HONOLULU - The battle between Lahainaluna High School and Iolani in the First Hawaiian Bank Division II State Football Championship final Friday night at Aloha Stadium was the second-closest result in the 10-year history of the game.
And, quite likely, it will be remembered as the most exciting - the closest final score besides the Raiders' thrilling 36-33 win over the Lunas was Aiea's 9-7 win over Damien in the first D-II state title game, in 2003.
Lahainaluna and Iolani piled up 932 yards of offense, the Lunas battled back from 15-0 and 29-20 deficits to take a 33-29 lead midway through the final quarter and the Raiders did not secure their sixth straight state crown until J.T. Los Banos came up with his third interception of the game with 27 seconds to play.
Lahainaluna’s Jared Rocha-Isalas heads upfield against Iolani on Friday in the First Hawaiian Bank Division II?State Football Championship title game at Aloha Stadium. Iolani won 36-33.
GLEN PASCUAL photo
The Lunas’ Hercules Mataafa pressures the Raiders’ Reece Foy.
GLEN PASCUAL photo
"Without a doubt, they deserved to win this game, too," Iolani senior quarterback Reece Foy said after starting his third straight state title game. "They play with a lot of heart, a lot of passion, they are really a football team that anybody would be proud to be on. They fought, even when they were down, they fought, they fought. With their talent, their execution they had tonight, I wouldn't be surprised if their success continues into the near future."
A look at the rosters shows that a rematch in a year is a possibility.
The Lunas started four seniors on offense - running back Semisi Filikitonga, slotback Mark Alamon, tight end Asi Fatongia, and guard Lovai Hong. Iolani started three seniors on offense - including Foy, who broke his own game record with 299 passing yards and hopes to continue his career at the University of San Diego.
On defense, the Lunas started Filikitonga at linebacker, Alamon at defensive back, Samieula Filiai at tackle and fellow senior Tytus Lucas at defensive back. The Raiders had three senior starters on defense.
Among other contributors on offense the Lunas will have back are quarterbacks Sione Filikitonga and Kiko Kohler-Fonohema, running back Jared Rocha-Isalas and linemen Connor Mowat, Conner Rosen-St. John, Justin Hong and Pousima Galoia, who missed the title game with an injury.
On defense, Hercules Mataafa leads the way as a solid NCAA Division I prospect - the junior defensive tackle had 13 tackles in two state tournament games, seven of them for losses, including five sacks. Nose guard Mowat, linebackers Brandon and Bronson Kaina, and defensive backs Kohler-Fonohema, Jared Purdy, Jeffrey Ancog and Scott-Isaac Medeiros-Tangatailoa all either started or saw significant playing time in the final.
Mataafa said he will miss the seniors, but is ready to start working for next year.
"I will try to be pushing my boys in the weight room," he said. "We start Monday, 5 o'clock in the morning all the way to next season."
After last season, Mataafa was singled out as a "Future All-American" in Tom Lemming's Prep Football Report, the only Neighbor Island player to gain that recognition.
"This year, we had a lot of brothership and we came together as a team," Mataafa said. "We weren't as close as we looked at the beginning of the season, but we all became one family, brothers - it all came down to that."
Lucas will be one of the most significant graduation losses - he has his eyes on Willamette to continue his career after picking off eight passes this season.
"Real proud, I mean, these guys are my family and I am just happy that we made it this far," he said. "It is tough that we lost, but we showed that we had heart. It was almost there, but then it wasn't."
The Lunas' 2012 defense will go down as one of the best the Maui Interscholastic League has ever seen. Lahainaluna re-corded seven shutouts, and Friday's game was only the second all season in which the Lunas trailed.
"Soon, soon," Lucas said of looking back on the season. "Right now, I'm real heartbroken that we lost, but I'm still proud of my team. We made it this far. I loved the community support, from leaving from our school last night to the fans out here - I'm proud to be a Lahainaluna alumni."
On Thursday night, the team bus was sent off with police cars, fire engines, fire knife dancers and fans with flashlights lining Lahainaluna Road from top to bottom. They were greeted at home Saturday afternoon in similar fashion.
"That was pretty cool," Lucas said. "I just can't explain, it was awesome."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org