Lunas’ path to third straight state crown goes through Rough Riders

No. 1 seed Lahainaluna hosts Roosevelt today in Division II state semifinal

Lahainaluna High School’s Joshua Tihada, shown evading the tackle of King Kekaulike’s Zack Hokoana during a game last month, enters today’s game with 10 touchdowns in state tournament games. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The Lahainaluna High School football team has entered territory never before traveled by a Maui Interscholastic League team.

This afternoon at 4:30 p.m. at Sue Cooley Stadium, the top-seeded Lunas will face Roosevelt in a First Hawaiian Bank Division II State Championship semifinal in their quest for a third straight state title. The winner will advance to the championship game next Saturday at Aloha Stadium.

“We have a bunch of film on them and we’ve really, really been looking at a lot of it,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada said. “But they’re kind of one mystery still.”

Roosevelt coach Kui Kahooilihala knows his team is in for a tough test.

“It’s another big game,” Kahooilihala said. “We know Lahaina’s No. 1. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Lahainaluna’s Ronald Criste scores a touchdown during last month’s game against King Kekaulike. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The Rough Riders (11-2) won the first Oahu Interscholastic Association football title in school history and then downed Pac-Five in last week’s state quarterfinals 20-7 while the Lunas had a bye.

“Postseason for us is ‘Us against the world,’ proving things out there in the OIA,” Kahooilihala said. “Our kids worked real hard during the offseason. They know what our football program is about.”

The numbers the Lunas are riding are startling:

— The two-time defending state champions are the only MIL football team to win multiple state crowns.

— The Lunas have won 19 games in a row overall, their last loss coming against Kamehameha Kapalama 34-10 in a nonleague game to begin the 2017 campaign.

— In MIL play this season, they outscored their opponents 313-19 over eight games.

— In MIL team statistics, they finished second in total offense at 362.3 yards per game. That was 15 yards per game behind Kamehameha Maui, but the Lunas often emptied their bench in the second half of blowout wins.

— On defense, they were untouchable, giving up just 109 yards per game, 193.2 yards per game better than second-best KS Maui.

The Lahainaluna defense surrendered just one touchdown in eight MIL games — in a 34-7 win over Baldwin on Sept. 22. The other TD scored against Lahainaluna came on a defensive fumble return.

Roosevelt runs a veer option offense that is not like anything the Lunas have seen this season.

“You have to play real good assignment football,” Tihada said.

The Lunas have played just one game since clinching their 12th straight state berth with a 47-0 win over Kamehameha Maui on Oct. 12.

“We always go back to fundamentals, try to heal up at this time of the year,” Tihada said. “We put in a bunch of trick plays — whether we use them or not, who knows — but you have got to keep the kids interested and sometimes that’s the only way.”

It is a sure bet that the Lunas will get the ball to junior running back Joshua Tihada as much as possible, be it on handoffs, passes or on direct snaps in the wildcat formation.

Joshua Tihada, who is the son of Lunas assistant coach Joey Tihada, finished third on the MIL rushing list with 796 yards on 112 carries and second in scoring with 14 touchdowns.

He has 10 TDs in state tournament games, which is second all-time, trailing only B.J. Batts, who had 12 touchdowns in state tournament games for Saints Louis.

Garret Tihada, Joey’s cousin, is excited for the West Maui community’s chance to see their team play a state tournament game at home for the first time since a 7-0 win over Kaimuki in 2015.

“Other than it being at 4:30, I don’t see a down side,” Tihada said. “It’s great for the Lahaina people — they don’t have to drive to Wailuku and stuff like that. For us, we’re OK with playing anywhere.”

Garret Tihada said there is one big difference between this team and all the others: academics. They set an unofficial school record with 30 players recording at least a 3.0 grade-point average in the first quarter, four of those were straight-A’s at 4.0 or higher.

“I’ve been trying to mention to everybody that I talk to,” Tihada said. “We’re all just blown away by that. That’s unheard of — we’ve never heard of any numbers like that. It’s just a credit to the kids and their parents for keeping up with their grades. It’s awesome.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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STATE FOOTBALLCHAMPIONSHIPS

Friday’s Results

Open Division semifinals

No. 2 Mililani 21, Campbell 2

No. 1 Saint Louis 49, Kahuku 22

Today’s Games

Division II semifinals

Kaimuki vs. No. 2 Kapaa at Vidinha Stadium, 2 p.m.

No. 4 Roosevelt at No. 1 Lahainaluna, 4:30 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 24

At Aloha Stadium

Division II championship, 1:30 p.m.

Division I championship: No. 1 Hilo vs. No. 2 Waipahu, 4:30 p.m.

Open Division championship: No. 1 Saint Louis vs. No. 2 Mililani , 7:30 p.m.

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