In 2021, elite defense and a sound running game still matter.
They sure do for the ‘Iolani Raiders (10-0). In a 21-0 shutdown of OIA champion Aiea on Friday night, the Raiders collection of “Hybrid” defenders limited Na Alii to 225 total yards.
Aiea averaged just 3.6 yards per play and was shut out for the first time all season. No defense had limited Aiea (4-3) to less than 13 points, but ‘Iolani and defensive coordinator Delbert Tengan made it a point to keep points off Aiea’s side of the scoreboard.
“It’s just working hard, taking it day by day during our three-week break. In June, we started working towards this goal,” Raiders defensive leader Sterling Sakashita said. “Coach Del (Tengan), he’s won state championships before so it’s buy in, everybody do their job, work hard every day.”
Aiea’s power, explosiveness and balance were on display during an impressive opening drive to start the game. The drive stalled out.
“It’s confidence, confidence. We haven’t played in awhile, get the rust off a little bit, start hitting some more. That’s what we do,” Sakashita said. “Our D-line’s fast, fill gaps. Linebackers filling gaps, everybody. That’s what our defense is.”
Asher Matsui was clutch with 11 tackles and an interception for ‘Iolani.
Now, the Raiders take on Lahainaluna, which overwhelmed Konawaena earlier, 30-7. Sakashita was there in 2019 when Hilo edged ‘Iolani, 20-17, on a 55-yard field goal. He was in the end zone on that final play.
“Today, I was watching that Hilo game. I watched that ball go over my head. That ball hit that goal post, lose the state championship,” he said. “It’s motivation, you. We’re all winning for that team.”
‘Iolani advanced to the final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I State Championships with a first-time starter at QB. Kualau Manuel, a 5-foot-9, 140-pound sophomore, was thrust into the role after starter Micah Hoomanawanui suffered a collarbone injury in an exhibition win over Roosevelt three weeks ago.
He was 11-for-16 with 96 yards, one TD and one interception in Aiea territory. All in all, a winning performance.
“I feel pretty good. I feel better. Micah really showed the way for me, him and all the coaches, they really helped me,” said Manuel, younger brother of former ‘Iolani standout Wailoa Manuel. “Of course, I felt nervous, but I had confidence because my coaches prepared me well.”
He had the benefit of handing the ball to Brody Bantolina, who had another monster game with 232 yards from scrimmage, three TDs in all.
“Brody did so good, and the line, too. They did a good push. That was awesome,” Manuel said.
Senior center Raynne Passi expected nothing less from Bantolina, his fellow linemen and ‘Iolani’s receivers — who also delivered crucial blocks. Bantolina now has 1,190 rushing yards plus 10 receptions for 193 yards — and a combined 26 TDs.
“No, honestly, Brody didn’t surprise me at all.
The poise of Manuel, though, was also stunning.
“I think he’s done a good job so far. It’s a big role to take being a sophomore and stepping in, not being nervous,” Passi said. “I’m proud of what he’s done so far.”
‘Iolani won eight Division II state titles under coach Wendell Look before moving up to D-I. The Raiders also tied Waianae, 7-all, in the 1980 Oahu Prep Bowl.
Lahainaluna won four D-II state titles in a row before moving up to D-I in 2020, which was the pandemic/cancelled season.
Neither school has won a D-I championship yet.
“I didn’t get to watch too much, but they won so they should be a good team,” Passi said. “It should be a fin matchup. I can’t wait to play them.”
Manuel is staying focused.
“Lahainaluna? It’s just like every other game,” Manuel said. “And that’s it.”