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Lunas top Na Alii, headed back to states

Lahainaluna High School’s Tre Rickard returns a punt for a touchdown during the second quarter of the Lunas’ 41-3 victory over King Kekaulike on Saturday night at Sue Cooley Stadium. The Lunas clinched a state tournament berth with the win. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

LAHAINA – The Lahainaluna High School football team is a machine that repeats its strengths over and over again.

The Lunas clinched a 13th straight trip to the HHSAA Division II state tournament with a methodical 41-3 win over King Kekaulike on Lahainaluna’s homecoming night Saturday in front of a packed house at Sue Cooley Stadium.

“That takes a load off our shoulders,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard said. “We still have Maui High (next week) and we look forward to being competitive with them, but this gives us an opportunity now to start looking forward to the state tournament and trying to prepare ourselves.”

Lahainaluna, 7-0 in Maui Interscholastic League play, jumped to a quick 14-0 lead with touchdowns on its first two possessions of the game.

On their second play from scrimmage, Nainoa Kulukulualani-Sales broke free down the right sideline for a 50-yard touchdown run.

The Lunas’ Esekielu Storer releases a second-quarter touchdown pass to Kai Bookland.

After a short punt, the Lunas went 40 yards in five plays and took a two-score lead on a 4-yard run through the middle by Derek Perez.

Na Alii (2-5) got on the scoreboard with a 35-yard field goal by Thor Ventura with less than a minute left in the first quarter to make it 14-3.

The Lunas scored four touchdowns in the second quarter to account for the final score.

Joshua Tihada scored on a 6-yard run to cap a 14-play, 80-yard drive with 5:46 to go in the first half Just over a minute later, Kai Bookland took an Esekielu Storer pass in the flat and turned it into a 19-yard scoring pass.

Then lightning struck twice for the Lunas. Tre Rickard fielded a punt at midfield and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown with 2:19 to go in the first half, and moments later Kaihulali Casco intercepted a Franco Melgar Martich pass and returned it 55 yards for a score with 36 seconds on the clock.

Lahainaluna’s Kai Bookland slows down King Kekaulike’s Kris Barlahan in the first quarter Saturday.

The 38-point advantage turned on the mercy-rule running clock for the entire second half.

Na Alii will finish their season and say goodbye to 18 seniors in a rare home finale next week against Baldwin. One of the best Na Alii players ever, Trey Hunter, did not play Saturday because he is still nursing a sprained ankle suffered a couple weeks ago.

“The Lunas, they’re tough every time you play them, every year,” King Kekaulike coach Tyson Valle said. “They’re not a bunch of guys you just push to the side. You have to prepare for them and hopefully everything goes your way.”

The three-time defending D-II state champs have won an MIL-record 24 straight games dating to 2016.

“I think they force everybody to get better and we want to keep the MIL strong,” Valle said. “That way we can represent strong in states, so good luck to them in states.”

The Lunas’ Nainoa Kulukulualani-Sales celebrates with teammate Jake Bell after a TD run.

The Lunas are looking at 27 days off between their last MIL game next week with Maui High and their state semifinal, which will likely be at home on Nov. 23.

“It’s so hard to have those byes weeks when we’re in the season and to have three extra weeks to prepare,” Dean Rickard said. “The good thing is it allows us to scout the other teams, see who our opponents will be and heal up and hopefully work on our consistency, which is something we weren’t happy about tonight.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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King Kekaulike     3     0   0   0–3

Lahainaluna’s Kai Casco returns an interception for a touchdown.

Lahainaluna       14   27   0   0–41

First Quarter

LL–Nainoa Kulukulualani-Sales 50 run (Kaihulali Casco kick), 9:31.

LL–Derek Perez 4 run (Casco kick), 6:38.

KK–FG Thor Ventura 35, 0:57.

The Lunas’ Tre Rickard intercepts a pass intended for King Kekaulike’s William Yudis.

Second Quarter

LL–Joshua Tihada 6 run (Casco kick), 5:46.

LL–Kai Bookland 19 pass from Esekielu Storer (Casco kick), 4:34.

LL–Tre Rickard 50 punt return (kick failed), 2:19.

LL–Casco 55 interception return (Casco kick), 0:36.

Junior varsity–Lahainaluna 41, King Kekaulike 7.

*****

MIL Standings

SECOND ROUND

(Overall MIL records in parentheses)

DIVISION I

W L Pct PF PA

x-Baldwin (4-3) 1 2 .333 55 64

Maui High (0-7) 0 3 .000 61 81

DIVISION II

W L Pct PF PA

x-Lahainaluna (7-0) 3 0 1.000 98 34

KS Maui (5-3) 3 1 .750 109 72

King Kekaulike (2-5) 1 2 .333 47 119

x-clinched division title

Friday’s Result

Kamehameha Maui 17, Baldwin 14

Saturday’s Result

Lahainaluna 41, King Kekaulike 3

Friday, Oct. 25

Baldwin at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 26

Maui High at Lahainaluna, 7 p.m.

End of regular season