As No. 8 Moanalua Na Menehune barrels toward the playoffs boasting a 6-0 record and the current top spot in Division I, all eyes now turn to the next matchup on their schedule: a duel against Waipahu.
The Marauders, coming off a humbling 50-20 loss to Leilehua, now sit tied with the Mules in the loss column for second in Division I. A win over Waipahu on Friday at Aloha Stadium would clinch the Division I crown for Na Menehune.
“All year, we’ve preached that the most important game is the next one,” head coach Savai’i Eselu said. “And for us, it’s a big one. Waipahu ain’t no pushover. We’re pumped for them, but we need to be firing on all cylinders.”
And according to Eselu, Moanalua was anything but firing on all cylinders in its 35-0 blowout of crosstown rival Radford on Friday.
“I’d give us a D,” Eselu said. “Offensively, we were terrible. We were probably an F. We have got to get going.”
Quarterback Nick Au, who entered the game leading the league in passing, started off well enough. On Moanalua’s second possession, Au zipped a perfect pass to Dreydon Von Oelhoffen on a crossing route, and Von Oelhoffen sprinted 46 yards for a score. At halftime, Au was 19-of-29 passes for 137 yards and two scores.
But Au and the Moanalua offense sputtered in the second half. After intermission, Au was just 8-of-17 for 84 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions.
“We have to be able to put a full game together,” Eselu said. “We won’t do anything if we stay flat offensively. We can’t keep relying on the defense.”
Thankfully, the defense was more than up for the challenge. The unit pitched a shutout of the Rams. In the process, they hounded Radford quarterback Hunter Copp into a miserable night. Copp was sacked three times and pressured constantly, leading to a performance that saw him throw a whopping six interceptions.
“Defensively, we were an A, maybe a B,” Eselu said. “These guys have a tenacity to go after the ball. We always preach to the team that we want to get a lot of takeaways. Whenever you win the turnover battle, you give yourself a better chance of winning.”
Altogether, the defense forced seven takeaways, adding a fumble in the first half. Of the six interceptions, defensive backs Tre Barnett and Trequan Henderson each had two. One of Henderson’s was returned 38 yards for a touchdown. Jordan Kimura and Keanu Kekawa had the other two, and Kekawa’s resulted in an 81-yard pick six.
Those interceptions were huge,” Eselu said. “They really proved to be game changers for us. They both happened when the offense was stalling out, and the defense rose up and answered the call.”
So as Moanalua prepares for probably the final major test of its regular season next week, momentum is in its favor. But for a team with aspirations of being the top seed in Division I, more questions that answers still remain.
“I’m still looking for a complete game performance,” Eselu said. “We know that the defense is always going to show up. It’s back to the drawing board to try and figure that offense out.”