Hawaii fans know the name Alakai Yuen. He’s Moanalua’s senior quarterback and he is considered one of the top at his position in the state.
Usually, Na Menehune’s offense goes as he goes. The team, however, got a huge boost from its running game on Friday night in a 49-7 victory over Castle in the first round of the Oahu Interscholastic Association playoffs.
Kea Rodrigues got the call early and often at running back and wound up with 64 yards on 10 carries. The Moanalua line did a fine job creating holes inside and out.
As the game progressed, the ball was handed off to two others — Brandon Bender and Bronson Louis-Merry, who both scored two second-half TDs as Na Menehune pulled away after leading just 14-0 at the half.
Yuen had another stellar game, too. He passed for 201 yards and completed 20 of 31 passes. He also had a touchdown pass.
But if Moanalua is going to go farther, it is likely going to have to be with the same kind of balance. Na Menehune play at Kapolei, the OIA Red regular-season champion, in the quarterfinals next week.
Win or lose, Moanalua will be in uncharted territory. With a win, Na Menehune will qualify for the inaugural Open division state tournament with the rest of the BIG BOYS in the state.
Imagine that? Moanalua has not been in a state tourney higher than the Division II level. Even a loss against Kapolei would put Na Menehune in the D-I states.
So, can you say SUCCESSFUL year, under first-year head coach Savaii Eselu. Hard to say no to that.
But can they keep the dream season going?
“I believe in our team and what we can do and I believe we have a chance to do well in the tournament,” Moanalua defensive lineman Huaka‘i Self said. “Kapolei is a great team. I’m excited to be playing them and happy for another opportunity to play alongside my brothers for Coach Savaii Eselu.”
Yuen called getting this far “a blessing.”
“It’s only the first round,” he said. “We still have a lot to do.”
Are there other believers over there in Moanalua-land?
Some fans during the game were talking about how they were a bit wary of playing Castle (4-5), since the Knights beat Kailua 24-21 the week before, and earlier in the season, Kailua topped Na Menehune 16-13.
It’s possible Moanalua boys are better than the fans thought.
Eselu said he “most definitely” looking forward to the Kapolei game.
“It’s a great opportunity because I think the ties are close between the (staffs). It’s going to be a fun deal. We’ve all had some history together at some point in time.”
Eselu was all smiles after Friday’s game, when he was reminded that of the team’s seven touchdowns against Castle five were via the run. One was by the pass and the other was on an interception return.
“We started clicking on the ground and in the air,” he said.
Expect the Moanalua defense, however, to have its hands full against the Hurricanes (7-1).
“It’s no secret what they’re about,” Eselu said, referring to the high-powered passing attack with Taulia Tagovailua at quarterback and June Jones as the offensive coordinator.
The Moanalua DBs got some playoff practice in, so to speak, against Castle. Isaiah Jackson put blanket coverage on the Knights’ receivers and made numerous breakups. Nainoa Chun picked off a Castle pass and returned it 81 yards for a score.