Defense is golden: ‘Iolani wins first Division I football championship

A perfect 11-0 record, back-to-back shutouts in the Division I state championships — there's not much more the ‘Iolani Raiders could have done in 2021 en route to the crown. Paul Honda/

Even after nine state titles, 2021 is different for the ‘Iolani Raiders.

Moments after the trophy presentation to runner-up Lahainaluna and new Division I football state champion ‘Iolani — after the Raiders’ 38-0 win on Thursday — the 2020 Raiders could not be forgotten.

“This is for you guys, too,” longtime coach Wendell Look said as former Raiders hugged their former coach. “We did it. We did it.”

Senior hybrid/punt returner Sterling Sakashita, who finished his career with six tackles in the title game, always remember his former teammates, who lost their senior year in ’20 when football season was cancelled due to the pandemic.

“Last year’s seniors, this is for you guys,” Sakashita said.

‘Iolani limited Lahainaluna’s powerful ground attack to 103 yards on 34 carries. The Lunas finished with just 132 yards of total offense (2.5 per play). In a 21-0 semifinal win over Aiea, the Raiders permitted just 225 total yards.

What defensive coordinator Delbert Tengan created at ‘Iolani over the years is a classic desperation-is-the-mother-of-invention. Seven “hybrids” dot the Raiders roster this year. Two of them — Ryan Tsuruda and Sakashita — are seniors, and five will return when ‘Iolani attempts to defend its state crown.

“Oh, i just feel so happy for these young guys. They worked all year long and to put two shutouts back to back against two quality teams, hat’s off to these guys,” said Tengan, who guided Saint Louis to a state title in 2002 as a head coach.

Aiea brought a powerful ground game with a run-and-shoot offense and an athletic quarterback. Lahainaluna’s disciplined, misdirection-based offense was strong enough to run the table in the MIL.

“We just had to execute our basic fundamentals. Aiea was big, physical, they threw the ball. This team, it was the running game we had to shut down. It’s the fundamentals we start from day one. Playing together as a unit. I think that was the key,” Tengan said. “Nobody’s looking to take the credit. Everybody just does their job.”

Bronson Morioka had a team-high eight tackles, while Jacob Gaudi and Sakashita had six each. Brayden Morioka had five tackles and Tsuruda had four. Zion Junk and Nikolas Yim had two tackles each. Yim returned to action after suffering an injury during the battle.

Ha‘aheo Dela Cruz, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound defensive lineman, recovered a fumble and had two sacks.

“Our defense swarms to the ball and we make plays when we need to. We’re not flashy. We’re not like that. We just make plays when we have to and today, we showed we can hang with the best,” Dela Cruz said.

The kicking game was consistently excellent with placekicker Allison Chang delivering a near-flawless season. Punter Mason Mizuta‘s distance and placement may have been unparalleled statewide. His squib punt to the Lahainaluna 1-yard line, cutting through 30 mph winds, was a work of art.

After winning eight D-II state titles, the Raiders reached the D-I state final in 2016 and ’19. The nine titles have all been under coach Look.

The Raiders also shared the Oahu Prep Bowl title with Waianae in 1980.


  1. ??? December 24, 2021 7:43 am

    Congratulations Iolani Football team.

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