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Lunas pull away to beat Sabers 26-9, clinch D-I championship

Lahainaluna High School defensive lineman Sacrie Latu hits Maui High quarterback Joe Cariaga as he releases a pass during the first quarter Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — The Lahainaluna High School football team clinched the Maui Interscholastic League Division I title and state berth that goes with it Saturday night with a 26-9 win over Maui High at War Memorial Stadium.

Lahainaluna’s 30th straight MIL win — a streak that spans more than five calendar years — was anything but easy, however.

The Lunas led 5-3 going to the fourth quarter — they had just four first downs through three quarters.

“It was a battle, toughest game by far, defensive battle all the way,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard said.

Rickard was short on how his team will handle clinching. The Lunas finish the regular season with a game Saturday at Sue Cooley Stadium against Baldwin. Lahainaluna will represent the MIL in the Division I state semifinals on Dec. 17 on Oahu at a site to be announced.

Lahainaluna’s Anatello Flores kicks a 38-yard field goal in the second quarter Saturday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“It’s nice, that is nice,” Rickard said. “We still got Baldwin, though. Is it a clincher? For us, we’re going to treat Baldwin as if it’s not.”

Lahainaluna beat Maui High 24-0 in the season opener on Oct. 22.

“I mean, what can I say other than the fact that — and I said it — this wasn’t going to be the same team that came out in the first round,” Rickard said. “And we kept pounding it into the kids’ heads that this is going to be a different Maui High team. And they showed it tonight, they were well-prepared, well-coached.”

Lahainaluna came into the game averaging 329 yards per game on the ground. They finished with 52 yards on 38 carries on Saturday, although they found the passing game late to put together a three-touchdown fourth quarter.

“They stopped us offensively, we really had to get away from the running game towards the end and we were fortunate to pick up some over-the-top passes,” Rickard said. “But that’s not really what we are about. They took us out of our game.”

Lahainaluna quarterback Noa Gordon runs with the ball in the first quarter. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

After the Lunas took the lead on a safety when a shotgun snap flew over the head of Sabers quarterback Penisoni Panuve with 5:00 left in the third quarter, Lahainaluna went three-and-out on the ensuing possession.

After another bad snap forced a Sabers’ punt, the Lunas appeared to fumble on first down from their own 39-yard line on their next possession, but the play was blown dead.

Eight plays later, Lahainaluna quarterback Noa Gordon found Noah Arase for a 33-yard reception to the Maui High 6-yard line when the Lunas lined up in punt formation on fourth-and-12. Gordon pushed the lead to 12-3 on a dive into the end zone on fourth-and-1.

Maui High gave up the ball on downs at their own 48 on the next drive and the Lunas needed just three plays to score.

Gordon hit Noah Garcia on a 37-yard strike to the Maui High 11 and after a run for no gain and a 5-yard penalty, Ian-Jay Cabanilla rushed 16 yards around the right side to make it 19-3 with 6:53 to play.

The Sabers answered with an eight-play, 72-yard drive to cut the lead to 19-9 on a 12-yard pass from Joe Cariaga to Zach Dando with 4:18 left. The key play on the drive was a 34-yard pass from Cariaga to Piercen Cajigal-Evans that put the ball on the Lahainaluna 10-yard line.

The Lunas put all doubt away three plays later when Gordon found Garcia for a 59-yard scoring pass with 2:52 left.

“We were just fortunate to come out with this ugly win, as I call it,” Rickard said. “We’ve got a lot of things that we’ve got to correct, especially offensively.”

The Sabers put the Lunas behind for just the second time this season when Dando hit a 31-yard field goal with 8:49 left in the first quarter. The Lunas trailed for 2 minutes, 12 seconds in a 31-13 win over Kamehameha Maui on Nov. 12.

Maui High started the drive on the Lunas’ 16-yard line following Lafaele Falekaono’s block of Gordon’s punt after the Sabers’ defense forced a three-and-out on the first possession of the game. The Lunas punted a season-high six times.

The Lunas stopped Maui High on downs with less than a minute to play in the second quarter and tied the score on a 38-yard field goal by Anatello Flores right before halftime.

The Sabers had 70 yards of offense in the first half, while the Lunas had 19 total yards after factoring in the 29-yard loss on the blocked punt.

Maui High held Lahainaluna to nine first downs and 192 total yards of offense, less than half of their MIL-leading 416.3-yards-per-game average.

“I thought our defense played really, really good,” Maui High coach Robert Dougherty said. “Their defense, they shut us down pretty good. It was more of a defensive struggle. You have got to tip your hats when they beat us. We made more mistakes.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

Lahainaluna 0 3 2 21–26

Maui High 3 0 0 6– 9

First Quarter

MH–FG Zach Dando 31, 8:49.

Second Quarter

LL–FG Anatello Flores 38, 0:05.

Third Quarter

LL–Safety, 5:00.

Fourth Quarter

LL–Noa Gordon 1 run (Flores kick), 9:17.

LL–Ian-Jay Cabanilla 16 run (Flores kick), 6:53.

MH–Dando 12 pass from Joe Cariaga (run failed), 4:18.

LL–Noah Garcia 59 pass from Gordon (Flores kick), 2:52.

LL MH

First downs 9 11

Rushes-yards 38-52 34-67

Passing yards 140 85

Total offense 192 152

Return yards 46 4

Comp-Att-Int 4-7-0 8-19-0

Fumbles-lost 3-1 3-0

Penalties-yards 5-35 6-51

Punts-avg 6-29.5 4-32.3

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING–Lahainaluna, Cabanilla 8-44, Kaulana Tihada 12-19, Gordon 9-12, Avery Baybayan 3-8, Jeremy Kahahane-Lived 2-0, T.J. Borges 1-(minus 2), team 3-(minus 29); Maui High, Coby Wakayama 8-27, Penisoni Panuve 4-27, Robert Young 1-22, Antonio Castro 4-16, Cariaga 9-13, Piercen Cajigal-Evans 3-9, team 5-(minus 47).

PASSING–Lahainaluna, Gordon 4-7-0–140; Maui High, Cariaga 8-19-0–85.

RECEIVING–Lahainaluna, Garcia 2-96, Noah Arase 1-33, Blare Sylva-Viela 1-11; Maui High, Dando 4-33, Young 2-11, Cajigal-Evans 1-34, Ethan Takara 1-7.

MISSED FIELD GOALS–none.

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