Lahainaluna football is about discipline. Tradition. Mental toughness. Poise.
All played factors in a 28-14 win over Konawaena on Saturday night at cool Julian Yates Field. Co-head coach Garrett Tihada, however, was less than thrilled with an unusually high number of penalties. Whether it was the ground attack, which generated 295 yards on a night when the visiting Lunas didn’t complete a single pass, or a defense that was resilient against a warp-speed, hurry-up Konawaena offense, Tihada couldn’t give his team a grade higher than average.
With KIF champion Kapaa, which beat Damien 21-14 on Saturday, waiting in next weekend’s Division II championship game in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships, Tihada looked about ready to get back to practice ASAP. This will be the Lunas’ fourth trip to the title tilt; they fell to ‘Iolani in 2007 (28-21), ’12 (36-33) and ’14 (31-14).
For now, the Lunas and their traveling supporters, roughly 75-100 in red shirts, will celebrate all the way home to West Maui. Freshman Joshua Tihada, the coach’s nephew, rushed for 103 yards and the offensive line overpowered the Wildcats’ front seven after halftime.
“Our coaches motivated our (offensive) line to start pushing,” said ironman Donovan Defang, who was instrumental as a QB and RB, and also played LB defensively.
Defang rushed for 56 yards and two TDs. His praise of the O-line seems worthy. Tihada thinks otherwise.
“Not at all. Not even close. We got lucky at a bunch of times. Our execution offensively, I give that a C-minus. Sorry. We know what we can do and we didn’t come close,” Tihada said. “We were kind of hoping to wear (Konawaena) down. They don’t face running teams and we do face passing teams, so we’ve got to give Baldwin, Maui High and Kamehameha-Maui all the thanks in the world for preparing us for states.”
Kapaa beat Lahainaluna 21-0 in preseason. The teams have already met five times over the past four seasons. The teams met in the semifinals last year.
“They’re a very well-coached, fundamentally-sound team. They’ve got athletes. They’re strong. They’re big,” Tihada said. “They’re an excellent team.”
Lahainaluna’s defense, a cornerstone of a program that has enjoyed a tradition of success in the MIL regardless of classification, was definitely a plus in the secondary against Konawaena with three picks, one apiece by Derek Perez, Defang (5.5 tackles) and Bailey Honda. Hoaka Phillips (five tackles) had two sacks and a fumble recovery to go with five tackles. Unaloto Pahulu had a team-high 6.5 tackles and Etuati Storer had six.
Perhaps their biggest silent weapon: the booming, knuckleball/fastball kickoffs of Pablo Rico. When they don’t lead to touchbacks, they become difficult to handle on the fly and more so on the ground. The live-grenade action on his kick provided the Lunas with a huge takeaway during a key momentum swing early in the second half. Like so many elements of Lahainaluna’s brand of football, it is not easy to duplicate for any opponent’s scout team.