Defense Helps Lahainaluna Earn 7-0 Win Over Kaimuki
By Rodney S. Yap
All that practice, chasing the ballcarrier sideline to sideline.
All that practice, read and reacting to the opponents alignment, depending on the down and distance.
All that practice tackling, wrapping up and getting your pad level right.
All that practice — from back in August until last week— paid off in spades Saturday for the Lahainaluna High School football team.
A season of preparation and discipline helped an undersized Lahainaluna team make critical stops down the stretch to preserve a 7-0 victory over Kaimuki before a standing-room-only crowd of about 3,000 at Sue Cooley Stadium.
The Lunas’ defense shut down the Bulldogs’ final scoring threat — in the red zone with 3 minutes, 41 seconds remaining — to earn the state championship tournament’s only first-round shutout over the weekend.
“We were led by our defense again, another zero on the scoreboard, they have played lights out on the defense side of the ball,” praised Lahainaluna co-coach Garret Tihada. “The whole defense just played assignment football again and they played their hearts out. I can not say enough about our defense week end and week out, they’ve been doing just an incredible job.”
The Lunas (7-5) advance to the First Hawaiian Bank Division II State Championship semifinal on Saturday, Nov. 14, for the sixth straight time. The Maui Interscholastic League Division II champion and ninth-ranked team in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Division II Power Rankings have now won its last four games.
“There are no excuses. Lahainaluna played one heck of a game,” said the fifth-ranked Bulldogs’ head coach David Tautofi. “They came out tough and hard because they worked it. That’s what makes this game exciting, sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. Penalties and stuff, that’s all part of the game. It killed us, but we were still resilient enough on defense to stay in the game. We had our chances and should have executed on a couple of tries, but we just didn’t.”
Lahainaluna went deep into its playbook to score the game’s only touchdown with 6 minutes, 29 seconds to play in the second quarter.
In the only scoring drive of the game, the Lunas went 80 yards in nine rushing plays — using six different running backs. The offense lined up in the Wing-T formation and Tihada mixed up the plays with counters, sweeps and draws. Using trap-blocking schemes, Donovan Defang rushed for two first downs, including a 27-yarder that proved to be the Lunas’ longest play from scrimmage.
After a timeout on 4th-and-2 at Kaimuki’s 10-yard line, Tihada called Elijah Ragudo’s number and the sophomore delivered his second clutch touchdown in as many weeks. Haaheo Au’s extra-point kick capped the scoring, 7-0.
Against Kamehameha Maui last week, Ragudo returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the contest.
“Again just enough to win and way more than enough to make it exciting.”
“We had to come up with something,” Tihada said of his struggling offense. “We’re trying to find what works and we still haven’t found anything that we can hang our hats on. We had the whole playbook wide open.”
The four-minute span it took the Lunas to get into the end zone proved to be all the offense the home team needed. All 109 yards of offense Lahainaluna gained came on the ground, much like Kaimuki’s 173 yards rushing from its 210 yards of total offense.
Kaimuki called 61 offensive plays — 42 for junior running back Bille Masima — compared to the Lunas’ 46. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Masima accounted for all 173 yards rushing. Defang led the way for the Lunas with 54 yards on 11 carries.
Unfortunately, Kaimuki was unable to enjoy the fruits of Masima’s labor because of 17 penalties for 137 yards and two turnovers.
“He’s a special player,” Tautofi said of his workhorse Masima.. “We were lucky to have a player like him on this team. He’s really been the pivotal point of our season. . . . And we tried to use him again today. It’s no secret that when you play Kaimuki you have to stop him.”
“We didn’t expect them to come out with that power (formation), almost like a single-wing offense, but you have to play to your strengths. They are big up front and they have that big running back, I probably would have done the same thing,” Tihada said.
Lahainaluna was called for seven penalties for 57 yards, but punter Nau Filial averaged 41 yards for his six punts.
Late in the game it looked like the Bulldogs’ size would wear down the smaller Lunas.
Kaimuki turned it over on downs at the Lahainaluna 20-yard line with 3:41 to play in regulation, but got the ball back for one last possession when the Bulldogs alertly recovered a mishandled snap on the following play.
After a substitution infraction Masima carried the ball two times for eight yards and completed a 12-yard pass to Jahssaiah Maiava to give the Bulldogs a 1st-and-goal at the Lahainaluna 5-yard line.
But that was as close as Kaimuki would get as a bad snap and two 5-yard penalties against the offense moved the ball back to the Lunas’ 23-yard line. Tyace Sarcedo’s pass on the ensuing play was intercepted in the end zone by Siale Hafoka and the Lunas were able to run out the remaining 91 seconds on the clock.
“Yeah these kids work hard. They are a little smaller team than the ones we’ve won with in the past, but it’s hard to argue with the results. But we know we have to get better,” Tihada added. “I think we got a little better this week.”
“They remind me of how De La Salle (Calif.) plays, just discipline, you work hard and good things happen. There’s a reason why they have been to the state tournament nine years in a row.”