‘Iolani’s journey toward a state title ended with a 31-20 loss to Mililani in the HHSAA Division I championship game.
And what a journey it was.
The Raiders’ (5-8) roller coaster season started with a perfect nonconference record after wins over Radford, Waimea and La Jolla Country Day (Calif.).
The Raiders followed with seven losses in as many weeks to Saint Louis, Kamehameha and Punahou in ILH Division I play.
“You’ve got to give this senior class credit,” ‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said. “They went winless in the ILH for two years. You ask any 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old to do that and the enthusiasm that they had knowing they were going to play Saint Louis, Punahou and Kamehameha, I think it speaks loudly about these guys and their character and what they’re made of.
“For them to get to this spot and have this opportunity, I think they’ll enjoy and remember this experience. Obviously, we’d want to win, but when you lose you learn just as much and more.”
The postseason was a different story for ‘Iolani. Changes in the state tournament enabled the Raiders to clinch a berth in the Division I state tournament before the regular season even began.
They seized that opportunity and beat Moanalua 17-14 in the first round. In the semifinals, the Raiders got their signature victory in a 35-12 statement win over Campbell.
“We had a great finish to the end of the season. We had a young team and we progressed really well toward the end of the season,” running back KJ Pascua said. “Just making it to the championship, nobody thought we’d be here. It would have been a little nicer to cap it off.”
Pascua was the workhorse for the Raiders offense all year, rushing for 958 yards and 16 touchdowns on 248 carries— an average of approximately 19 carries a game. Against the Trojans, he showed his vertical ability with six receptions for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s safe to say that he left it all on the field.
With a promising wrestling career ahead of him, the senior hopes to earn a scholarship and move on from football. He was state wrestling champion at 145 pounds in 2015 and plans to wrestle at 152 this year.
“I’m not sure yet. This might be my last football game,” he said. “If I don’t get any wrestling scholarships, I might come to UH and try to walk on. But if something comes my way for wrestling, then I’m gonna take it.”
Another highlight of the ‘Iolani offense was quarterback Tai-John Mizutani, who passed for 2,522 yards in 12 games.
“The reason why we’re so emotional right now is because who would’ve thought? I mean, we went 0-7 for two years straight and just to even be in this position is unbelievable,” Mizutani said after the game. “It sucks that it’s over but I’m so proud of my seniors, so proud of the guys that fought and so happy for the team.”
While the loss marks the end of the season for Mizutani, a junior, he hopes the team will benefit from the experience and be in a similar, but higher, position next year.
“We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of core guys coming back, a lot of speed coming back,” Mizutani said. “We’re excited about next year but it’s a process. We have a long offseason and it’s gonna be a long time until the next game.”