(Space limitations in today’s print edition, so here’s the full-length story.)
The Division II final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships was, despite all of Kaimuki’s hearty effort, another demonstration in precision, execution and craftsmanship by the ‘Iolani Raiders.
A 49-14 win over Kaimuki was classic ‘Iolani. They were systematic on every level, whether it was a perfectly placed pooch kickoff recovery, gang-tackling super running back Chester Su‘a, or persistently using motion to gain a numbers advantage in the running game.
“They forged their own way to a championship,” coach Wendell Look said. “They added their own personality and character to this team. At times it wasn’t in line with how I was thinking, but they did things the right way to get it done. I’m proud of them. I’m happy for them.”
The Raiders (9-3) limited Su‘a to 77 yards on 16 carries.
“Defensively, they played as well as we’ve had in the past, even with the big fellas up front (last year),” Look said. “With the smaller front inside, we still did a tremendous job of playing team defense. They were able to become the backbone of the team when everybody thought they would be the weak link.”
Sophomore Reece Foy, the former third-stringer who emerged because of injuries to the top two quarterbacks, was 20-for-24 for 297 yards and four scoring tosses. His effectiveness were a result of ‘Iolani’s ground attack: 46 carries for 175 yards, including 105 by Ammon Baldomero.
“Offensively, we kind of grew as the season went along and matured into the offense. You can’t write it off as just one guy,” Look said. “I’ve been on them all season about being able to run the ball. The past three games, they’ve established the run.
Foy credited the mainstays of the offense — a savvy line.
“Our O-line were put up to a big test against this physical Kaimuki front. Tiras (Koon) hurt his ankle Wednesday at practice,” Foy said of the senior center. “He was carted off the field, but he played through the pain tonight. Everything starts with them up front.”
Whether it was science or art, the Raiders were so efficient in winning their fourth consecutive D-II state title — and five in the past six years — that some in the general public would punish them for overachievement. What ‘Iolani did this season with speed, wits and only two players weighing more than 215 pounds is, once again, a template for any other program that lacks size.
The biggest difference between the Raiders and most programs that struggle isn’t size, however. It’s commitment, and ‘Iolani’s offseason training program is similar to the one at Saint Louis in that aspect, from top to bottom, varsity to JV.
If the time has come for representatives of other programs — especially much larger schools — to require that ‘Iolani move out of D-II, they might consider the national federation mandate: divisions and classification should never be determined by wins and losses or power ratings.
If ‘Iolani has consistently raised the bar for mid-sized schools, Kaimuki (12-2) is among other programs that is stepping up toward that level. The Bulldogs, who maxed out at 34 players on the roster this season, had enough will and talent to win all 10 of their games in the Oahu Interscholastic Association’s White Conference before winning off-island twice in the state tourney.
Even in defeat, the ‘Dogs showed persistence, continuing to dig into coach Clint Onigama’s bag of tricks to get some kind of offensive momentum. With Onigama, a Kaimuki teacher and former ‘Iolani player, in house, the Bulldogs could be on the precipice of duplicating some of the Raiders’ formula to success.
“I want these kids to know they can win no matter what, never quit on themselves,” Onigama said. “They haven’t quit all season long, didn’t quit tonight. That’s what makes me most proud of them. I see that look in their eyes every game. I want them to take that with that with them the rest of their lives.”
The coming offseason will show exactly how reasonable and realistic it is to expect dedication from players at a public school compared to the crowning jewel of smaller programs, ‘Iolani.
“I feel great. I feel like we didn’t lose. We had a great season, but ‘Iolani was just better than us,” said Su‘a, who will move on to college, but has high hopes for Kaimuki’s returnees. “We just have to work harder, stay humble, stay disciplined, practice every day, get their grades up.”
The Raiders rebuild — or reload — next season.
“Coach Look is gonna have his work cut out for him. We lose 18 starters, I think,” Foy said. “We’ll celebrate this one.”
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser