In the emotional aftermath of a dramatic comeback and third consecutive state championship, Lahainaluna coach Garret Tihada’s immediate thoughts went to an absent friend.
“I treasure it a lot because this game is for one of our good friends, Barry Kubo,” Tihada said.
The Lunas co-head coach went on explain that Kubo — a 1986 graduate, former coach on the staff and police officer — was in a far more significant fight as he deals with cancer. Yet he sent the Lunas into Saturday’s Division II state championship game with a message.
“He said, ‘make it decisive,’ ” Tihada said. “We didn’t do that, but good enough. This is for Barry Kubo.”
Good enough, indeed.
Perhaps the Lunas weren’t able to fulfill the request to the letter, but they still found a way to deliver a memorable performance in rallying from a 19-point second-half deficit to edge Kapaa 34-32 in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.
Joshua Tihada, the coach’s nephew, will go down as a lead character in the drama played out in the afternoon sun at Aloha Stadium, but Garret was quick to credit the quintet that set the stage.
Tihada ran for 152 and scored four touchdowns, the first on a 28-yard pass to open the scoring and the next three on the ground in Lahainaluna’s 27-0 run in the second half to erase a 26-7 halftime deficit. Throughout the rally, Tihada and the Lunas’ backs charged through gaps created by the offensive line of Ikaika Tihada-Viela, Joshua McCoy, Hookipa Sakalia, Tausinga Hafoka and Taai Galoia.
“He’s money when our linemen are money,” Garret Tihada said. “Once those big guys up front get going we get going.”
Tihada-Viela, McCoy and Hafoka closed their high school careers by singing the alma mater in celebration. Sakalia (5-foot-11, 250 pounds) and Galoia (6-1, 305) have two more years left to perhaps create more memories.
“It all starts with the line up front in the trenches and everyone just just trusting in each other doing our job,” Joshua Tihada said.
Lahainaluna’s work on the defensive front also played more than a supporting role in the comeback. After giving up 153 yards to Kapaa running back Ryno Banasihan in the first half, the Lunas held the Warriors to 85 yards in total offense after intermission.
“Tackling,” Garret Tihada said of the difference. “It sounds ridiculous and too easy, but that’s what it comes down to. A lot of times we were in certain spots but missed tackles and we just weren’t taking care of business on the fundamentals side.”
The victory left Lahainaluna with the No. 6 spot in the final Star-Advertiser top 10 while Kapaa’s performance in the final jumped the Warriors into the poll at No. 9.