The last time the Lahainaluna football team had set foot on the turf at War Memorial Stadium, they were on the short-end of the score in a bitter, disappointing loss to eventual DII champion Kaiser High School in the semifinals of the HHSAA Division II football playoffs. The then-#1 Lunas’ undefeated season and state championship aspirations came to an end on that dark November night.
Eight long months later, and the #1 ranked Lunas look to move forward with a new team, new leaders but the same goal of winning the state championship. Their first game back at War Memorial was supposed to be on August 8th against Keaau of the Big Island. But the dual threat of Hurricanes Iselle and Julio caused that game to be cancelled. The Lunas traveled to the Garden Isle for a preseason game at Kapa’a on August 16 and escaped with an 18-16 win, thanks to a touchdown in the waning seconds from senior star Sione Makoa Filikitonga.
With just that one preseason road game to iron out the kinks on a team that graduated 21 seniors (including Kiko Kohler-Fonohema, Kaimana Ancog, Christian Whitehead, Jared Purdy, Bronson Kaina, Nate Hapakuka-Nunuha, Hercules Mata’afa, Loa Puteni, JT Valmoja-Kaleikini and Pousima Galoia), I was curious to see what kind of a performance the Lunas would have on Friday night against King Kekaulike to open up the MIL regular season. The Luna faithful were not disappointed.
The Lunas rolled to a 47-7 win over King Kekaulike on a sometimes-rainy night at War Memorial Stadium. The Lunas racked up 493 yards in total offense, including 445 yards on the ground. The Lunas controlled possession with 32 first downs.
Coach Tihada’s commitment to incorporating more passing into the offense resulted in Sione Filikitonga going 7-13 for 48 yards and no interceptions. He passed for one touchdown to Isaiah Biga-Rogers in the closing seconds of the first half. Overall, he had difficulty connecting with his receivers on the deep routes but was effective in the medium passing game. That should improve over the course of the season. On a positive note, there were no turnovers or sacks allowed.
Defensively, the Lunas allowed only 116 yards of total offense, including 5 first downs and 34 yards rushing. The bulk of King Kekaulike’s positive yards came on their only scoring drive in the second quarter, when King K completed a pass on a fake punt to get the first down and then a few plays later, Corry Brown made a great catch on a 36 yard reception to get Na Alii to within a few yards of the goal line. Other than that, there was a lot of east-west running for Na Alii, but difficulty getting around the Lunas’ defense. King K’s Kawika Homalon was elusive in the pocket, avoiding sacks and tackles for losses on numerous occasions. The loss of reigning MIL Defensive Player of the Year Connor Mowat due to a knee injury in the first series of the first quarter when a Na Alii player did an illegal chop block to his knees and the loss to graduation of All-State defensive end Hercules Mata’afa was noticeable as Homalon was able to escape sacks on numerous occasions. Still, the relentless pressure from Peni Taufa, Brandon Kaina, Jayven Paleka-Wright, Jared Rocha and Ken Brito allowed the Lunas’ to contain Homalon and prevent any big yardage plays from scrimmage.
Sione Filikitonga led the Lunas with 127 yards rushing on 12 carries, including touchdown runs of 13 yards and 54 yards. The 54-yard run extended Filikitonga’s streak of touchdown runs of 50 yards or more to 11 games. Unbelievable.
Jared Rocha appears to be all the way back from the broken ankle he suffered in the Kaiser game with 76 yards on 10 carries. He also scored touchdowns on runs of 1 and 3 yards.
If Jared Rocha is thunder with his power and strength, then Ansen Cabanilla provided the lightning with 62 yards rushing on only 4 carries, including an electrifying 37 yard touchdown in the third quarter.
David Kawabata showed flashes of brilliance with his power running style reminiscent of another legendary Luna, Kawika Kawabata. He rushed for 51 yards on 6 carries, including a couple that could have gone for more. Unfortunately, he got tripped up by one of his own offensive lineman on one of the runs.
Josten Saribay, a senior and standout wrestler who transferred from King Kekaulike to the alma mater of his parents, had an outstanding debut as a Luna. He provided the Lunas with a boost on special teams, turning a couple of bounced punts into long punt returns giving the Lunas excellent field position.
On special teams, Austin Wagner did an admirable job hitting on his first 5 PAT’s before misfiring on the final 2 PAT attempts.
The O-Line dominated the trenches thanks to Danny Sulunga-Kahaialii, Justin Hong, Brandon Kaina and Peni Taufa. Junior Moala, Ryan Delatori, Ken Brito and Jabe Oliver stepped up in place of Connor Mowat. Defensively, Kaina, Taufa, Paleka-Wright, Rocha and Brito were in the backfield all night and Cabanilla, Biga-Rogers, Donavon Defang, Scotty Medeiros-Tangatailoa and Kuu Palea did a great job in the defensive backfield.
Back-up quarterback Enele Scanlan, a sophomore, showed he is capable, leading the team on a scoring drive in the 4th quarter, capped off by a touchdown from Kaya Phillips-Aki.
Next week , the Lunas face Division II opponent Kamehameha Schools Maui, then Baldwin and Maui High. Unfortunately, it appears Kamehameha Maui is not fielding a JV team this year. Bummers.
NOTE: For tonight’s game, I was mentoring Ariana Badua for her senior project on sports photography. She has a natural eye for sports photography and has a knack for very well-composed shots. Looking forward to her work. . . . After last year’s craziness of rain, rain, rain, I was prepared. Even though it was bright and sunny at 3pm, I still had the foresight to pack an extra garbage bag and two rain sleeves for the game. Shooting outdoors in the elements, one should always be prepared for anything. Unfortunately, my brand new sneakers got dirty and I decided to keep my rain jacket in the truck. But hey, at least my camera equipment was protected!