Lunas display skills to state
WAILUKU – It took most of the first half, but when the Lahainaluna High School football team had a chance to make a large statement to the state, it did.
With their No. 1 ranking in the KHON Cover 2 Power Poll for Division II in question, the Lunas exploded for four touchdowns in the final 3 minutes, 17 seconds of the first half on the way to a 48-3 win over Baldwin in front of about 6,000 fans on Friday night at War Memorial Stadium.
The Lunas improved to 9-0 overall, 7-0 in the Maui Interscholastic League and 3-0 in the league’s second round in front of the first OC16 television audience ever to see an MIL regular-season game.
“We got lucky tonight,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada said after his team finished outscoring Baldwin 76-10 this season. “We got a few defensive touchdowns and a bunch of touchdowns in a short amount of time right before halftime. That just changed the momentum of the game.”
The Lunas clinched an outright MIL title for the first time since 2004, when they went 1-0-1 against the Bears. In 2001, Lahainaluna went 2-1 against Baldwin, including a 26-14 win in a title game behind quarterback Kainoa Casco. The last time the Lunas went 2-0 against the Bears in a season was 1997, when Jansen Medeiros quarterbacked the team to an 11-1 mark.
Baldwin (5-2, 2-1) scored first Friday, going 71 yards in seven plays before settling for Ricky Casco’s 18-yard field goal.
Baldwin gained 53 yards on the first two plays of the game – a 29-yard reverse run by Kawela Kaeo-Mata and a 24-yard run by Keenan Luis on a fake reverse – and then 47 yards the rest of the half. That first drive ended after the Lunas’ defense stood tough on a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
“They came out with a great game plan against us,” Tihada said. “We couldn’t run our normal offense tonight, they shut us down in that respect. With those reverses and fake reverses, they came out with a really good game plan.”
Lahainaluna led 7-3 after the first of Jared Rocha-Islas’ two touchdown runs, and then Penisimani Taufa, part of the Lunas’ nearly unstoppable defensive line, saw the ball in front of him on the ground after a missed handoff between Jeremiah Badillo and Keenan Luis, scooped it up and scored on a 29-yard return with 3:17 left in the first half.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Lunas needed just three plays to go 66 yards in 25 seconds – the final 57 yards were on a quarterback draw by Makoa Filikitonga – and it was 21-3 with 1:04 to go in the half.
Two plays and 21 seconds later, Scott-Isaac Medeiros-Tangatailoa intercepted a Josiah Maglente-Tonu pass and went 32 yards to the end zone.
The Lunas then stopped a fake field-goal try by the Bears with seven seconds left, and on the play that followed – the last of the half – Jeffery Ancog broke open through the middle of the defense and Filikitonga hit him inside the 10 for a 58-yard touchdown.
“(Filikitonga) made a great read and (Ancog) is one of the fastest kids on the island and he did a good job catching up with that ball,” Tihada said.
The Lunas held a Bears team averaging 358 yards per game to 138. In the last two seasons, the Lahainaluna defense guided by co-head coach and defensive coordinator Bobby Watson has not allowed an offensive touchdown in a game 13 times, including five this year.
“Coach Watson watches film religiously and breaks down the offense and the kids do exactly what our defensive coaches ask them to do,” Tihada said. “You get a good job of getting into the weight room in the summer, you add all those things together and this is what happens.”
The Lunas removed any doubt on the second play from scrimmage of the second half when Rocha-Islas broke through the left side of the line and ran 59 yards untouched for a 42-3 lead, turning on the mercy-rule running clock with 11:00 left in the third quarter.
The final touchdown came after Leeland Alavazo blocked a Baldwin punt and backup quarterback Kiko Kohler-Fonohema scored on an 11-yard run with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter.
Lahainaluna put a resounding exclamation point on the evening with a goal-line stand that included three stops after first-and-goal from the 1 in the closing minute.
“They are good, they played well, they played very good football tonight, very physical,” Bears coach Keneke Pacheco said of the Lunas. “They have been playing like this all year long, getting better as it goes by. My hat’s off to them, good luck to them in the states.”
With Maui High finishing Lahainaluna’s MIL schedule next week, the Lunas likely need an unbeaten slate to retain what Tihada says is a possible and crucial No. 1 seed for the state tournament.
“If we stumble against Maui High, it’s gone,” Tihada said. “So, as big as this game was, we talked to the kids about the fact that the next game is just as big.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org
Baldwin ………… 3 ……. 0 ……. 0 ……. 0-3
Lahainaluna ….. 0 ….. 35 ….. 13 ….. 0-48
B-Ricky Casco 18 FG, 8:36.
LL-Jared Rocha-Islas 2 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 11:24.
LL-Penisimani Taufa 29 fumble return (Rocha-Islas kick), 3:17.
LL-Makoa Filikitonga 57 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 1:04.
LL-Scott-Isaac Medeiros-Tangatailoa 32 interception return (Rocha-Islas kick), 0:43.
LL-Jeffery Ancog 58 pass from Filikitonga (Rocha-Islas kick), 0:00.
LL-Rocha-Islas 59 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 11:00.
LL-Kiko Kohler-Fonohema 11 run (kick failed), 3:50.
* * *
Junior varsity-Baldwin 20, Lahainaluna 18.