This could’ve been the year Lahainaluna finally broke through to win the Division II state championship.
Instead, ‘Iolani proved once again why it is the class of D-II with an utterly convincing 31-14 win on Friday in the final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships. That’s eight state championships in the last 11 seasons for coach Wendell Look and his program. The Lunas came into the final unbeaten with a dominant ground attack, but the Raiders and defensive coordinator Delbert Tengan made life tough on Lahainaluna, particularly in the first half.
It wasn’t that the Lunas didn’t have enough defense or offense to compete for the title. The question was whether Maui Interscholastic League play — with mostly run-oriented offenses — would be enough to prepare the league’s D-II champs for ‘Iolani’s perfectly blended and balanced offense.
The Raiders were successful by all counts. Lahainaluna couldn’t consistently stop ‘Iolani’s ground attack. The Lunas couldn’t stop Austin Jim On’s precision passing game. But perhaps most telling: Lahainaluna’s improved passing game showed no life. The Raiders loaded the box, stuffed the Lunas’ normally potent ground-and-pound, single-wing offense, and dared them to throw the ball.
“It feels great because it was kind of a bitter loss last year ending the (win) streak, but last year’s team and previous players, on social media, they’ve been wishing us luck and I’m so thankful that we could bring it home for them,” Jim On said.
The left-hander had the game of his life with 239 yards and two TDs on 21-for-24 passing (88 percent). He didn’t throw a pick and was sacked only once. He had an answer for anything the Lunas offered, looking like someone who knew the Lahainaluna defensive playbook as well as any Luna player. Jim On finished his senior year with 1,898 passing yards and 17 TDs. His immaculate performance against Lahainaluna nudged his final completion rate above 60 percent.
“Our goal as an offense is to take what they give us. We were able to take some short yardage first and build a tempo, build momentum. Once we get into a rhythm, it works really well for us,” said Jim On, who is also a pitcher on the baseball team. “We weren’t sure what kind of adjustments they were going to make from team to team, but our coaches did a great job of getting in a rhythm, too, with great play-calling.”
One of the biggest questions coming into the title game was whether he would be able to pick up yardage on the ground if and when the Lunas took everything else away. Turns out Jim On didn’t have much running to do, picking up 13 yards on his only scramble.
He came out firing, particularly to slotback Tyler Teruya (nine receptions, 67 yards). ‘Iolani’s no-huddle attack was in hurry-up, hyperspeed mode, quicker to snap the ball than usual. Once he softened up the underbelly of Lahainaluna’s pass coverage, the rest opened up. Keoni-Kordell Makekau again had a big performance against a Top 10 team. The junior caught seven passes for 105 yards and a TD.. Connor Ohira became a key target later in the game and finished with five receptions for 67 yards and a TD. The Raiders were so efficient that way, using only three pass catchers.
It was on the ground, though, that the Lunas really had problems stopping ‘Iolani. K.J. Pascua rushed for 60 tough yards on 26 carries and Storm Lotomau had 44 yards on 15 attempts. Each RB ran for a TD, and though their yards per carry weren’t huge, it was about ball control and patience for the Raiders, who jumped to a 24-6 lead at the half and really didn’t force the issue offensively after that.
The Lunas racked up a lot of yardage and first downs in the second half. They finished with 18 first downs (‘Iolani had 20) and rushed for 260 yards (5.1 per carry). But their reluctance to throw the ball made life much easier for the Raider defense. In fact, when the Lunas scored on Makoa Filikitonga-Lukela’s two-point conversion pass to Thomas Rosen St. John — a smooth play-action toss — it was hard not to wonder why they hadn’t gone that route much more often against that stacked box.
Whatever the case, the Lunas stayed true to their blueprint, gashing away at the ‘Iolani front seven. Filikitonga-Lukela led all rushers with 83 yards and two TDs on 16 carries. Ansen Cabanilla gained 68 yards on jet sweeps (nine carries) and RB Jared Rocha-Islas had 59 yards and eight carries. He averaged more than 7 yards per attempt, but for the most part, the Raiders bottled up the dangerous playmaker.
Rocha-Islas’ biggest play was a halfback option pass for 43 yards, which was more yardage than Filikitonga-Lukela (4-for-5, 28 yards) threw for. The Lunas got strong efforts defensively from LB/OL Brandon Kaina (6.5 tackles, tackle for loss), DL/OL Penisimani Taufa (6.5, 2.5 TFL), DB/WR Scott Isaac Medeiros-Tangatailoa (six), Thomas Rosen St. John (5.5, 2.5 TFL) and Connor Mowat (five, TFL).
All in all, the Raiders have sought balance offensively for such a long time, and achieving it against the Lunas was startling in its relative ease: 350 total yards on 68 snaps and ZERO turnovers. That’s a clean offensive game.
Lahainaluna finished with 46 rushes for 235 yards, plus the six pass attempts for 71 yards, a total of 308 yards. Three fumbles, two lost — recovered by ‘Iolani’s Christian Naeole and Wyatt Ma‘a.
In an era of flash and hype, the Lunas are a throwback program the stresses discipline, teamwork and toughness as well as any in the islands. But ‘Iolani measures up in those intangibles, too, and the Raiders’ ability to develop passers through their system remains one of the big differences.
‘Iolani’s catches, yardage and targets, plus season totals
>> Makekau: 7-105, TD (seven targets). 2014: 49-756, 7 TD.
His kicking performance this season was invaluable to the Raiders, a virtual touchback machine on kickoffs and highly accurate on field goals. Receiving-wise,
>> Teruya: 9-67 (nine targets). 2014: 51-444, 3 TD
Jim On targeted him six times in the first half, and Teruya responded with six catches. That probably threw Lahainaluna’s coverage into a bind. If there’s one common thread between Jim On and the state’s best passers — like McKenzie Milton of Mililani — he didn’t shy away from throwing the ball to his slotbacks at all.
>> Ohira: 5-61, TD (six targets). 2014: 32-386, 4 TD
The ultimate opportunist. He rarely had more than 60 receiving yards in a game, but he was reliable in his role. The Raiders’ equal-opportunity passing attack required sure hands at all receiver positions and he was good enough to help his team win a state title.
There’s much more, of course, from a disciplined defensive unit to a versatile offensive line. Linebacker Melvin Hoomanawanui (seven tackles, one tackle for loss), DB Quinton Slade-Matautia (six), DL Naeole (six, two TFL) and DB Helam Baldomero (5.5, TFL) were very productive against the Lunas’ ground attack. As our Trench Warfare scribe, Billy Hull, observed, the Raiders’ O-line had control most of the way of Lahainaluna’s three-man D-line.
Bottom line is the Raiders went at all of their work with one mindset, one team. Living the dream and performing selflessly. There was no superstar individual this season, but there were championship efforts.
The years go by. The title trophies stand proudly behind glass. But the lifers like Look still see everything with as much compassion as competition. Long after the post-game handshakes were done. Look made his way to the Lunas’ bench and found who he was looking for: Lahainaluna’s Ironman lineman, Mowat. The 6-foot, 270-pound grizzly bear was engulfed in tears. The hope and drive to bring Lahaina its first state football title had been extinguished.
There was Look, one hand holding Mowat’s hand, the other cradling the back of his helmet. It wasn’t consolation. It was pure consoling, a veteran coach mentoring a broken heart through the toughest night of his promising, successful career. Mowat took a deep breath, they said their goodbyes, and the Luna lineman’s composure was restored.