There is a sweet 16-0 squad — and national championship team — from the North Shore.
Rebel Squad, rostered fully with Kahuku football players, swept through two tournaments, including the Pylon Mecca 7v7 national championships on Sunday. The team won the 18-under (no seniors) division with an 8-0 record.
A 19-18 win over the Night Hawks, an all-star team from Orange County, Calif., sealed the title.
“It’s amazing our Hawaii boys,” coach Sterling Carvalho said before flying back to the islands on Monday. “Our chemistry was the most impressive thing everyone saw. We got so many comments how well we played together, and everyone couldn’t believe we were not an all-star team, but rather players from the same high school.”
The previous weekend, Rebel Squad won a 7v7 PullUp tournament in Utah. That’s 8-0 in each tourney.
At Mesquite, Nev., site of the Mecca Pylon event, all-star teams from Western states were on the slate. Rebel Squad knockelefd out an all-star team from Utah, the Pink Outlawz, in the semifinal round, then defeated the Night Hawks in the final, Carvalho noted. They also beat all-star teams from Washington, Oregon, Texas and Florida.
It was a therapeutic experience for players and coaches alike after seeing their 2020 football season cancelled in the islands due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It felt like I took a bunch of dogs to the mainland, took off their leashes and let them loose, and run they did,” he said.
Members of the Rebel Squad team: Leonard Ah You, Manulele Ah You, Nitus Auelua, Niko Brown, Waika Crawford, Brock Fonoimoana, Daniel Kaio, Kruze Keanu, Bryant Lauano, Liona Lefau, Malosi Lefau, Seau Maiava, Carson Mariteragi, Jason Mariteragi, Hyrum Moors, Shaun Niu Jr., Jammerus TaiHook, Kelsyn Tangaro-Kanua, Viliamu Toilolo and Isaiah Tuliloa.
The coaching staff is comprised of Lesa Maiava, Alvin Mariteragi and Sola Soliai.
“All of this couldn’t have been possible without the panning and love of our team mom, Penny Toilolo,” Carvalho said.
One of Hawaii’s top junior prospects, Lefau, was a key part of the elite defensive unit.
“Pylon is an offensive game, no doubt. However, if you have a good defense and make one or two stops in a game, you will always have a chance to win,” Carvalho said “Our defense was instrumental to us winning.”
The defense never gave up despite adversity.
“We were just playing our ‘A game’. Even when we were down we knew we just needed one or two stops and our offense would come through,” Liona said. “We were down by two touchdowns with six minutes left in the championship game. We got in the end zone. We stopped them on all their extra points, and we went ahead with 30 seconds left.”
Liona played middle linebacker and slotback. He scored the go-ahead touchdown in the Pylon final.
“I love playing slotback. I like to run those short routes where you stay in the window,” he said. “Linebacker is my main position. I used to play D-end and safety, but I don’t like how some games you don’t get action. In the middle, no matter what, you’re always part of the plan. On the field, I like to be the leader, to be vocal.”
Mariteragi, the quarterback, flew back with most of the players on a red-eye flight Sunday night. From there, he went straight to an OIA golf tournament on Monday morning.
Lifau, Mariteragi and Leonard Ah You got extra heapings of praise from Brandon Huffman of 247Sports.com.
Carvalho praised his players’ parents for the success of an epic voyage.
“I would like to thank all the parents who made this trip possible for our players to have gained such an experience, playing the game they love. I would also like to thank the Red Raider nation alumni who took care of the boys and provided meals, housing, practice facilities and much needed aloha throughout the trip,” he said.
For Liona and his teammates, it has been a climb to the top, years in the making.
“This Rebel Squad started out as a small team. My brother, Toalei, was the first year. They didn’t win any games that year, but they started it. I was on the intermediate team when they first came up,” he said. “Our team was top 16. The Rebel Squad came a really long way since we started. We’re all from Kahuku, all from the same community. That’s why we had an edge on everyone. Everyone showed up and everyone played. It was good. It was fun, too.”
After Saturday’s action, five of the top 13 teams in the standings were from Hawaii. Rebel Squad was 3-0 after day one, as was TMF, coached by former Kahuku two-sport standout Kawe Johnson, and Rager Wear and Beast 808. Mill Vill Trojans were 2-1 entering Sunday’s matchups.
TMF featured sophomore outside linebacker Tausili Akana, who is currently attending Kahuku and weighing the possibility of returning to Wasatch (Utah).
Huffman/247Sports.com listed TMF quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutlele as one of the tournament’s top performers.