Moanalua ready to build on 2017 season

Moanalua's Nick Au led Na Menehune on a four-game winning streak before losing in the OIA quarterfinals to Mililani to end the 2017 season. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Moanalua knew it needed to play a perfect game to hang with No. 3 Mililani in the OIA Division I quarterfinals on Friday night.

Na Menehune sure tried, but they were not perfect, falling 49-14 at John Kauinana Stadium. So ended a turnaround season, one that seemed lost in early September but was salvaged in very respectable fashion. Moanalua (4-6) began 0-5, staged a three-game rally to make the playoffs, then upset Kailua 17-14 in the first round last week to get to this point.

On Friday, the visitors got blitzed by Dillon Gabriel’s five touchdowns and 195 yards passing in a half of work (Mililani led 49-0 at halftime). However, Na Menehune didn’t quit. Quarterback Nick Au connected with the Ezras (Bantolina and Grace) for touchdowns at the end of the third and fourth quarters, respectively, to end the season with a tantalizing idea of what they could be as a unit next season.

“I liked it, I liked it,” second-year coach Savai’i Eselu said. “I mean, we knew this was a really, really tall task with Mililani and the way they do things here. I’m glad at what happened, just the way the game was played altogether. It was a good game. But best of luck to Mililani. They’re the real deal.”

The Trojans (9-0) advanced to face Waianae in the OIA semifinals next week.

Moanalua can be proud of what it did in response to getting outscored by a combined margin of 213-39 over its first five games. That included a 44-0 loss to Kailua.

From there, Na Menehune won 31-27 at Aiea; collected a forfeit win over Kaiser; edged Radford 21-20; and ended Kailua’s season in the playoffs.

“Of course, the front end was very, very heavy (with games against Punahou, Kahuku, Waianae, and Campbell),” Eselu said. “But the back end was more ideal. And what better way to get a crack at Mililani, and call it a season, I guess.”

Said Grace, the team’s top receiver who snagged six balls for 91 yards Friday: “It was good fun. We had a great time going through the whole season. Looking back now, it passed by really fast. We’re happy with the coaching staff we’re blessed to have. And yeah, can’t wait ’til next season.”

Grace had 38 grabs for 493 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior. His connection with his classmate, Au, grew as the season went.

Au went 15-for-21 for 185 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against the Trojans. That brought his season total to just over 50 percent completions, 140-for-279, with nine TDs and 19 picks.

“We had our ups and downs, stuff like that, miscommunication on routes,” Grace said. “I’m just happy we have him next year. We have a connection to go to. … I think we have a lot of potential for next year. We have a lot of juniors that’s coming back as seniors. And with the coaching staff we have, we know that we have good techniques, new schemes we can put in, and new talent. It should be fun next year.”

Eselu’s focus now turns to the youth ranks of the JV that could bolster Na Menehune to something closer to contention in 2018. They can start by cultivating more of a ground game. Junior Makana Spencer, Na Menehune’s top rusher this season, netted a negative yard against the Trojans and had 277 yards and two TDs for the year.

“I’m excited. We got a strong, young junior class coming in,” Eselu said. “We got a JV game tomorrow. Coaching never stops. A full year-round deal, so.

“Back to the drawing board. We’re going to try some things, see what we can do with what we have. … Ezra’s a junior, with his final season coming up. So we gotta get this thing rolling. Hopefully it can work out and I can run it like how Coach (Rod) York runs it (at Mililani).”


  1. Kamehameha#1 October 14, 2017 7:05 am

    Awesome season for the Menehunes! You cannot compete against schools who recruit and built their program with kids from other district, not on the field. but in life in general, is a different story. One unique thing about this team is that, it’s Moanalua’s own sons and daughters representing them. Awesome job by the administration department for not letting or allowing Moanalua to recruit like the Mililani, Kapolei, and other programs around the state. Moanalua’s foundation was built with class and will continue with class. On a final note. Athletic Directors sometime don’t get enough credit from working behind the scenes. Whomever the Moanalua’s AD is, Awesome job and thank you for allowing the kids to be life long winners.

  2. Rey October 14, 2017 7:51 am

    Kamehameha#1. It’s hard to swallow a loss huh?

  3. G.R.I.T. October 14, 2017 12:54 pm

    @Kamehameha#1 I was with you but you lost me with your focus on other schools “recruiting” comments. Great season to Na Menehunes! Love those young men! #7 & #12 Best of luck to the remaining teams still in the hunt. Go Trojans!

  4. Rr4l October 14, 2017 5:18 pm

    @GRIT let’s be honest, many public schools also recruit. The Saveas and Aaron Faumui in Kapolei are from Kalihi. Their Dylan Toilolo is from Nanakuli. Remember McKenzie Miton, Kala Timoteo, Vae Malepeai? None of them were from Mililani.
    @Kamehameha #1, hope you realize that hundreds of the students and even many of the players from Moanalua aren’t even from Salt Lake…

  5. PlayaHatersAnonymous October 15, 2017 9:50 pm

    Kamis1joke you really still think Santa Clause skips the naughty children who were recruited hahaha, the only way to have a competing program is to recruit, you guys just don’t do a good job at it on the real talk. Even Kahuku has to recruit players for basketball because they have to beat Saint Francis at least once!

  6. Education First October 15, 2017 9:57 pm

    Moanalua would allow GE’s if more talented kids wanted to play there.

  7. G.R.I.T. October 16, 2017 4:08 pm

    @Rr4l. Yes, I agree with you 100% but this article was addressing Moanalua’s turn around season and hopefully using this to motivate the program for next season…

    My son transferred out of ILH to OIA and yes, he goes to a school that will / has position him for a successful football season… and their still in the hunt for that D1 championship title…

  8. ILH October 19, 2017 12:07 pm

    I have to say that is pretty funny,

    “Moanalua would allow GE’s if more talented kids wanted to play there”

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