Get ready for red
On Sept. 8, 2001, the turnstile count at War Memorial Stadium in Wailuku for the University of Hawaii’s football game against Montana was 11,254.
Will that unofficial attendance record for a sporting event on Maui fall tonight when the top-seeded Lahainaluna High School football team takes on No. 4 Kaiser in a First Hawaiian Bank Division II State Championship semifinal?
There will be no turnstiles at the entrances for the showdown between the Lunas (10-0) and Cougars (11-1), but a crowd of 10,000 or more is not out of the question.
“Oh, it’s pretty cool,” said Lahainaluna senior linebacker Bronson Kaina. “No matter, just treat
it as a regular game. We just have got to be focused, just do your thing, be with everybody and make sure everybody is just doing assignment football.”
Kaina knows a red-clad sea of fans will be on hand tonight.
“Having support is good,” he said. “Having support, you feel the pride in you when you play and that’s a good thing to feel.”
Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada said the rabid backing can be good and bad.
“Pressure, there is a lot of pressure there,” he said. “I keep hearing a lot of people (who are) coming out to watch the game who have not seen us play or who have not seen us play for a very long time. So, they are coming out for this game against Kaiser, who is the best team we have faced, I would say, in years. That’s a lot of pressure.”
Tihada said no fans surpass the devotion of Lahainaluna’s.
“Nope, no way, not even close,” he said. “We have been to a bunch of games throughout the years, state games, and there is not one single team in the whole state that the fans travel like ours. Even at their home stadiums, they don’t have as much guys as we do when we travel. Amazing.”
The Lunas have been off for three weeks since a 42-14 victory over Maui High on Oct. 26.
“We have been preparing against Kaiser this whole time, but they are anxious to get out there,” Tihada said.
Tihada, the offensive coordinator, had a one-word summary of what will be key tonight.
“Block,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. If our offensive line can handle their defensive line, we will be in good shape. If we can’t, I don’t care if we try to throw the ball or run the ball, it is going to be a long night for us. They pride themselves on being in the weight room all offseason, just like we do. We are going to find out how strong we are and how strong they are.”
The Lunas will send as many as 11 players both ways.
“Long list,” Tihada said before mentioning Bronson and Brandon Kaina, Kiko Kohler-Fonohema, Makoa Filikiton-ga, Connor Mowat, Scott-Isaac Medeiros-Tangatailoa, Jeffery Ancog, Jared Purdy, Hercules Mataafa, Jared Rocha-Islas and Christian Whitehead.
The Lunas rushed for 2,754 yards in eight Maui Interscho-lastic League games, 1,094 more than the runner-up Sabers. Rocha-Islas, Filikitonga and Whitehead accounted for 2,156 of those yards, with 29 rushing touchdowns.
Tihada compared the trio to Jansen Medeiros, Jay Arcangel and Kawika Kawabata from Lahainaluna’s Neighbor Island championship team of 1997.
“That was the last time that we were that dominant in running the ball,” Tihada said. “We actually ran the ball more that year than we did this year – I think we averaged two or three passes every game.”
Lahainaluna averaged 55.3 yards per game through the air this season.
“If we can get through the game without throwing a single pass, I’m fine with that,” Tihada said.
The Lunas intercepted Kahoalii Karratti seven times in a state-tournament win over Konawaena in 2011 – Karratti is now Kaiser’s quarterback, and has thrown for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Fitou Fisiiahi has 688 yards on the ground and Thomas Boutenbah-Leong has 650. Each running back has 16 touchdowns.
“We have to stop those running backs in the backfield before they get a full head of steam because Fisiiahi, he’s a load, and Leong, once he gets some speed going, he’s a really, really fast runner,” Tihada said. “We haven’t seen anything like him the whole year.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com