Lunas, Raiders resume rivalry
Perennial state title contenders meet today in semifinals
Lahainaluna High School and Iolani will renew a familiar rivalry tonight at War Memorial Stadium.
For the 10th time in the 15-year history of the First Hawaiian Bank Division II State Football Championship, the final will include at least one of those teams. The Raiders, owners of eight titles, beat the Lunas in state championship games in 2007, 2012 and 2014.
“We have a bad history with them, we’ve lost all four times, including a preseason game in 1994,” said Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada. “It’s not fun at all. Our players know all about it — we’ve drilled it into their heads.”
The Lunas won last year’s crown, beating Kapaa in the final.
Though they share the distinction of being perennial contenders, Lahainaluna (9-1) and Iolani (4-5) have few other similarities.
The Raiders, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu representative in the tournament, generate 83.1 percent of their offense through the air — quarterback Tai-John Mizutani has passed for 2,928 yards with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, according to scoringlive.com.
“They’re pretty much doing the same thing: throwing the ball all over the place, scoring a lot of points,” Garret Tihada said.
“We’re going to try to confuse them, confuse the quarterback, put some pressure on that quarterback. Just play assignment football. Those are the keys right there. … It’s just a very intensified passing attack compared to anything that we’ve seen on Maui. We’ve seen some good ones on Maui over the past 10 years, but this is nothing like we’re used to.”
Lahainaluna averaged 254.8 yards per game on the ground, accounting for 79.7 percent of its offense, on the way to the Maui Interscholastic League title.
Joshua Tihada had 89 carries for 599 yards and nine touchdowns for the top-seeded Lunas. Elijah Ragudo had 63 carries for 528 yards and six touchdowns, and Aliksa Pihda had 25 carries for 182 yards and a pair of scores.
All three ranked among the top 10 rushers in the MIL.
The Lunas have more size than the Raiders as well. Iolani lists just four players at more than 200 pounds — Lahainaluna has 21.
“They’re a little bit undersized compared to the last couple years, but they’re really, really quick,” Garret Tihada said.
Garret Tihada said Nainoa Irish will start at quarterback for the Lunas, but Etuati Storer, Bailey Honda, Joshua Tihada, Kamahao Acpal and T.J. Galoia could all take snaps.
“If all goes well, we’ll see about five quarterbacks,” Garret Tihada said. “Probably about at least five or six running backs.”
Kick returner Kamalei Watson is the only Lahainaluna player out with injury — he suffered a broken arm in practice last month.
Iolani is making its first appearance in the tournament since 2014. Lahainaluna has been in the field every year since 2007.
“They know it’s going to be a big, big challenge traveling to Maui, playing Lahainaluna,” Raiders coach Wendell Look said at a news conference Sunday. “We have a great relationship with them, not only on the field, but off the field. We have a great amount of respect for what they do. They do it the right way.”
The game is being played at War Memorial instead of Sue Cooley Stadium so it can be televised, but the 6 p.m. start time could create a challenge for some Lahainaluna fans hoping to arrive before kickoff.
“Just the fact that we get to play on Maui, we’re happy about that,” Garret Tihada said. “We’d prefer that we got to play at home, but, hey, that’s OK. We’ve got a bunch of fans in Wailuku, Kahului and Upcountry and such that we’ll have a nice following.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.