Dominant Lahainaluna remains team to beat

Nainoa Kulukulualani-Sales (23) blocked a punt by Roosevelt’s Kawai Tully-Sabog during the first quarter of the Lunas 48-10 Division II state semifinal rout of Roosevelt. / Photo by Rodney S. Yap, Special to the Star-Advertiser

LAHAINA >> It’s a gem of a view from “The Imu,” looking down Maui’s western flank out at Lanai and Kahoolawe from on high. And it’s a diamond that Lahainaluna seeks to add to its already studded championship crown a week from now.

Even when it plays “sloppy” on offense, as coach Garret Tihada described it on Saturday night, the host Lunas showed why they are still the team to beat for anyone in Division II.

Kapaa, Saturday’s other First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA D-II semifinal winner, is the only team that can prevent a Lunas three-peat now, after the MIL champs demolished their OIA counterpart Roosevelt 48-10 thanks to sublime play on defense and special teams.

Lahainaluna has won 20 straight games going back to a pre-conference loss to Kamehameha in 2017. One of those victories was a 30-10 win over Kapaa of the KIL this preseason. The Lunas take a six-game streak in state tourney games into the rematch at Aloha Stadium next Saturday.

The sun goes down over Lanai, looking out from Lahainaluna’s field. / Photo by Brian McInnis

“They’re big, physical, great athletes, well coached,” Tihada said. “They almost kind of remind us of ourselves. It was a battle the first game and I expect nothing less in this championship game.”

The unbeaten top seed had three weeks to rest and prepare for Roosevelt, and it showed on those two phases of the game. Not so much in their multiple sets on offense, at least in the first half, when the Lunas lost three fumbles.

But special teams … wow. Kamalei Watson got things started with an 87-yard touchdown return, weaving up the middle and catching some great blocks (a recurring theme of the night, that) to emphatically answer Roosevelt’s 3-0 lead gifted from one of the lost fumbles.

“We just did what we usually do, which is sustain all our blocks,” Watson said. “(I) took it up the middle. As I was going, I saw that it was open, so I took the chance.”

Nainoa Kulukulualani-Sales followed that up with a blocked punt, setting up Derek Perez’s 3-yard touchdown run.

And Tre Rickard closed the deal with return touchdowns, of 48 and 54 yards, on consecutive Roosevelt punts in the fourth quarter.

Lahainaluna became the first team in state tournament history, of any level or division, to record multiple special teams TDs in a game. And they got three of them. Rickard became the first state player with two special teams TDs individually.

“Anytime you can get defensive or special teams points, it’s huge,” Tihada said. “It changes the game a lot. Just like it did tonight. I cannot even put words to describe how important it was for us tonight to get those special teams points.”

Defensively, they were as sound as you’d expect from a team averaging under four points per game allowed on the year. Roosevelt was held to 181 yards of offense, and it felt like fewer. Sky Ogata was picked off twice, by two Rickards, Tre and Brysen. The Lunas laid the wood on Roosevelt ball-carriers on several occasions.

Lahainalunas Elijah Oliveira-Kalalau pursued Roosevelt quarterback Sky Ogata during third-quarter action at Sue Cooley Stadium. / Photo by Rodney S. Yap, Special to the Star-Advertiser

“That’s exactly what they’ve done all season long,” Tihada said. “Just put pressure. Those three guys up front just puts pressure on any offense that we’ve faced this year. There was no difference, they did the same tonight.”

Offensively, things gradually picked up for the Lunas. Joshua Tihada had a 46-yard scamper set up by a gaping left-side hole from the O-line, bringing him within one of matching the state tournament TD record.

Running back Joshua Tihada rushed for a game-high 63 yards on 10 carries, including 46 on this touchdown run in the second quarter. / Photo by Rodney S. Yap, Special to the Star-Advertiser

And receiver Kaihulali Casco had two impressive grabs on jump balls that went for touchdowns when he outdid the Roosevelt defensive backs and burst down the right sideline in the second and third quarters, for 72 and 39 yards, respectively.

The Lunas enjoyed a packed, enthusiastic crowd at a field that was recently singed by a fire that occurred during Hurricane Lane. Part of the rubber track surrounding the field was burned black.

Otherwise, it was hard to picture that amid the raucous atmosphere Saturday that was a capstone to a 10-0 season on the Valley Isle.

“The community, it’s a blessing for them to come out and support us every way,” Casco said. “Their support, honestly it pushes us to play better.”

The Lunas perform their alma mater to their home crowd. / Photo by Brian McInnis


  1. Whatsamattau November 18, 2018 7:36 am

    When are the Luna’s going to be forced by MIL or man up and move to D1…They consistently beat D1, Maui and Baldwin every year. I know enrollment is small but so is Kahuku. You don’t see Kahuku playing in D1, they play in the Open.

