KEAAU >> Ever since Shepherd Kekahuna decided to attend Roosevelt for his senior season, he’s been hearing about one team in particular.
“Since I transferred from St. Francis,” Kekahuna said. “They been talking about wanting to get Lahainaluna back, but they’re a good team. It’s going to be team versus team, a hard battle for both of us.”
One day short of exactly one year since a 12-win OIA champion Roosevelt team went over to Maui and got blown out by the now three-time defending Division II state champion Lunas 48-10, Roosevelt punched its ticket to a rematch in the semifinals in Division II of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.
Kekahuna scored on both sides of the ball, finishing with two touchdown runs and a fumble return for a TD to lead the Rough Riders to their 10th win of the season, 31-7 over host Kamehameha-Hawaii, on Saturday night.
The Rough Riders will play at Sue D. Cooley Stadium next Saturday night at 7 p.m. with a spot in the state final on the line.
“We’re going to try out best to come out victorious,” Kekahuna said.
To get there, Roosevelt held its eighth different opponent this season to seven points or less to earn the school’s second win ever in the state tournament.
“This year we’ve come too long a way to go up there and lose again,” said senior linebacker Keneke Gusman, who had 5 1/2 tackles for loss and three sacks against the Warriors. “I will say this. We will do our best to prepare and study and do whatever we can to beat Lahainaluna.”
Gusman was responsible for half of Roosevelt’s sacks against KS-Hawaii (10-4), which dropped to 1-7 all-time in the Division II state tournament.
Sophomore Kaleo Akana added two sacks and Kalua Nahale, who blocked a punt to set up Roosevelt’s first touchdown, had the other.
Roosevelt has given up just 90 total rushing yards in its three state-tournament games over the last two seasons.
The Rough Riders and Warriors combined for 98 total rushing yards, marking the first time both teams combined for less than 100 rushing yards in a state-tournament game since 2016, when Kapolei beat Punahou in the first round of the Open Division tournament.
KS-Hawaii had just 8 rushing yards on 34 carries.
“Again our defensive guys kept us in the game,” Roosevelt coach Kui Kahooilihala said.
Twenty-two wins over the past two seasons for a Roosevelt team that won only 21 games from 2008 to 2017 is an incredible feat. Kahooilihala is proud of the accomplishment and proud of the growth he’s seen from his senior class.
Now it’s time to take the next step, he hopes. He was clear after the game that to do so, they will have a lot to clean up on offense over the next seven days.
“Our offense — we had some hiccups, man,” Kahooilihala said. “You’ve got to finish the game. We’ve got to do a better job because Lahainaluna, man, they are an awesome team.”
Quarterback Sky Ogata had a potential 72-yard TD go off the hands of an open receiver but was otherwise shut down by the Warriors. He finished with a season-low 140 passing yards completing just 14 of his 31 attempts with four interceptions.
Roosevelt had 230 total yards with 61 coming on a Mitchell Camacho run late in the game when the outcome had already been decided.
“I feel like our offense needs to work more on basics, such as blocking, catching the ball, and their reads,” Gusman said. “Everyone played hard.”
Roosevelt is allowing just 9.5 points per game this season and has given up more than 10 points just three times.
“What makes us a good defense is we have really good chemistry with each other,” he said. “We’re really good at swarming as a defensive group. Where the ball goes more than half the team follows.”
It’ll take that kind of an effort to beat the Lunas.
“We want to show them what we got,” Gusman said. “Last year was very disappointing.”