LAHAINA >> Sky Ogata believes wholeheartedly that Roosevelt will be back.
Not back to Lahainaluna, necessarily, but back, in general.
The Rough Riders’ shifty dual threat quarterback took the best shots a tough, disciplined Lahainaluna defense could dish out, and came back for more in a 48-10 season-ending loss for the OIA champions in the Division II semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships on Saturday evening.
He’ll be back for more next season as a senior.
“We’re going to do big things next year. Big things,” Ogata said. “We’ve got a bunch of skills coming back. But we’re going to miss a lot of seniors.”
Ten points were actually well above what Lahainaluna was used to giving up; they averaged under four points allowed in their unbeaten run through the Maui Interscholastic League. Ogata accounted for the Riders’ lone touchdown on a fourth-and-1 keeper from 16 yards out in the second quarter.
That made it 27-10, and for a little while, the Riders were back in the thing.
The Lunas got consecutive punt-return touchdowns from Tre Rickard — he caught the ball near midfield and went around to the left sideline both times untouched, from 48 and 54 yards — to put things in running clock mode in the fourth quarter.
“I’m proud of the kids for what they’ve done,” Riders coach Kui Kahooilihala said. “We took this journey together from February, offseason, their workouts. Even our coaches, they did a hell of a job. They sacrificed a lot this year with each other. They came in and put in work, and like I said, his year’s been a great, great year for our guys.”
Kahooilihala rued missed assignments on special teams but in the same breath marveled at the Lunas’ speed and athleticism. They also scored on an 87-yard kickoff return touchdown after Roosevelt turned a recovered fumble into a field goal and a very brief 3-0 lead.
Roosevelt ended its season at 12-2 after posting the program’s first OIA championship. It was the Riders’ first neighbor island state game after they beat Pac-Five 20-7 in the opening round last week. Meanwhile, the Lunas had three weeks to rest up.
“It was a very big task, knowing that they’re the No. 1 seed. It was a very big task,” Ogata said. “Watching a lot of film on them, they’re a very good team. Hopefully they’ll win (the final) at states (vs. Kapaa).”
The 5-foot-8 Ogata impressed with his elusiveness — the ESPN Maui Radio team of Barry Helle and Donald Mahoe observed that Ogata “could make a man miss in a phone booth.”
But gradually, the Lunas wore him down. They delivered an especially sharp hit on him in the third quarter, popping Ogata’s helmet off. He was woozy as he made his way to the sideline. He remained out on Roosevelt’s next series, giving way to Myka Kukahiwa, then willed himself back in for the final few series. Earlier, junior running back Keneke Gusman was knocked out of the game on a hit in the first half.
“My coach, before the game, he told me just ‘eat up those big hits,’ ” Ogata said. “I tried my best. It hurt, but you know, just gotta stay in it. It’s a big game.”
Kahooilihala knew what it took out of him.
“That kid has been awesome,” the coach said. “It’s been tough and it’s been hard every game this year for us. And he’s a key guy, man. He’s a guy that drives this offense down the field, every game.”
Roosevelt loses defensive playmakers like Marcus Hee, Tamaki Iijima, who had a fumble recovery Saturday, and kicker Mason Morishige.
But Ogata is back along with 21 other seniors, and that’s something for a school which, until this season, last won a league championship in the ILH of 1957. Roosevelt had played in exactly one state tournament game before last week, a 40-9 loss to Kauai High at Vidinha Stadium in 2007.
After Saturday’s loss, players took a knee for a postgame speech one last time. Ogata remained upright to talk to a reporter for a moment before joining them.
“We made history. This is a great group of guys over here. I love them all to death,” Ogata said. “They’re all my brothers. This is a hell of a season.”