LAHAINA - It has been a struggle down the stretch for the Lahainaluna High School football team. The time has come for that to end, or the Lunas' season will.
Lahainaluna, the Maui Interscholastic League Division II champion, will host Big Island Interscholastic Federation D-II champion Konawaena on Saturday night at 7 at War Memorial Stadium in a First Hawaiian Bank state tournament quarterfinal.
The winner will advance to face second-seeded Waipahu on Oahu next Friday.
Lahainaluna High School’s Tytus Lucas runs with the ball during the Lunas’ loss to Baldwin in September. The Lunas face BIIF champion Konawaena in the Division II state tournament first round Saturday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Kaena Felicilda of Lahai-naluna leads teammates onto the field.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Since a 25-0 win over Kamehameha Maui clinched the MIL D-II crown on Oct. 15, the going has not been easy for the Lunas (6-4 overall, 5-3 MIL).
They lost starting quarterback Kiko Kohler-Fonohema to a broken jaw that night and since have beaten King Kekaulike 14-13 after trailing 13-0 in the second half, lost to Maui High 14-13 and lost their finale to Baldwin 41-0 last week.
Now, along come the 11-1 Wildcats, who average 33.2 points a game. Of their 225 yards per game on offense, 182.1 come through the air. Since their lone loss, 28-0 to Kamehameha Hawaii on Sept. 10, the Wildcats have outscored seven opponents 317-39.
State Football Championships
Quarterfinal-Baldwin vs. Farrington at War Memorial Stadium, 6 p.m. (OC16)
Quarterfinal-Leilehua at Kealakehe, 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 18
Semifinal-No. 2 Punahou vs. Baldwin-Farrington winner at Aloha Stadium, 4 or 7 p.m. (OC16)
Semifinal-No. 1 Kahuku vs. Leilehua-Kealakehe winner at Aloha Stadium, 4 or 7 p.m. (OC16)
Quarterfinal-No. 4 Kapaa vs. Pearl City at Vidinha Stadium, 4:30 p.m.
Quarterfinal-No. 3 Lahainaluna vs. Konawaena at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 18
Semifinal-No. 2 Waipahu vs. Lahainaluna-Konawaena winner at Oahu site TBD, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 19
Semifinal-Kapaa-Pearl City winner at No. 1 Iolani, 2 p.m.
"They are fast, they fly to the ball defensively, offensively they run multiple sets, throw the ball pretty good," Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada said before practice on Wednesday. "They are the real deal, they are one good team."
The Lunas were missing several players in the Baldwin game, some to slight injuries and some to disciplinary measures, but Tihada expects most to be back for Saturday night.
Konawaena is led by Kahoalii Karratti, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound sophomore quarterback. He was 52-for-96 passing on the season for 1,275 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
"We have to go out and stop the pass first," Tihada said. "Like any other game, we have to stop what they do best first. They pass the ball well."
Conversely, the Wildcats' leading rusher, Isaiah Chinen, has run for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
Tihada, the Lunas' offensive coordinator, looks at a Konawaena defense that surrendered just 170.4 yards per game and knows his team must play fundamentally solid football.
"We have got to sustain our blocks," he said. "I think we can get to them, it is just a matter of can we sustain the blocks so our running backs can make some yardage."
The Lunas ran for 1,077 yards in eight MIL games and passed for 459. All but 180 yards through the air, however, belong to Kohler-Fonohema.
Leading rusher Semisi Filikitonga took some snaps at quarterback last week because of thin numbers, but J.R. Kenolio-Dusenberry is expected to be back behind center. Jared Rocha, a freshman who led the Lunas in scoring with six touchdowns, missed the Baldwin game with an injury, but Tihada said he will be back.
Tihada is not too concerned after the blowout loss to Baldwin, the MIL D-I champions who host Farrington in a state game tonight.
"No thoughts about the Baldwin game anymore," he said. "I'm sure Baldwin felt the same way. We just wanted to get through the game without any injuries. We were both looking at the big picture and states is the big picture at this point. There is no MIL (overall) champion any more, so there was nothing to play for."
Tihada said the team has seen extra focus at practice this week with the elimination factor of the state tournament.
"The kids understand that and they have been working hard this week," he said.
The Lunas have just 15 seniors on the roster - and six freshmen - and perhaps the biggest leader on the team is two-way lineman Feleti Taufa, a 6-2, 225-pound senior.
He knows both of the Luna lines are in for a battle.
"They look pretty tough," Taufa said. "It is going to be one pretty good game."
Taufa agreed with Tihada that the team's practices have been extra focused this week.
"As a team we have been doing pretty good, going all out," Taufa said.
A guard on offense, Taufa said the key to move the ball will be the blocking.
"As an O-line, we just have to finish our blocks," he said. "If we do that as a team, we will do pretty good."
A defensive end, Taufa said the keys there will be similar.
"If we just do our assignments, we will be OK as a team," he said.
His message as a leader has been simple.
"We are a young team, so I am just trying to tell the guys it is time to step up," Taufa said. "We are just trying to push each other to see how far we can go. We have been progressing. Yesterday, we learned all of our plays and our assignments and stuff, just getting to know our roles as a team. We just want to push each other to the limit so we can go on to next week."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com