LAHAINA - The Lahainaluna High School football team has done just about everything in the last two years except win the program's first state title.
Coming off the team's first unbeaten regular season and a state semifinal appearance last year - which followed a state runner-up finish in 2012 - there is just one thing left to accomplish.
"That is every team's goal," co-head coach Garret Tihada said of a possible state title. "We have got to take it one game at a time, make sure we can block and tackle before we can even think about anything else. If we take care of all the little things, the big things will come, but one step at a time."
Brandon Kaina (left) and Connor Mowat are both back this season after helping Lahainaluna go undefeated in the Maui Interscholastic League last year.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The Lunas, ranked as the top Division II team in the state by all three major polls, captured an important win over Kapaa at Kauai's Vidinha Stadium on Saturday, scoring the final touchdown with five seconds to play.
"It's really, really hard to say," Tihada said when asked how good this team can be. "We're going to really have to develop our backups, our younger players because we are kind of thin."
The roster lists 48 players. Several starters go both ways.
MIL Football Previews
The Maui News has previewed one Maui Interscholastic League football team's 2014 season each day leading up to today's season opener.
Friday, Aug. 15
x-Maui High 28, Kealakehe 7
Saturday, Aug. 16
x-Lahainaluna 18, Kapaa 16
x-Pac-5 54, King Kekaulike 37
Maui High vs. Kamehameha Maui at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Lahainaluna vs. King Kekaulike at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
x-Baldwin vs. Edison (Calif.) at War Memorial Stadium, 6 p.m.
LAHAINALUNA at a glance
Offense-Wing-T, shotgun, veer
Returning starters-six offense, five defense
2013 record-10-1 overall, 8-0 MIL (lost to Kaiser semifinals of Division II state tournament)
"We have got to find our two-way players some more rest and this last game proved it," Tihada said. "We had a hard time. That Kapaa team is a really good team, but we got tired really fast."
Many of the Lunas' senior starters played as freshmen and sophomores. In 2012, they helped the team average 300.8 yards of offense per game in the MIL, while surrendering just 98.0 on defense. Last season, the offense rolled up 399.6 yards per game and the defense gave up 130.4.
"They grew up a lot on this team," Tihada said. "They put on some pounds over the summer, but as young men they grew up a lot, taking on the responsibility of being team leaders. I think they learned a lot from the past few years. These guys are doing a good job stepping up and leading this team."
The Lunas have outscored league opponents 599-67 over the last two seasons.
"We got here all working as a team, being a team in general," said returning Maui Interscholastic League Defensive Player of the Year Connor Mowat. "There is no 'I' in us. We all try to progress as the season goes on."
Mowat will be one of several two-way players, starting on both lines.
Mowat, Sione Filikitonga, Justin Hong, Brandon Kaina, Jared Rocha-Islas, Scott-Isaac Medeiros-Tangatailoa and Ansen Cabanilla all started on offense and defense against Kapaa. Tihada estimated that "17 or 18" players took the bulk of the snaps Saturday.
"It means a lot, but with Justin Hong, Jared Rocha-Islas and Sione Filikitonga backing us up - we stick together as a team and that's all we need," Mowat said. "There's no stopping us if we hang together as a team."
Tihada, the offensive coordinator, said the Lunas will look for more balance than last year, when they passed for 443 yards and rushed for 2,754.
"We have to make teams play us more honest defensively," Tihada said. "We are going to throw the ball this year. Whether we complete them or not, that is a whole different story."
Kaina, a senior linebacker and offensive lineman, said the team is still working to find a rhythm working without players who graduated last year, including his brother Bronson, who is now playing football at Graceland University in Iowa.
"The seniors, we need it this year, we really want it this year," Brandon Kaina said. "We try to push the younger guys to try to do our best in the weight room, do our best in school, show the underclassmen what we can do so when they become seniors they know what to do."
This year's D-II state championship game is scheduled for Nov. 21.
"As long as we work hard in the weight room and do our best in the games and stuff, I believe we can do it," Kaina said.
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org