LAHAINA >> Roosevelt resolved that Lahainaluna would not be the be-all, end-all to its season for a second year in a row.
Unfortunately for the Rough Riders, that’s exactly what happened on Saturday night at the Lunas’ Sue D. Cooley Stadium in a 35-0 loss to the three-time defending HHSAA Division II champions.
Kui Kahooilihala’s team came in riding high on a 31-7 road win at Kamehameha-Hawaii in the first round. But when the Riders lost fumbles on their first two possessions, it was clear their fortunates had swung for ill.
Even then, the OIA Division II runner-up was still in it. But disaster struck it down just before halftime in the form of two more lost fumbles, leading directly to Lahainaluna touchdowns 13 seconds apart. What was a 7-0 game became 21-0 at intermission. The Rough Riders went on to lose the turnover battle 6-0.
“For us, that’s what it is, right? The whole year, you talk about turnovers. Ball security,” Kahooilihala said. “You cannot turn balls over, that’s just the bottom line. Lahaina tonight did a great job wrapping up, stripping. That’s a very disciplined team.”
Roosevelt allowed a season high in points (it was averaging 9.5 points allowed coming in) and was blanked for the first time since a season-ending loss to Waipahu in 2017.
Last year, it was special teams miscues that loomed large in a 48-10 loss here. That was a factor again, as there was a fumbled kickoff return as well as a muffed punt lost by Roosevelt.
The Riders’ senior playmakers, quarterback Sky Ogata (4-for-17, 1 INT, 47 yards passing) and running back Shepherd Kekahuna (two carries for minus-4 yards), were bothered by the aggressive Lunas defense all game. Still, Roosevelt advanced the ball into the red zone a couple times. But they either turned it over, or turned it over on downs on those occasions.
Roosevelt was led by senior running back Mitchell Camacho, who carried it nine times for 83 yards but was not immune to the team-wide loose handle on the ball.
Lahainaluna was not perfect; it had two fumbles in the first half. The difference? Either through luck or skill, the Lunas pounced on the ball, including one that rolled forward to the 1-yard line, setting up Joshua Tihada’s straightforward touchdown in the first quarter.
“We’ve been working hard these past four weeks (last playing 28 days ago). We haven’t taken this team for granted,” Tihada said of Roosevelt. “They’re a great team. They work very hard. They practice, play just like the film shows.”
The Rough Riders (10-3) compiled double-digit wins in back-to-back seasons, a considerable accomplishment for a program that’d struggled for years. Kahooilihala, in his fourth season, was able to put that into some perspective. His team went 2-6 in his first season in 2016.
“Just the growth with these kids from when we started, from offseason workouts, summertime. Lot of the kids, they’ve gotten better. Every season. … These kids, they always come in, look for work. Want to get better. But just the extra things causes the extra stuff that we need to do to get those double-digits (wins), to get the Ws, because they’re not going to come easy.”
Roosevelt loses 29 seniors, including Ogata, Kekahuna, running back Myka Kukahiwa and receiver Scott Chung.
“We lose a bunch of seniors. Again, they’re great leaders,” Kahooilihala said. “But we also get back a bunch of young ones, too, and our JV kids that’s coming up. You know, that’s really important, our JV program. We got a bunch of good guys. Good athletes coming up, too.”