Bidding for a breakthrough
WAILUKU – The crown jewel is within reach for the Lahainaluna High School football team.
The top-seeded Lunas rolled into the First Hawaiian Bank State Championship Division II title game with a 52-7 victory over Kamehameha Hawaii on Saturday night in front of about 5,000 fans at War Memorial Stadium.
Second-seeded Iolani, winner of seven of the last nine state titles, will be the opponent in Friday’s final at Aloha Stadium.
The Lunas have twice reached state championship games – the Raiders beat them each time, in 2007 and 2012.
“Iolani, they are very good at what they do,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada said. “They have been doing it for so long. You put pressure, they’ll throw the ball faster. You give them time, they’ll pick you apart.
“This year, from what I understand, they have a really, really good running game. They are the total package this year. It is going to be really, really difficult.”
The Lunas are seeking to deliver their devoted fan base its first state title in football – and sixth overall in all sports.
“It would mean a lot for us as a team to win it for them because of all the support they have given us throughout the years,” Tihada said. “Even those lean years, they come out and support us. We have had a bunch of lean years – 0-8 years,
1-6-1 years – and they have still been here.
“We are so appreciative of that and we want to do it for our seniors, who have worked so hard and also for everybody that backs us.”
The Lunas dominated Saturday’s game from the opening kickoff. Isaiah Biga-Rogers intercepted Micah Kanehailua on the third play from scrimmage, and Jared Rocha-Islas’ 10-yard touchdown run two plays later put Lahainaluna on top 58 seconds into the game. Rocha-Islas scored three touchdowns in the first half, which ended with the Lunas in front 45-7.
Rocha-Islas finished with 12 carries for 79 yards – he has run for 370 yards and six touchdowns on 58 attempts in six state tournament games over his four-year career. On Saturday, he added two catches for 46 yards, kicked a 26-yard field goal and was 6-for-6 on extra points.
The Lunas’ Makoa Filikitonga was 6-for-9 passing for 100 yards, with a 42-yard touchdown throw to Josten Saribay. Filikitonga also ran for 74 yards and two scores on seven carries, and had an exhilarating 65-yard interception return for a touchdown.
In four tournament games, Filikitonga is 20-for-41 passing for 321 yards and three touchdowns while being picked off three times – all of the interceptions were against Iolani as a sophomore in his third career start. He has run for 284 yards and three scores on 55 carries in the tournament.
Lahainaluna has played in five straight state semifinals, and seven in eight years.
Kamehameha was making its third state tournament appearance. The Warriors’ 42-20 quarterfinal win over Nanakuli was the third victory for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation in tournament history.
“I think there’s a difference between being an experienced team that’s been through numerous playoffs and teams that are just getting there,” Kamehameha coach Dan Lyons said. “In my mind the biggest thing that it comes down to is they are a heck of a lot more disciplined than we are.”
The Lunas intercepted five passes Saturday and limited the Warriors to 127 yards of offense. Tihada said Saturday’s defensive effort was the best he can recall for Lahainaluna.
“We took this couple of weeks of having a bye and our kids just worked hard,” Tihada said. “They treated every week like a game week versus like a bye week and they worked their tails off.”
Tihada said at the beginning of the season that the goal was to finish the year at Aloha Stadium playing for a state title.
“It’s very gratifying, especially for our seniors,” he said. “They have spent so much time and their blood, sweat and tears since their sophomore year to now. It’s nice to have them experience going back again. For the new kids, it’s nice to have this experience so they want to go back again.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org