Rudy Kealohi channeled last year’s disappointment into motivation for his senior season.
So even after Moanalua’s seemingly cathartic victory over Kailua on Friday in the semifinals of the OIA Division I playoffs, Kealohi wasn’t ready to simply wash away the memory of a season-ending loss to Castle just about a year ago.
“It’s still stuck with me, even after this game,” the senior slotback said after a 21-14 home win for Na Menehune. “It’s stuck with me forever. It just drives us to be better.”
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Moanalua senior slotback Rudy Kealohi (7 catches, 69 yds, TD) after Na Menehune advance to the OIA D-I title game with a 21-14 playoff win over Kailua on Friday. @HawaiiPrepWorld pic.twitter.com/7MO7u1Q5q6
— Jason Kaneshiro (@jasonkaneshiro) October 19, 2019
Moanalua entered Friday’s game as the top seed in the OIA Division I bracket after an undefeated run through the division — just as they were last year when a 28-14 loss to Castle brought the Na Menehune season to a stunningly abrupt finish at 8-1.
This time, Na Menehune held off Kailua with five interceptions by the defense and quarterback RJ Javar’s two touchdown passes to earn a shot at an OIA title and secure a spot in the Division I state tournament.
“I reminded myself every single day with a piece of paper I printed up to never get outcoached again to never let anyone down again,” Moanalua coach Savai’i Eselu said. “For it to happen this way with these boys … the monkey’s off my back.
“This was probably our best practice week throughout the whole season. Just seeing we were in that same spot one year ago, I’m just so proud of the boys, how they prepared and performed.”
That said, Eselu and his staff don’t plan to spend much time savoring the win, not with a title game matchup with Leilehua awaiting on Saturday at Aloha Stadium as Na Menehune pursue the program’s first championship since claiming the OIA D-II crown in 2009.
Leilehua also stumbled in the OIA semifinals last year and earned a payback win over Waipahu on Friday to advance to the title game. The Mules hosted Moanalua at Hugh Yoshida Stadium on Aug. 30 and Na Menehune left Wahiawa with a 24-20 victory.
“What better team than Coach (Mark) Kurisu and his company, we’re excited,” Eselu said. “(Saturday) morning we come back and officially review the film, shut the book on Kailua and open everything Leilehua.”
Javar, who was a backup to Dillon Gabriel at Mililani last year, orchestrated Moanalua’s short passing game to complete 21 of 33 attempts for 203 yards with no interceptions against Kailua on Friday. He took a big hit on his final attempt of the night, which still resulted in a 17-yard completion to Dacyres Domingo, and came out of the game after having the wind knocked out of him.
He distributed the ball to four receivers who each contributed at least four catches, led by Kealohi’s seven receptions for 69 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Kealohi was Moanalua’s receiving leader last year with 59 catches for 616 yards. This season, he’s up to 84 receptions for 951 yards and nine touchdowns. Jansen York, who had a 2-yard TD grab on Friday, is next with 61 catches and 941 yards and eight scores.
“(Kealohi) and Jansen have been going at it,” Eselu said. “They’ve been trying to beat each other out with stats and catches. You should see the practices, we almost have to ‘whoa nelly’ them and pull them back. It’s a great environment, it’s a part of the process and we respect that process.”
Kealohi also threw for a 2-point conversion after bobbling the PAT snap and finished the game at quarterback after Javar went out.
But five of the most significant catches belonged to the Moanalua defense. Christian Sison came up with an interception in the end zone to halt a lengthy Kailua drive to open the game. Jesus Lopez Jr.’s pick set up a touchdown drive in the second quarter. Aukai Grace — who sealed Moanalua’s 19-18 regular-season win over Kailua with a late pick on Aug. 16 — had interceptions in the second and fourth quarters and Chase Tau added another in the third.
“This was the last one at home, and what a way to end out with these seniors at home,” Eselu said. “‘Defend the lake’, that’s the motto around here, and well defended.”