Lahainaluna remained the standard bearer in Division II by pulling off an amazing 34-32 comeback victory over Kapaa in the final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships on Saturday at Aloha Stadium.
Joshua Tihada keyed the rally from a 26-7 halftime deficit for the Lunas’ third straight state championship. Tihada finished with 152 yards rushing and four touchdowns, and he scored three straight second-half rushing touchdowns — making it 26-14, 26-21 and then 27-26 with 7:02 to go.
It was far from over, though. It wasn’t until Kapaa’s 2-point conversion pass with 2:17 left fell incomplete that the comeback started to feel complete. The sixth-ranked Lunas (11-0) got home from there and the koa trophy awaited.
“We were killing ourselves in the first half,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada said. “At halftime, we told them you gotta do our job. That’s it. Go back to fundamentals. Clean it up. Relax a little bit.”
Quarterback Nainoa Irish (10-for-15, 132 yards), after getting hugs from relatives while crying happy tears moments after the victory, said, “We just had to do our jobs, stick to the assignments and do what the coaches were saying to us.”
It worked. Lahainaluna methodically worked its offense in the second half and took up large chunks of real estate and time off the clock and away from the hands of running back Ryno Banashihan (197 rushing yards) of the Warriors (7-3).
“In the beginning, we weren’t really working as a team,” Irish said. “It’s not an individual sport and you gotta play as one team.”
Lahainaluna linebacker Nyles Pokipala Waiohu was ecstatic.
“This is all on the team and the coaches,” he said. “It wasn’t for this team right here, we wouldn’t be anywhere and we wouldn’t have had a comeback. Also, the fans’ support this whole season … being there every game and showing love and support for our our team and the coaches, it really meant a lot.
“This is an incredible feeling and nobody can take it away. After this, I hope (Lahainaluna) can take it some more and some more and keep bringing the trophy back home.”
Tihada was asked what he thought about the possibility of moving the Lunas to Division I next year. He was noncommittal.
“We have our own theory on going up and stuff like that,” he said. “Until that gets resolved, we’ll be in Division II. Right now, we just want to enjoy this.”
Tihada, obviously happy with his team’s resolve, isn’t about to lose sight about what Saturday’s victory means in the long run.
“People don’t believe us when we say it’s not about football,” he said. “When these kids grow up as young men and women, that’s the bottom line. It’s great to win a championship, but it’s years down the road and how they develop and what kind of people they become. That’s where the success lies, not here on the field.”