, Radon Sinenci 1-7, Christopher Kaniho 2-4, Kaya Phillips-Aki 3-2, Justice Tihada 1-(-4).
RECEIVING — KS-Hawaii: Grant Shiroma 2-35, Bayley Manliguis 4-29, Kainalu Whitney 2-14, Preston Kalai 1-2, Chase Peneku 2-1. Lahainaluna: Jared Rochas-Islas 2-46, Josten Saribay 1-42, Ansen Cabanilla 1-14, Isaiah Biga-Rogers 1-3, Donovan Defang 1-(-5).