In a game that was closer than the final score made it look, running back Brody Bantolina proved to be the difference in a 21-0 victory for the ‘Iolani Raiders in the Division I semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships at Skippa Diaz Stadium.
“We contained them. These guys executed the game plan to a ‘T,’” ‘Iolani head coach Wendell Look said. “Coach did a heck of a job prepping these kids. Can’t say enough about the effort they put up defensively.”
Bantolina was responsible for all three Raider scores, including two in the first half. Along the way, he racked up 232 yards of total offense, with 168 on the ground.
“It feels great,” Bantolina said of returning to the DI final after losing on a last-second kick to Hilo in 2019. “Honestly, after a loss like we had two years ago, it feels great to be back. We’ve all worked really hard. Long season, especially with covid. It just feels great to be back and to have such an opportunity. Truly grateful.”
Feeding him both on the ground and through the air was quarterback Kualau Manuel, who threw for 96 yards on a clean 11-for-16 passing in his first career start. The sophomore, who also had a passing touchdown, started in place of injured starter Micah Hoomanawanui.
“Next man up,” Bantolina said of Manuel. “If anyone goes down, it’s just the next man up. Kualau did great. He’s only a sophomore, he stepped up. He just stepped up and executed.”
Aiea was led by quarterback Eziekiel Olie, who threw for a game-high 170 yards on 18-34 passing. Kaimana Lale-Saole led the team with 66 rush yards on 15 carries.
Perhaps a sign of things to come, Aiea opened the game with a 14-play, seven minute drive that failed to yield any points. Instead, the clock-chewing extended drive turned into a turnover on downs. ‘Iolani looked for a quick turnaround with the ball in hand, but Bantolina’s 52-yard rumble to the end zone was overturned by a costly holding call. Instead, the Raiders went three-and-out, punting the ball right back to Aiea.
Punter Mason Mizuta turned the fourth down kick into a reversal of fortune for ‘Iolani. Mizuta’s 50-yard punt pinned Na Ali’i inside their own 1-yard line. After an Aiea incompletion to begin the drive, Olie fumbled on the ensuing carry. Nikolas Yim recovered the ball, giving ‘Iolani the ball on the five-yard line.
“That’s been all year,” Look said. “Our defense create turnovers for the offensive to put us in good field position. And the offense is able to take advantage.”
With the prime opportunity, ‘Iolani was quick to get on the board with the first of Bantolina’s two first-half scores, a 5-yard touchdown run that capped off a one-play drive.
The opening score kicked off a defensive slugfest that saw punts on five of the next six drives. The only outlier was Aiea’s seven-play turnover-on-downs that ended on a sack.
The Raiders finally broke up the deadlock with their last drive of the opening half. The five-play drive that began inside the ‘Iolani 20-yard line consisted of three Bantolina carries and a Manuel pass, before Manuel and Bantolina hooked up on a screen pass that Bantolina took 64-yards to the house to give the Raiders a 14-0 advantage at the halftime break.
An Aiea three-and-out gave the Raiders a second chance at a second half-opening score. The team again called on Bantolina, who ran the ball 46 yards to the end zone at the end of a three-play, 51-yard ‘Iolani drive.
‘Iolani hoped to open the second half the way they had ended the first, but fell short of their goal. After driving to Aiea’s half of the field, Manuel tossed his lone interception of the game, ending the inaugural drive of the second half.
With time quickly running out, Aiea took off on another extended drive. Starting on their own 34-yard line, Aiea quickly worked their way onto ‘Iolani’s side of the field. The long drive ended like its predecessor however, as the 12-play, 3:27 drive stalled there in Raider territory. Na Ali’i was forced to punt from the ‘Iolani 37-yard line.
Still fighting late, Na Ali’i opened their next drive with back-to-back 20-yard passes, but the Raiders picked off Olie to put an abrupt end to the drive. The turnover took the life out of Aiea’s comeback hopes. Their final offensive drive of the game was a meek one, as Na Ali’i punted inside of four minutes after a quick three-and-out.
While Aiea struggled, the Raiders were able to clinch a spot in title game with two clock-chewing drives that took a total of nine minutes off the game clock. As he was all game, Bantolina was heavily featured in these drives as the ‘Iolani Raiders rumble their way to a DI Final matchup with Lahainaluna.
“That’s what these kids have been working for, for two years,” Look said. “I can’t say enough about them. I’m so proud of them. How they persevered, the resilience they showed, the maturity they showed.”
Jonathan Chen, Star-Advertiser