Moanalua mentor Savai’i Eselu ended last season claiming to be outcoached by John Hao of Castle in the OIA playoffs, vowing to never cost his kids a game again.
As luck would have it, Eselu’s next chance to prove it will become against one of the state’s all-time most successful coaches.
‘Iolani will visit Moanalua for the first time on Saturday, giving Wendell Look yet another territory to conquer. Look, the third-winningest coach in state history behind Cal Lee of Saint Louis and Lahainaluna’s Bobby Watson, has won on 21 different fields in his long career and can add Moanalua’s cozy plant to the list. He added Kamehameha-Hawaii to the tally last week.
The Raiders were scheduled to play at Moanalua last year but the game was cancelled by the threat of Hurricane Lane. Na Menehune finished 7-0 in OIA D-I while ‘Iolani went 7-1 in the combined schedule with its only loss coming to Leilehua.
The Raiders know they are one of the smallest teams in the state and they also know that teamwork, tenacity and preparation make them a unique defensive unit. Linebacker/safety Lanakila Pei, a 6-foot, 175-pound senior, spoke with Hawaii Prep World before the start of the season.
Na Menehune have only played the Raiders twice, at the state tournament in 2016 and in 2006 when Eselu caught two passes for 34 yards, but ‘Iolani won both games.
The Raiders can start the season 2-0 for the second year in a row after having an easy time at Kamehameha-Hawaii in the opener. The Raiders ran only 48 plays in the game, passing on 28 of them.
Six of those plays went for touchdowns.
Moanalua will be making its fifth season opener under Eselu, who has won three of those four games with the lone loss coming two years ago against Punahou.
Eselu is the only Moanalua coach with more wins than losses in his career — Arnold Martinez went 51-51-1 in his decade at the helm — and is five wins shy of passing Donald Ng for third on the school’s career victories list.
In other Division I games this weekend:
>> Waipahu at Castle, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
It seems a champion always has something to prove.
The defending D-I state champion Waipahu Marauders lost their opener at Waianae last week and draw another daunting road test on Friday at Castle.
The Marauders ended Castle’s season in the OIA championship last year at Aloha Stadium, following Alfred Failauga‘s 177 rushing yards and Branson Jay Reyes’100 receiving yards to a 32-3 victory.
Waipahu hasn’t started a season 0-2 since 2014, so this would be a first for coach Bryson Carvalho. Losing the first two would be old hat to John Hao and the Knights; they lost their first four last year before making their surprising run.
Failauga’s 234 yards against Waianae last week was his highest output since his sophomore year and his sixth straight game over the century mark. His career high is seven bridging his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Failauga needs only 4 yards to pass Kahuku’s Mark Atuaia for fourth on Oahu’s career rushing chart and can pass Aofaga Wily of Kahuku for third with 53 yards.
Unlike last year’s championship matchup, Castle has home field on its side.
Waipahu hasn’t won on Castle’s field since 1999, going 0-2 since then thanks to offensive explosions of 35 points in 2015 and 56 in a masterful performance by Junior Mansanas in 2003.
Waipahu leads series 35-10-2 since 1950 but 8-7 since the Prep Bowl era began in 1973.
>> Radford at Aiea, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
When Radford needed a home field a few years ago, Aiea graciously put the Rams up for a season.
Na Alii probably won’t be so accommodating on Friday when the Rams visit Aiea.
Radford hasn’t beaten Aiea since 2010 and haven’t beaten Na Alii on Aiea’s field since 1985. Radford’s last win on Aiea’s field came against Waialua in 2015.
Fred Salanoa, Radford’s former 13-year head coach, returns and carries a 13-game winning streak into his new foray. Salanoa stepped down in 2015 after leading the storied program to its second undefeated season and a Division II state championship. The only other undefeated season came in 1981 under the legendary John Velasco.
There are not too many coaches in the OIA more accomplished than Salanoa, but he drew one in his first game back. Aiea’s Wendell Say has been going at it since 2002 and is on the Mount Rushmore in career wins by OIA football coaches behind only Larry Ginoza of Waianae, Velasco and Leilehua’s Hugh Yoshida.
Say earned seven of his 124 victories against Salanoa against just three losses, the last coming in 2010.
Aiea opened against Kaiser last week and lost 21-7 without a running game to speak of. Salanoa has won his last four season openers and hasn’t lost a league opener since 2010.
>> Kailua at No. 9 Leilehua, Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
One year later to the day, Kailua gets a chance to get it right.
The Surfriders lost to the Mules in overtime last year, a frustrating result that fueled a winning streak for Leilehua and a losing streak for the Surfriders.
Kailua’s Raynen Ho-Mook hit tight end John Sniffen for a clutch conversion with less than two minutes left to tie it, but an encroachment penalty by the Surfriders in overtime was too much to overcome.
The teams will line up again on Saturday, this time at Leilehua. They seem to be going in completely different directions with the Mules doing everything right in a 35-0 win over Farrington last week and the Surfriders doing everything wrong in a 40-0 wipeout at the hands of Punahou.
The Mules can start 2-0 for the first time since 2014 (Leilehua coach Mark Kurisu has never started 2-0) and the Surfriders want to avoid beginning 0-2 for the second straight year. Before coach Joe Wong came along, Kailua dropped its first two games of a season four years in a row.
Leilehua has won seven of the past eight games in the series, with Kailua’s lone win coming in 2015. The Surfriders haven’t won at Hugh Yoshida Stadium since Josh Uelese ran wild in a 34-0 win in 2000, losing four straight since then.