  2. M November 18, 2018 8:01 am

    @whatsamattau..why you keep changing your name?..hahahaha Lahainaluna wins AGAIN and you displeased I LOVE IT!! ALWAYS COMPLAINING “Lahainaluna this, Lahainaluna that” BOOHOO HOO you act like you from Kahuku or St Louis but you just one of those guys who’s team cannot beat Lahaina, you get this jealousy that burns inside and its hilarious. say the same exact things in all of your post, thats why its obvious. Let me add to the fire.. WE GOING TO DA SHIP!!!!!! AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN !!! YEAHHHHHHHH BOYZ GET DAT!!!

  3. M November 18, 2018 8:18 am


  4. Watson C November 18, 2018 8:41 am

    What a dips**t comment especially coming from the same person who constantly demanded that Lahaina should be in D1. M, no trying to communicate with these people. They no like listen to reason. Do remember this Wake up; LET THE KIDS PLAY And enjoy wherever they go. Judging by the administration choices its unlikely they gonna move up. Go cry to your hole and take this big fat L.

  5. Save Our Schools November 18, 2018 8:57 am

    All the outer-islands team are where they belong, Outer…haha

  6. The Rim November 18, 2018 9:24 am

    This is High School Football, every year is a different year as kids come and go and the results of a previous year has no bearing on the next year. For the most part DII teams like Luna’s, Kona, Kaimuki, Kauai teams, and KS Hawaii, will have some years where they have size and talent, while programs that are established (Lahaina Luna and Kona) will be good every year. Does that mean they should move up? Depth, size, speed and talent fluctuate at these schools so stop saying they’re sandbagging just get better and compete wherever you play.

  7. The system is flawed November 18, 2018 10:31 am

    The great thing about having established programs in any division is how it inspires other programs to keep up the good work, step up their game and better themselves. Sort of like how lahainaluna was when Iolani was dominating div2 for 8 yrs or so.
    And to the Lunas, congratulations on the win, work hard, stay focused, one more game to go.

  8. The system is flawed November 18, 2018 11:24 am

    Funny how wake up continuously bashes on lahainaluna, it’s like he’s insecure or threatened by a div2/div1 team. Yeah buddy we get it, you keep on repeating yourself, lahaina should move up. You always talk about lahaina needing to game up and compete against the Big Boys in the state, it’s kinda like how the Cusaders should man up, TRAVEL and start competing with teams of their caliber up in the national level, teams that do the same as them RECRUIT!

  9. Hmmm? November 18, 2018 12:35 pm

    St. Louis cannot travel due to their last trip to Las Vegas in the 90’s. What happened in LV didn’t stay in LV.

  10. YO! November 18, 2018 3:01 pm

    Oh snap! Wake Up getting exposed LOL @M, Bradah I never doubted you. I had to check out all the football post this year and bruah your right! Wake up comments are mostly towards Lahainaluna. If not mistaken, he commented on another D2 team but nothing on St Lou? or Kahuku. WOW! Who would do such a thing. But, I pretty sure he goin change his name, or he already get like thousand names LOL

  11. Apakasi November 18, 2018 10:17 pm

    @Whatsamattu Man stop complaining bro. @Apakasi_felemi add me and let have a talk bro. #45forlahainaluna

  12. Watson C November 19, 2018 1:26 am

    Wake up
    How about this…… You shut up and we shut up. The more you harassed Lahainaluna, the more these people will keep shutting you up for negative words. And again: Lets the kids play and enjoy wherever they go.

  13. RoughRiderStrong November 20, 2018 11:18 pm

    It’s simple, the opponent is the opponent!! You prepare for the game and hope you execute enough of your plan to get the win. Flaws will get exposed when you face tougher (better prepared) teams but either you rise to the challenge or not. To Lahainaluna, keep doing you. People hate when they’re not great, let em talk!! I appreciate the hospitality and execution of your players, coaches, supporters, and overall program. We truly hope we get another shot at you guys in the near future. As a Roosevelt alum and current coach, mahalo!!

  14. Football Fan November 21, 2018 8:41 am

    Ummmm…. Duh……

    They should be dominating. They’re placed in the wrong division. It’s like watching a varsity team playing down at the JV level.

    So… there are no surprises here. The only surprise is why didn’t the school or its players opt to play in the Division 1 level.

    Is it fun being king of the JV level? Open division is where its at… IMO.

  15. ILH November 21, 2018 12:36 pm

    3peat on the WAY!!!

    State Champs for D2!!!

    Maybe, possibly try D1 next year??

    Lets not talk about this year, its done already, cannot do anything about where you seeded now, but lets start the paperwork for D1 next year. Lets do this Luna’s.

    Let the community speak out and let the administration, AD, whoever needs to to be told, WE WANT TO COMPETE @ the NEXT LEVEL, we good enough, weve proved it 3 years in a row.

    Lets not get into quarrels about this year, lets focus on the future and MAKE THE MOVE!!!!

    What you think APAKASI?? Can right?

    “Unsuccessful people make decisions based on their current situation; successful people make decisions based on where they want to be.” Anonymous

    How good do you want to be?

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