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Lunas open with shutout victory over Maui High

Lahainaluna’s Kaulana Tihada runs for a first-quarter touchdown as Maui High’s Robert Young closes in for the tackle. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

LAHAINA — First things first, Lahainaluna High School’s 24-0 win over Maui High on Friday night at Sue Cooley Stadium was far from perfect for both teams.

To be back on the gridiron, however, was definitely a triumph for the Maui Interscholastic League. No fans were in attendance, but it was a big step nonetheless.

The Lunas beat an MIL opponent for the 26th straight game, adding to the record they already held.

“It definitely feels great to be back out here,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard said of the first prep football on Maui in 699 days, a layoff caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Unfortunately we couldn’t have the crowd and hopefully maybe that’ll change next week, but definitely got to hand it to our kids as well as Maui High –î they came to play.

“Considering the long layoff it was an OK game. It wasn’t anything spectacular, something exactly what we would expect at this point in the start of the season.”

Lahainaluna quarterback Noa Gordon is pressured by Maui High School Kupono Soberano in the first quarter. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Lunas took a 14-0 lead after one period despite a slow start.

The first snap of the game sailed over quarterback Noa Gordon’s head and five plays later a punt snap flew over the head of punter Noa Arase’s head. Arase recovered the errant punt snap and gained eight yards on fourth-and-14.

Lahainaluna then scored touchdowns on its next three possessions. Kaulana Tihada capped a 10-play, 74-yard drive with a 4-yard scoring run with 2:54 left in the first quarter to put the Lunas up 7-0.

Tihada, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound sophomore and the younger brother of former Lunas standout running backs Justice and Joshua Tihada, carried the ball six times for 56 yards on the drive.

Tihada finished the night with a game-high 86 yards rushing on 15 carries. Twelve Lunas carried the ball in the opener, for a total of 221 yards on the ground.

Lahainaluna’s Noah Arase catches a first-quarter touchdown pass Friday against Maui High Friday night at Sue Cooley Stadium. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“He has a legacy to live up to, but I think he knows what is being placed on his shoulders,” Rickard said. “He also realizes that he needs to put in the work to reap the rewards.”

The Lunas forced a three-and-out possession by the Sabers immediately following the first touchdown and needed just two plays to go 51 yards, taking a 14-0 lead on a 43-yard pass from Gordon to Arase with four seconds left in the first quarter.

The next time the Lunas had the ball they went 29 yards in three plays, making it 21-0 on a nifty 11-yard run by Blare Sylva-Viela after a bruising 18-yard jaunt by Ian-Jay Cabanilla. The short drive was set up by the Lunas stopping Maui High’s Zach Dando for a loss of eight yards on a fake punt.

The Lunas pushed the lead after another miscue by the Sabers. A Lahainaluna punt grazed a Maui High blocker downfield and the fumble was recovered by Lahainaluna’s Christian Clarion at the Maui High 37-yard line with under a minute to go in the first half.

Flores Anatello nailed a 39-yard field goal with 25 seconds to go in the first half to make it 24-0.

Maui High’s Evan Teresanko carries the ball against Lahainaluna in the second quarter. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Lunas did not score in the second half.

“It was definitely a tale of two halves,” Rickard said. “One thing we will definitely stress next week is our conditioning, but, you know, we’ve got a lot, a lot, a lot of work to do. It was basically two games, first half, second half. Our defense did OK, our offense did OK, we sputtered here and there. There were a lot of missed assignments, a lot of missed tackles.

“And again, this is basically the first game for everyone. It’s a learning lesson, we will break down film, review it and we’ll come back next week.”

The Sabers reached the Lahainaluna 21-yard line late in the third quarter on the strength of a 30-yard pass from Evan Teresanko to Robert Young. The drive stalled from there and the Sabers turned the ball over on downs after a Teresanko pass to the end zone fell incomplete on fourth-and-13.

The bottom line for the Lunas was simple.

“It’s good to get the ‘W,’ “ Rickard said. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

The game was the Maui High coaching debut for head coach Robert Dougherty and staff. The team was sent on its way to Lahaina from its Kahului campus with a pep talk from legendary retired coach Curtis Lee.

“There’s always stuff to work on,” Dougherty said. “These kids have been off for two years, so we’re just excited they got out here and played. We’re obviously disappointed with the result, but they played their butts off. Can’t ask for anything more. They played hard, so proud of the way they played. They gave their effort. It wasn’t what we wanted it to be, but we’ll get there.”

The game was the first prep football contest on the Valley Isle since Nov. 23, 2019, when Lahainaluna beat Roosevelt 35-0 in the Division II state semifinals.

That was 699 days ago and the Lunas won their fourth straight HHSAA D-II state title six days later at Aloha Stadium, 21-10 over Kapaa.

The Lunas haven’t lost an MIL game since falling to Baldwin 19-13 on Oct. 15, 2016. They started the league win streak six days later with a 42-0 win over King Kekaulike.

Maui High has not won an MIL game since Nov. 2, 2018, a 29-20 win over Baldwin for the league D-I title in a championship playoff game.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

_______________

Maui High 0 0 0 0– 0

Lahainaluna 14 10 0 0– 24

First Quarter

LL–Kaulana Tihada 4 run (Flores Anatello kick), 2:54.

LL–Noah Arase 43 pass from Noa Gordon (Anatello kick), 0:04.

Second Quarter

LL–Blare Sylva-Viela 11 run (Anatello kick), 8:39.

LL–Anatello 39 FG, 0:25.

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