The rivalry between the Baldwin and Lahainaluna high school football teams has ebbed and flowed over recent years, but never quite like this.
The two schools have combined to win 14 of the last 15 Maui Interscholastic League overall titles - the Bears have 10 in that span, the Lunas four, counting a shared crown in 2009 for both - but Baldwin has been the dominant team in the league for the last seven seasons.
Coaches for each team said this season has a little more of an electric atmosphere than most, even for the matchup between the two dominant teams on Maui.
Baldwin quarterback Keelan Ewaliko (left), lineman Alexander Ezera and their teammates will play Lahainaluna on Saturday. Ewaliko missed the teams’ first meeting with a rib injury.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Tytus Lucas and the Lunas offense are leading the MIL?with 296.3 yards per game.
Lahainaluna running back John Lacuesta follows his blockers for a second-quarter touchdown against King Kekaulike earlier this season.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"I think it is that way for both of us. This has been the game that everybody looks forward to, so I think the kids know that and they get up for it," Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada said as his team prepared for the Saturday matchup at War Memorial Stadium.
Since late in the 2004 season when the Lunas claimed the MIL title, Baldwin has compiled a 62-3-1 league mark - two of those losses are to the Lunas, including a 32-0 decision in their first meeting this season on Sept. 7 when quarterback Keelan Ewaliko and linebacker Jordan Hoiem were out for the Bears.
Baldwin has scored 159 points in three wins since Ewaliko, a two-time MIL Offensive Player of the Year and University of Hawaii commit, returned from a broken rib. Hoiem, who has four college scholarship offers, is expected to make his 2012 MIL debut on Saturday night after battling the flu and a stress fracture.
MIL Second-Round Standings
Overall MIL record in parentheses
x-won first-round championship
|Maui High (2-4)||0||2||.000||31||70|
|KS Maui (2-4)||1||1||.500||24||49|
|King Kekaulike (0-5)||0||1||.000||0||42|
Baldwin 49, Maui 17
Lahainaluna 35, Kamehameha Maui 3
Friday, Oct. 12
Kamehameha Maui at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 13
Lahainaluna vs. Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
"After the first round, it was a wake-up call for us," Baldwin coach A.J. Roloos said. "So we're all excited, ready to go. It's a big week for us, it's a big week for them."
The Lunas' win a month ago snapped a 17-game league winning streak for the Bears, which included a three-game shutout streak against Lahainaluna in which Baldwin had a 95-0 advantage. The win earlier this season was part of a 5-game MIL shutout streak for the Lunas, who saw it snapped last week in a 35-3 win over Kamehameha.
"I don't think the kids worried about that at all, from the beginning," Tihada said of losing the shutout streak. "When we started offseason training, they had one goal and that goal had nothing to do with any types of streaks, offense, defense.
"We want to get to Aloha Stadium (for the state final), that is the only thing our kids are looking at."
This season, the dominant role has belonged solely to the Lunas (7-0 overall, 6-0 MIL), who have outscored the league 215-3 and all opponents 250-17. They and No. 1-ranked Kahuku are the only overall unbeaten teams in the state.
Lahainaluna surrenders just 80 yards per game on defense and leads the MIL on offense at 296.3 yards per game. Baldwin is second on offense (284.0) and fourth on defense (276.6).
The winner of Saturday night's game will clinch a state berth - Baldwin has been to seven Division I tournaments in a row, and Lahainaluna has been to six consecutive D-II tournaments.
Both are virtual locks to be back this season, but the Lunas can clinch their first outright MIL title since 2004, while the Bears can keep alive their seven-year streak of at least sharing the title.
"It's nice if we do (win the MIL title) and hopefully it will help in our state ranking, but that is the only way it is going to help us, is in the state ranking," Tihada said. "Hopefully, we get them ready for the states and they get us ready for the states."
The Lunas are tied for ninth in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll, and 10th in the Scoringlive.com power rankings, but that does not cross the mind of the Luna coaches. It is a factor when the state seeding committee meets, however, to start discussion with representatives from the different leagues.
Two teams receive byes for each of the six-team state tournaments and the Lunas appear to be candidates for a top-two seed in D-II, which would give them a bye into the semifinals.
The Bears are rolling back from a 1-2 overall start that included a 46-0 loss to Saint Louis and the early loss to the Lunas. They received votes in each poll this week. Ewaliko has accounted for 350 yards and seven touchdowns rushing, and 347 yards and five touchdowns passing in three games.
"You have to watch him, he can run, once he gets around the edge he is down the sideline," Roloos said. "You have to contain him, and just play a more conscious defense, you can't really attack, attack, attack. You can't send blitzes at him, because once he breaks contain . . . he makes a big difference."
Ewaliko said: "This week has been the most intense week, just because we lost in the first round. I was out, Jordan was out, plenty guys out. With everybody back we should be cherry. We're just, like, real excited."
Tihada said that the Lunas know precisely what they mean to the West Maui community - they celebrate homecoming Saturday night.
"One hundred percent," Tihada said. "We look around at the fans before the game and by far, we get the biggest crowd. We travel the farthest, we have the biggest crowd, it's awesome."
* Robert Collias is a firstname.lastname@example.org