Molokai ready to defend its MIL title

Devrene Kahananui-Alejado will be the starting quarterback for Lanai. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The respectful rivalry between the Molokai and Lanai high school football teams is becoming the headliner in the Maui Interscholastic League 8-player ranks.

The two teams met for the league championship last season — the Farmers won their third straight crown with a 73-38 shootout victory — and their neighbor island status in Maui County bonds them together.

The two teams will open MIL play on Saturday when they meet in Lanai City at 11 a.m. The other opener will be Hana at Seabury Hall at 10 a.m.

Cancellations and weather have already wreaked havoc on the schedule.

The scheduled MIL opener between Molokai and Hana last Friday in East Maui is unlikely to be made up, according to Molokai coach Mike Kahale. The Seabury Hall-Hana game was originally scheduled for Thursday.

“They’re excited,” Kahale said of his team that has 51 players listed on the roster. “We’ve had two weeks off just because of the hurricane and prior to that Honokaa canceled on us. Those were two opportunities for most of our team to play. We were going to take almost the whole team to Hana and Honokaa would be a home game (in an 11-player format).

“The challenge for us when we go to Lanai and to the Big Island we can only charter three small planes — we take, like, 22 guys when we have 50 guys on the roster. It’s stiff competition out there (at practice).”

Junior Kaimana Nakayama has taken over at quarterback, Nalima Puaa-Aki, Jayse Lalim-Rillon and Jordan Kupau will see most of the carries from the running back position, while Kaimana Paleka will primarily be a defensive back who will also touch the ball on offense.

The Farmers started with a sluggish 14-8 win at Pahoa on Aug. 11.

“Our offensive production was actually quite poor,” Kahale said. “The defense kind of held it together for us over there to get that win. We’re working with some different guys in the backfield, we’ve got a first-year quarterback with Kaimana, but he’s getting it.”

With the limited roster, Kahale said that “two or three guys” will go both ways — “sometimes you’re a little short in one particular area, so guys have got to step up and play both ways.”

Nakayama and Puaa-Aki will definitely see significant time on both sides of the ball, Kahale said.

The Pine Lads have an all-time high 38 players listed on the roster after their first appearance in the MIL championship game last season.

“We got surprise numbers this year,” Lanai coach Stephen Ferguson said. “We started off with 40, we’re holding steady at 37. So that’s real good.”

Lanai High and Elementary School’s student body had 137 students in the high school ranks last year according to official enrollment numbers from the state. They had to buy a new set of uniforms this season because their old set had only 35 jerseys.

“I think that last year’s success helped and we also started a middle school flag football league that runs right to July — it ends the week before the high school season starts,” Ferguson said. “That’s been kind of drawing some of the freshmen out, which was a hard thing to do because a lot of the freshmen were afraid because they were on the same team as the seniors.

“When we had them kind of mingle and play flag football together, they kind of bonded and the freshmen were braver to come out for actual high school football because they knew the seniors that they were going to play with. That helped.”

The Pine Lads are led by senior Naighel Calderon, who is listed as a quarterback, running back and safety. To allow Calderon to carry the ball, junior quarterback Devrene Kahananui-Alejado will draw the starting nod at quarterback.

Calderon scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a 48-34 win over Seabury Hall last season in the league semifinals.

The rivalry between the two single-school islands in the MIL is stronger than ever.

“I have always told Mike, ‘You guys set the gold standard,’ “ Ferguson said. “We are aspiring to be what they’ve become. It’s good. We know we’ll have a good game. We’ll fight them tooth and nail, but we’re not enemies.

“Mike and I, we get along good, we talk good, we host them well, they host us well. It’s a good rivalry.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.