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Lunas go for fourth straight state title against familiar foe

Perez, Tihada look to go out on top as Lahainaluna battles Kapaa

Lahainaluna running back Joshua Tihada battles for extra yardage while being tackled by Roosevelt’s Isaac Kaleikau and Shepherd Kekahuna during the Lunas’ state semifinal win last week at Sue Cooley Stadium.

LAHAINA — Derek Perez and Joshua Tihada have traveled different paths to get here, but both can make their own piece of Maui Interscholastic League history today.

The Lahainaluna High School football team will play Kapaa at 1 p.m. at Aloha Stadium — the Lunas are going for their fourth straight state crown at the Division II level. There is only one other MIL team to win a state football title, King Kekaulike in 2006.

Tihada and Perez are the only Lunas who have been part of the previous three.

Tihada certainly has the higher profile of the unique pair — he was co-MIL Offensive Player of the Year last season and owns 64 career touchdowns, an MIL record.

While Tihada looks forward to walking on to an NCAA Division I program, Perez plans to join the U.S. Marine Corps upon graduation.

Lahainaluna's Josh Tihada battles for extra yardage while being tackled by Roosevelt's Isaac Kaleikau and Shepherd Kekahuna.

“This game really means a lot because our former players from the years before, they really look at us now, we used to play with them and they say, ‘We expect you guys to win just like us,’ “ Perez said. “We look up to them a lot, so we are just trying to chase after that last one.”

Perez finds himself in the leadership role that he used to follow. He mentioned Donovan Defang as a player he remembers being a leader.

“It’s been fun, you know, because that used to be me looking up to the seniors,” Perez said. “Now, I’m just trying to help out as much as I can before I leave.”

Perez plans to wrestle for the Lunas in the winter sports season, but he seems ready to jump into the regimen required of the USMC. When told he would have to cut his shoulder-length hair, he smiled and said, ‘Yes sir.”

He has been a boarder at Lahainaluna in the past after attending Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului through 8th grade. He has clearly grown immensely since arriving in West Maui.

“This game is really important to me, especially going through all those three years,” Perez said. “Everything is expected for us to continue the legacy because we were from the start and we have to keep it going.”

The Lunas will be facing Kapaa in the championship game for the third time in this four-year run.

Lahainaluna beat the Warriors 21-18 in Lahaina in August and twice last season — 30-10 on Kauai in the preseason and 34-32 in a come-from-behind state title game in November.

Overall, the Lunas have beaten the Warriors four straight times — including 21-14 for their first state crown in 2016. The Warriors last beat the Lunas in a preseason game 21-0 in August 2016.

Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard knows that his team is in for a battle. Kahanu Davis rushed for 175 yards and Baba Na-O had 136 yards rushing in the Warriors’ 35-28 win over Kaimuki in last week’s semifinals.

The Lunas advanced with a 35-0 win over Roosevelt.

“They’ve got Kahanu Davis on offense, they got No. 33 (Jeffery Brown) … he’s a stud at the linebacker position,” Rickard said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, but we’re just hoping the kids can keep that energy level up coming off that nice win over Roosevelt.”

Perez is ready for his last football game and he remembers his first trip to Aloha Stadium for the 2016 state final.

“I remember the feeling that everything is on the line at that point, once you step on the field and start warming up, you’re like, ‘Man, this is it,’ “ Perez said. “This is the last game of the season. Everything you put in, everything you work for, this is where you prove it.”

Several other standout Lunas seniors will be going for their third state crown.

“I mean, it’s just always a hard, intense game and just coming out playing hard against these guys because we play each other a lot,” place kicker/wide receiver Brian Sandoval said. “Our coaches know each other, so it’s going to be a tough game.”

Kaihulali Casco, a defensive back who also kicks and sees time running the ball on offense, said: “It’s all in our head. We just have to play together as a team, work together as a team. And just try to finish strong.”

“Knowing each other so well, we know their strong players and their weak players and their qualities, so it really helps out,” he added.

Matthew Rabino is a tight end/defensive lineman who will also be seeking state crown No. 3. His older brother Shawn Rabino was a senior for the 2016 team when Justice Tihada was team’s second-leading rusher as a senior.

“With my brother and Josh’s brother starting it off, that class first starting it off I think it really means a big deal for this class,” Matthew Rabino said. “Having four straight would just be amazing. My brother has just been trying to encourage me to just finish off this season strong.”

Matthew Rabino is coming off a 4.0 grade-point average in the first quarter of this year and he plans to study engineering at UNLV.

“We’re the one school that represents Lahaina and Maui and I feel like it’s a big thing,” Rabino said. “The fans are great, the community as a whole just supports everyone so much, it’s amazing.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships

Today’s Games

At Aloha Stadium • All games on PPV

DIVISION II CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 1 Lahainaluna vs. No. 2 Kapaa, 1 p.m.

DIVISION I CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 1 Hilo vs. No. 3 Iolani, 4 p.m.

OPEN DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 1 Saint Louis vs. No. 2 Kahuku, 7 p.m.